By Daniel J. McLaughlin
There is a rather beautiful letter chronicling a young man coming out to his mother, after discovering his parents have joined campaign in Florida to quell the rights of gays. Unlike the number of LGBT people who will use October 11 to 'come out of the closet', the moving passage was penned by a fictional character, Michael Tolliver, from Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.
It reads: "I’m sorry, Mama. Not for what I am, but for how you must feel at this moment. I know what that feeling is, for I felt it for most of my life. Revulsion, shame, disbelief — rejection through fear of something I knew, even as a child, was as basic to my nature as the color of my eyes...
"It’s not hiding behind words, Mama. Like family and decency and Christianity. It’s not fearing your body, or the pleasures that God made for it. It’s not judging your neighbour, except when he’s crass or unkind.
"Being gay has taught me tolerance, compassion and humility. It has shown me the limitless possibilities of living. It has given me people whose passion and kindness and sensitivity have provided a constant source of strength.
"It has brought me into the family of man, Mama, and I like it here. I like it."
While Michael Tolliver may be the fictional creation from a 1970s novel, we often need art to make sense of life; and for fiction to help us understand reality. Real human beings, as well as characters, experience this brave and momentous decision to accept their sexuality – or as Oscar Wilde called it, his "nature" – and share this discovery with others in the hope that they can carry on with their lives, unburdened by the secret.
National Coming Out Day was set up in America to commemorate the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987. The awareness day was founded in the following year, and it has been running for 29 years since.
To mark the occasion, the Human Rights Campaign offers advice on how to 'come out' to others. They argue there is no one right or wrong way to come out or live openly, but "it is important to remember that the person in charge of your coming out journey is you"; you decide who to confide in, when to do it and how. They add that you are also in control when deciding coming out may not be right, necessary or advisable at that moment in time.
First Post argues that the hardest thing about coming out is coming out to the most important person: yourself. While it is natural to experience feelings of shame, fear and self-hatred, they suggest tying them all together, and couriering it halfway across the world; and "don't put a return address".
They add: "The key is to be kind and patient with your self, as you would with your neighbour’s puppy — remember that it’s completely normal to have your own path of self-discovery. It might involve ice cream. It might involve a string of boys. It might involve a crate of wine. It might involve all of the above."
By looking at yourself in the mirror and admitting your true self, you have won half the battle – and so it's time to win the other half.
The Guardian advises to allow people to be shocked, and to need time to take the news in. They suggest choosing a quiet, calm time to tell people, which will give you all the time to talk about it, adding: "Remember that coming out may be more of a process than an event."
There is also advice on how parents of LGBT teens should react to their children coming out, with the Evening Standard arguing "compassionate curiosity will serve you both well". Parents should focus on the feelings of their children without any pressure. Coming out can be both the biggest challenge and greatest relief for children, and it is important to recognise this. The Standard suggests: "Go slowly and ask any questions you may have in a gentle, non-judgmental manner. But don't expect them to have all of the answers at this stage – coming out is a multi-layered experienced with many stops along the way."
Coming out of the closet is an incredibly brave act for an LGBT person to do, and they are not alone as they are joined by many others accepting their greatest challenge by accepting who they are, and unburdening this important secret to others.