Since the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987, Oct. 11 has been observed as National Coming Out Day, a day to raise awareness about LGBTQIA+ people and “champion the idea that homophobia thrives in silence.”
“Coming out of the closet” is the process through which an LGBTQIA+ person discloses their sex, gender or sexuality to another person. And in a world where LGB youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth, where 40% of transgender adults have attempted suicide, and where our state and federal governments continue to deny or rollback hard-won rights, it’s clear that coming out as LGBTQIA+ is still a radical and important action.
When I was 2 or 3, I would walk around our house wearing my mom’s high heels and my dad’s tank top, which I treated like a dress since it was so long on me. I was drawn toward feminine things, and frequently helped my mom tie scarves and played with her jewelry. She used to sell Lady Remington — the ’90s jewelry version of Mary Kay or Avon or Pampered Chef (all of which my mom also sold!) — and I would be her little helper, modeling her latest samples.
I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me, but when I was a couple of years older, my parents, out of protection, steered me away from feminine expression and activities. By 5, I realized that others saw something in me that I hadn’t quite understood yet, and I was often bullied for being too feminine, too soft, too gay.
I grew up in the suburbs of both Windsor, Ontario and Detroit. My family moved between the U.S. and Canada frequently during my youth, and it was always difficult to make and keep friends. Fortunately, my family was wealthy and I had many amazing opportunities for education and extracurricular activities. By age 8, I was on a baseball team, a soccer team, a hockey team, a football team and was participating in other extracurriculars that allowed me to channel my frustration and denial into physical activity. I became incredibly competitive, and I viewed every win as a way to balance out the bullying I constantly faced.
I became close friends with a boy named Adam on my baseball team. We would hang out at each other’s houses, loved trading Pokemon cards, and our families grew close. One day we were swimming in the pool at my house and, with no else around, we played a game where we would gradually reveal our bodies to each other every time we went under the water. I knew in that moment by the way that I felt that what other people had said about me was true. It terrified me. I knew what I was ― and I wanted to be anything but that.
As I grew older, I struggled with my sexual identity (my gender identity wasn’t even a concept in my mind at that point ― I was only aware that people could be being straight, gay, or bisexual). I knew I was attracted to other boys, but I refused to give a name to or put a label on that feeling and I certainly didn’t share it with anyone. I ended up at an all boys middle school in Michigan where I experienced ongoing sexual harassment and assault from other students, sometimes while my apathetic gym teacher looked on.
Even though my parents and sister were incredibly loving and accepting, I kept my sexual and gender identities and experiences a secret because I was unsure of how they would react and I worried that my home would become as tumultuous as school was, instead of remaining the sanctuary I knew it to be. By 14, I began sexually experimenting with other guys, but I continued to be filled with shame and guilt. I kept that part of my life a secret and constantly worried that others would out me or use it against me.
In the summer of 2009, I was 16 going on 17 and I was tired of hiding. I was going into my senior year and I knew that I wasn’t going to stay in Michigan much longer. That year, I enrolled in an English class that focused on Shakespeare’s work, and it was taught by a teacher who was rumored to be gay. He and my family already knew each other, since we all volunteered at the same church.
When we read “Romeo and Juliet,” I cried thinking about how these two characters were so in love but had to hide their feelings from their families and the world. They were willing to run away, fake their deaths, and eventually really die just to be with the person they loved, knowing all along that others wouldn’t accept them. I saw myself in these characters and I worried that one day I might face a similar fate. By this point my teacher noticed I was having difficulty in class and he asked me to stay after class once a week so that we could check in on my progress.
It was during one of those meetings that I started to cry and told him that I was gay. It was so difficult to say those words but once I did, I felt immediately relieved. I had finally told someone I could trust! In a strange twist of fate, that same afternoon I noticed a poster partially hidden behind a bookshelf in his classroom that read, “October 11th ― National Coming Out Day!” I checked the calendar. It was October 11, 2009. I looked at him and we both smiled.
By the next summer, I still hadn’t come out to anyone besides my teacher, but my two best friends were eager to be next. A month after graduation, we were lying out in one of their backyards talking about our college plans when they suddenly asked when I would finally come out. I was shocked by the question and hesitant to answer, unsure of how they would react if I confirmed their suspicions, but they pressed on. I remember feeling angry and frustrated that they demanded I come out when I would be the one to face the consequences of living in a homophobic world. But I also took it as a cue that it was time to come out to more people and be more public about who I really was — even though I still didn’t feel safe doing it in Michigan.
I had applied to several colleges in California because I saw the progressive state as a place where it would be safe (or at least safer) to be openly gay. I eventually decided to attend Chapman University in Orange County. During my first day of orientation, as all of the freshmen were congregated near the football stadium for a “field day” activity, some girls I met while moving into the dorms asked me, “Are you gay?” For the first time in my life, I replied to that question — which had always scared me — with a resounding “Yes!” Suddenly the gates of the stadium opened and we all rushed in. The school year had officially begun and a new chapter in my life had started!
After coming out to those girls during orientation, I would often come out to anyone and everyone I met the moment I met them. I was so excited about finally being able to be open about who I was, but I still hadn’t come out to my mom and dad or my friends back in Michigan. I decided to come out to my parents during when they visited over homecoming weekend. In the weeks before their arrival, I was so nervous about what would happen that I frantically started creating a “safety net” of resources and friendships that I could fall back on in case my family disowned me. No matter what happened, I knew one thing was true: I was never going back to Michigan.
My parents arrived that October and I showed them around campus, took them to local restaurants I had become familiar with, and even introduced them to my new friends ― several of whom were hesitant to engage in order to avoid outing me. It wasn’t until Sunday night, the last night my parents were in town, that I built up the courage to finally tell them my secret.
I called my dad and said I had something urgent to tell them and then drove over to their hotel and sat down on their bed. They looked so concerned, and as I started talking, I began to cry uncontrollably. I couldn’t even get out the words “I’m gay,” but they understood what I was trying to say. My dad looked at me and said, “We already knew, and we love you so much.” They hugged me and comforted me, and they made me promise to tell them anything and everything moving forward. Sharing my sexual identity with them allowed us to feel comfortable being more vulnerable and transparent with each other, and they have supported me every step of my journey since then.
A year later, while I was studying abroad, I started getting into drag and learning more about gender identities, like being transgender (identifying with a gender that is different than the one you were assigned at birth) and nonbinary (identifying between or outside the strict gender binary of either male or female). I called my sister and parents to tell them about what I had learned and how it was resonating with me, and they were there for me for every step of my gender journey too. When I eventually came out as transfeminine nonbinary in 2013, my family and friends were already aware of much of what I was feeling because we had established such honest, open and vulnerable communication. So, for them, it was less of a formal or official coming out announcement and more about me confirming what we’d already been discussing.
Although a few extended family members and childhood friends have rejected me for my identities, I have so many more family members and friends who have accepted and celebrated me for who I am ― for who I always was but didn’t always have the words express! And those have truly been the relationships worth nourishing.
Today, I’m happily married to my best friend Ethan, supported by my family, and surrounded by an empowering community ― all things I couldn’t have ever imagined as a closeted child. It’s also been amazing how many friends have come out since I’ve come out, and how many people I have met because they were inspired to come out after seeing one of my social media posts or a video I was featured in.
Still, my journey didn’t end when I first disclosed my sexual orientation to my English teacher or when I shared my gender pronouns for the first time with my parents. After learning that we must come out many times to many different people, I’ve been on an endless journey of coming back to my true self: the person I’ve always been but spent so much time trying to hide ― and hide from. I’m still working to unlearn the shame I accumulated throughout my life because of how ingrained homophobia and transphobia is in our culture and I’m slowly getting back on the path that my inner child was always meant, and is still eager, to walk. My path ― and the healing I’ve done while on it ― hasn’t necessarily been pretty, but it’s been incredibly rewarding, and has allowed me to connect with myself, my husband, family and friends in more meaningful, nuanced and authentic ways.
I hope that my story, journey and existence empowers others to come out too. If you are still living in any kind of closet, come out when you are ready ― not when someone else thinks you should do it, no matter how well they know you or how much they love you. And know that you are not alone, that you are more supported than you know, that you are perfect just the way you are, and that your life matters. Today, I’m celebrating you no matter where you are on your journey down the Yellow Brick Road.
Addison Rose Vincent (they/them) is a 28-year-old educator, LGBTQ+ advocate, and community organizer in Los Angeles. Addison currently serves as the founder and lead consultant of LGBTQ+ consulting firm Break The Binary LLC; the founder of the Non-Binary Union of Los Angeles; a Reimagine Lab Domestic Violence Prevention Fellow for Blue Shield of California Foundation; the Executive Director of the Nonbinary & Intersex Recognition Project; and the first MX Pride LA for the Imperial Court of Los Angeles & Hollywood. They live with their husband Ethan and dog Stevie, and they love spending endless hours at their local ceramics studio.