By Alyse Knorr
Same-sex weddings take place everywhere now, from the local courthouse or church to Grey’s Anatomy to Glee. Caitlyn Jenner is a Glamour Woman of the Year. Anderson Cooper and Rachel Maddow are two of our most-watched news sources. So what’s the big deal about National Coming Out Day (NCOD) on October 11? Why does this holiday, which was founded in a very different American socio-political climate in 1988, still hold relevance for today’s LGBTQIA community and their allies? Here are the four big reasons NCOD is still a very big deal:
1. We’re still coming out!
No matter how you slice it, we still live in a time when individuals are generally assumed to be straight and cis-gender unless they state otherwise. This means that LGBTQIA people are still coming out all the time, everywhere—and not just on NCOD. Every day, queer people come out as gay, lesbian, trans, genderqueer, intersex, asexual, and other identities to their friends, family, colleagues, students, social media circles, and, most importantly, to themselves.
It’s also important to remember that queer people don’t just come out once. We have to come out again and again throughout our lives: each time we meet someone new, move to a new city, start a new job, join a new sports team—you name it. And as amazing as it feels to really be yourself around someone, coming out can still be nerve-wracking in plenty of situations. On NCOD, we honor the joys and the challenges of coming out, and we support the newest members of our community (often including celebrities and politicians), who may use the day as an opportunity to come out for the very first time.
2. It’s a key tool for social/political activism.
NCOD first began in 1988, on the first anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. One of the intentions of the day was to show the general public that they already knew someone who was gay, even if they didn’t know that they did. The idea was that coming out is a form of activism we can all be a part of, because when a person knows someone who is queer, they are much more likely to support LGBTQIA rights initiatives on the ballot box. That still holds true today. Celebrating a day of coming out provides an opportunity to raise awareness for LGBTQIA rights issues—and when we do that on NCOD, we take part in an essential element of the tradition from its founding almost 30 years ago.
3. It’s a celebration.
Today’s shortened phrase “coming out” derives from the longer phrase “coming out of the closet.” Closets are dark, shut off, and hidden. They’re where you keep your skeletons. When we honor NCOD, we’re honoring the constant fight against silence and secrecy around LGBTQIA issues, as well as the courage of individuals who choose to be their true selves and share those true selves with their loved ones. Coming out is brave. On NCOD, we remember that, and we invite our allies to be a part of our celebration. It is a holiday, after all!
4. It’s part of our culture.
It’s inevitable—anytime I’m out on a lesbian double date, or just hanging out with a group of new queer friends, we almost always arrive at that timeless question: “When did you come out?” No matter how, when, or to whom they’re coming out, the coming-out experience is one that almost all LGBTQIA people share, which is another reason that NCOD is such a big deal. Everyone’s got their own coming-out story, and the sharing of those stories is a key aspect of LGBTQIA culture.
So—how pumped are you to celebrate NCOD this October 11? For more info, check out HRC’s resources page all about the day and its history, read some of the coming-out stories in this lovely collection, and follow ongoing news on the NCOD Facebook page. Cheers!
Alyse Knorr is the author of Super Mario Bros. 3 (Boss Fight Books 2016) and of the poetry collections Copper Mother (Switchback Books 2016), and Annotated Glass (Furniture Press Books 2013). She also authored the chapbooks Epithalamia (Horse Less Press 2015) and Alternates (dancing girl press 2014). Her work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Columbia Poetry Review, The Greensboro Review, Caketrain, and The Southern Poetry Anthology: Georgia, among others. She received her MFA from George Mason University. Alyse is a co-founding editor of Gazing Grain Press and teaches English at Regis University.