National Coming Out Day

| October 11, 2011

Happy coming out day!

I discovered that today was National Coming Out Day because Ellen told me.  I mean, she told me on Twitter.  Or perhaps it was really Ellen’s invisible assistant who tweets for her, but I’m happier thinking that Ellen DeGeneres herself thought to tell me, since we’re on a first name basis.  And although it’s short notice to tackle a large topic, it seems appropriate to consider what books we might have on the topic at Gottesman Library.  What resources are here to help people navigate the coming out process?

But first: what is coming out day, and why is it on October 11th?  The event commemorates the same day in 1987 when half a million people marched on Washington for gay and lesbian rights; the following year, to celebrate the march and to keep the commitment alive, Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary came up with the idea of National Coming Out Day as a way of promoting government and public awareness of gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender rights.

We don’t have a pride-parade’s worth of literature on coming out at Gottesman, but we do have a few important and useful books.

Mom, Dad, I’m Gay: How Families Negotiate Coming Out (American Psychological Association, 2001) [HQ76.25 .S39 2001] is a handbook by psychologist Rich Savin-Williams drawing from over 150 interviews with teenagers, and discussing the range of parental reactions, which he breaks down by father-son, and mother-daughter coming out experiences.  He approaches the issue from a psychological perspective, but he quotes from the teens extensively and it’s a useful glimpse into teenagers’ experiences coming out to their parents.

As it happens, Savin-Williams is also the author of a newer book that we also carry, The New Gay Teenager (Harvard University Press, 2005) [HQ76.25 .S395 2005] , and which I read a few years ago.  The New Gay Teenager follows the hypothesis that today’s gay teen now lives in a calmer, more relaxed and gay-friendly culture and that they often do not feel the need to come out, or even identify a sexuality at all.  The new gay teen is actually more like the new… teen.  In this book, too, he interviews a few hundred non-straight teens and quotes from their experiences extensively. When I read the book I recall feeling dubious (it seemed to me he was personally invested in the outcome) but I also felt kind of sad.  Isn’t gay culture just the best? What would life be like without feather boas, smoky bars, leather chaps, Cher, and chain-linked wallets?  Would life still have meaning, or would it just seem flat, empty? Then I realized: my concept of “things that are gay” is actually pretty outdated.  I don’t think I’ve seen a chain-linked wallet in over ten years.  My cat ate my feather boa a few years ago, and I think I forgot to replace it.  Maybe the new gay teen has the right idea.

But back to coming out: If you’d rather approach the issue of coming out from an educator’s perspective, you might find another book, The Principal’s Challenge (Information Age Publishing, 2009) [LC2575 .P33 2009],  useful. A principal in a rural, mid-Western high school realized he knew nothing about the particular experiences and challenges of his gay/lesbian/queer students’ lives when a senior in his school came out.  He decided to take on the personal project of learning more about his students, and profiles eight gay students’ stories, along with his personal anecdotes about his learning experience.  The book is meant to help educators, administrators, and policy-makers whose decisions can affect gay teenagers’ lives, either adversely or positively.

Meanwhile, I just checked my Twitter feed again, and realized I had gotten it all wrong.  Ellen told me that Beyonce’s baby is due in February.  It was The Task Force who told me about National Coming Out Day.  Happy coming out day!