It’s National Coming Out Day, and I want to share a little bit about myself.
Many readers will already know that I’m queer.
Fewer here know about my formative experience as a queer teenager: In high school, I spent a year and a half in an abusive relationship with one of the few other queer teenagers in my hometown.
Much of my work as a librarian stems from that experience. I started reading YA literature in that relationship. I remember once approaching one of the librarians I recogized and asking for “coming of age stories,” but meaning, where is a book about this thing that is happening to me? What is happening to me?
My compassion for teens, and my desire to be a trustworthy, boundaried adult who can serve as a resource for teens comes from that experience too. Looking back, I think about how few adults—none, really—were able or willing to support me. I was privileged to live in a liberal college town and attend a liberal private school where no one objected to my being queer or having a relationship with another girl. But no one looked critically at my relationship either; I imagine that if my teachers, parents, or other adults were made uncomfortable by anything they observed between me and my high school girlfriend, they attritubuted their discomfort to their own lingering homophobia and, like “good liberals,” ignored it.
What strikes me as I am telling this story is that I’ve never told it before. Not here at least, not in front of colleagues en masse. Even mentioning my teenage abusive relationship and its aftermath has always felt unprofessional: it hints at things like sex and dating and emotions, none of which we librarians are supposed to share publicly (and most of which I wouldn’t choose to share with my colleagues, though I do choose to share more with friends, queer folks, and other survivors). And yet, in some ways, the story is deeply professional. It informs my caring about teenagers, my commitment to providing teens with resources, my connection to young adult literature, and how personally I’ve taken some of the recent media backlash against “dark” themes in YA fiction.
For National Coming Out Day, I’d like to ask readers to think about what we ask each other to keep closeted and what we ask ourselves to keep closeted, and how we are all impacted by the things we share and don’t share.
Have you ever “come out” about something you thought was unshareable? Where do you draw lines about what you’ll share with whom? What do you ask others in your life to keep hidden?