October is LGBT History Month, which celebrates the history of LGBT people and civil rights movements. National Coming Out Day was Oct. 11.
For many LGBT people, coming out is a difficult and stressful experience to prepare for, if they even get to make the choice themselves. Coming out requires vulnerability and risks rejection from friends or family. Often, LGBT people come out to those closest to them first.
Heather Mann, who identifies as bisexual, first came out to her friends in high school. Her main worry wasn’t on whether they would reject her, since she had known them for a few years and knew how they felt.
“It was less a matter of worrying what they were going to say and more of a matter of saying it out loud to other people would make it official,” Mann said. “That feeling of once I tell other people out loud in words, then it’s a real thing.”
Mann’s family lives with her deeply religious grandparents. Her grandfather is a pastor at a small Baptist Church. Her father is Catholic and heavily involved in his church. She still hasn’t come out to them but plans to soon.
Growing up in this split household, Mann would spend Sundays listening to her grandfather preach on Sundays and spent Wednesday nights with a youth group at the Catholic Church. In recent years, she said her grandfather’s preaching has become more antagonistic and hostile towards LGBT people.
“It used to be the kind of stuff that if my friends ended up spending the night on Saturday, I would feel perfectly fine inviting them along to church Sunday morning,” she said. “I wouldn’t even try to do that now. Almost every sermon he has turns into the sort of fire and brimstone, ‘Homosexuals are going to hell and abortion is killing all of our precious saints.’”
Mann said she rarely goes go to church anymore. She tells her parents she watches them online, but listening to her grandfather preach on things like homosexuality and damnation has affected her relationship with church as a whole.
“It’s one thing to have a message that you’re bold and passionate about, but when that passion is furious and inconsolable rage over everything that is my life and makes me happy and purposeful — experiencing that every Sunday at my papa’s sermons kind of spoiled the entire Sunday morning service for me,” she said. “The experience of going to church on Sunday mornings and sitting in the pews and listening to someone I love tell his entire congregation that people like me are the reason why our world is going to hell in a handbasket kind of ruined the experience.”
As her grandparents have become more vocally against LGBT people, she said it’s created a lot of distance between them and her. She used to want her grandfather to officiate her wedding, but now she has a girlfriend. If they were to get married, she isn’t even sure she could invite her grandparents.
“It’s strange. Every time I go home, I have fun with them,” she said. “Papa loves to joke around a lot. Nana loves to cook and show me how to do things around the house, like sewing or making her cast iron skillet biscuits and gravy. They’re so fun and warm and caring and loving, then they’ll say something offhand, or I’ll overhear them listening to whatever podcast or show or whatever they happen to be watching at the time, and I will just get hit with this wave of ‘I want to share my life with you. I want you to be an active part in my life. But I just can’t because of the things that you say and the things that you think and what I’m afraid you will do if I share this part of me with you.’”
Mann has shared this part of herself with her brother. It was a few years ago when he was a senior in high school and she was a sophomore in college, and they were driving together, sharing what has been going on in their lives when she blurted out that she was bisexual. She said it was something she had been wanting to tell him because they had gotten closer as they got older.
Sometimes, coming out isn’t something you do once. For Lucas Hart, a nonbinary transgender man, coming out can happen multiple times as one discovers more about themselves. Before he realized that he was transgender, he identified to his high school friends as a lesbian.
“I honestly don’t know if it was so much like I came out to my friends as much as it was like we all slowly figured it out together,” he said. “It was an unspoken thing.”
He said coming out as transgender has been a completely different experience than coming out as gay.
“I feel like when you are trans you are always coming out to everybody all the time,” Hart said.
This is especially true with professors, who may unknowingly call him by his legal name instead of his preferred name when taking roll in front of the whole class, which Hart then has to correct. His legal name is not a masculine name, which makes his identity as a transgender man pretty obvious.
Sometimes though, it makes him proud that he can be a person for someone who may be questioning their sexuality or gender to see in their class.
“I like to think that them seeing other people be able to come out like that, without any kind of fear, would help them feel better about it or not so afraid,” he said.
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