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I came out to myself and my best friend at the time on Monday, 1 April 1996. Today, 1 April 2011 marks the fifteenth anniversary of that event. In honor of that, I’ve decided to do a series of posts on the topic. This is the third one.
Given the fact that I came out on 1 April, I often like to make the following joke when discussing that night:
If you find it necessary to start the conversation with “This honestly isn’t an April Fool’s Day joke,” then you probably picked a bad day to come out.
This year, it’s particularly funny because Merion commented on the fact that I really did start with that disclaimer. However, this year, the joke has me thinking about the practical matters of coming out and timing.
Truth be told, there is such a thing as a “bad time” to come out. For example, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) cautions students to think about their financial and emotional safety when struggling with questions about whether to come out — coming out may prove to be a mistake if you’re one of those unfortunate souls who will find yourself homeless as a result. I’ve also seen others caution against coming out to family during holidays, family reunions, and times of great stress. After all, it’s important to consider how the other person’s or people’s states of minds at the time may shape their immediate response, or even their overall attitude. So yes, there really is such a thing as a “bad time” to come out.
However, the rest of the message needs to be considered, too. When I make that joke about my own “bad timing,” I also like to point out that I had to come out the day I did because I was in crisis. I had reached the point where waiting simply would have continued to leave me in a state of mind and bondage that could have very easily led to my total self-destruction. Plus, there’s the fact that Merion — the one person I knew would support me — was only going to be on campus for a limited time. A day or two after I came out to her, Merion was back on her way to her new college (and her incredibly cute roommate, though I didn’t meet him until the following year) in New Paltz. If I had delayed coming out that night, I’m not sure when I would’ve gotten another opportunity. And then, I’m not sure what would happen. (I shudder to think of what might have been the most likely outcome.)
So while it’s important to think about many factors in considering when the best time to come out, one should always remember that some factors are more important than others, and that sometimes, a sense of true urgency could override many pieces of otherwise good advice about when it might be better to wait. In the end, only the person coming out can make that call, though. That’s the person who has to live with the decision and whatever consequences might come of that decision.