Happy National Coming Out Day! A day where people like me, who identify with the LGBTQ+ community, celebrate when and how they made the decision to share a piece of who they are with those around them.
For me, it’s a reminder of the many years I battled with when and how to “come out." Everyone’s coming out story is different. For some people it’s easy. For others it can be an unbelievably complicated and difficult process – a constant struggle of wanting to tell the world who you are but being afraid of rejection and lack of support.
Fear of the unknown was what held me back from publicly disclosing my sexual orientation. Deep down I always knew my family and friends would still love me, but what if they didn’t support my lifestyle? What if, to them, my sexual orientation was "just a phase” or a fad? These questions were stapled to my mind growing up. People often assumed I was gay because I was a “tomboy.” For instance, when all the girls in kindergarten showed up to the Halloween parade as Disney princesses, I came as ... well, Spiderman. I always knew I was different, but I never knew that it was okay to be different. I’ve had my fair share of encounters with people who made me feel less than because I didn’t fit their description of what a woman should look like, speak like, and act like.
As I reflect on the nature of my coming out story, I can’t even remember the exact date. I came out to different people at different times in different ways, including in the workplace. During my master’s program at Villanova University, I discovered alarming research that indicated a large percentage of people who identify with the LGBTQ+ community are closeted in the workplace due to fear of discrimination. One of my biggest fears was not being able to be myself - unapologetically - at my place of work.
I consider myself privileged because that fear was put to rest once I began working at Cella. It took me a few weeks on the job to determine if I felt 100% comfortable disclosing this information, but it almost became natural, which was a surprisingly foreign feeling for me. I was able to discuss my personal life outside of work without judgement, which is a very big deal. I felt seen and valued for what I brought to the table; that what truly mattered was my ambition, skill set, integrity and character, not how I identify or who I’m attracted to. The gratitude I have for this type of unwavering support is beyond words. It’s encouraged me to be confident and feel secure with who I am as a person.
I’ve since come to the realization that it’s more than okay to be different, and it’s also okay if people do not accept me. I just have to accept me; I have to love me, and I have to come out to people when I am ready and no sooner than that. Coming out can be difficult but it will always be courageous.