An open letter to my niece on her coming out

My dear woman,

You can’t imagine the excitement with which your coming out letter was read aloud in our house. Or maybe you can, you who received the cheers of your church youth group when they got the news. We’re excited. Not because there’s strength in numbers (there is) and one more lgbtiq person has joined the family (you have), but because the benefits of your living out of self-awareness are many, and we’ll all feel them: you, your immediate family, these two uncles of yours, those in your circles of influence.

May you go far. I spent years flailing in repression and denial, trying to move forward through life. I might as well have been swimming the 100-meter breast stroke in mud. How much further and faster you’ll progress buoyed by self-awareness and self-knowledge, carried forward by a societal current moving towards inclusion. The impact of the decisions you’ll make, of the support, advocacy, love and nurturing you’ll offer the world will be amplified many times over.

Holy ground, this coming out. Sacred space, the paths by which we come to know ourselves and share who we are—the stuff we are made of—with others.

hard road
Not that being aware, not that being out will free you from hardship, heartache, despair. Life will bring these your way no matter what. But you will be better prepared to meet the challenges head-on, with eyes open.

Your coming out reminds me how far we as a society have progressed and how far we have to go. I was 35 when I came out. In 1995, 22 states had laws on the book that made of us criminals, that defined our expressions of physical intimacy as illegal acts. Mainline religious bodies condemned us to hell. True, the American Psychological Association had removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses while I was in high school, yet my wife readily secured the services of a counselor with a reputation for turning gay men straight, and a medical practitioner who claimed to be able to do the same. Didn’t work.

Soon after I came out to my best friend, he approached the president of the small evangelical Christian liberal arts university where I was employed. “Did you know you have a gay man on your staff?” my friend asked.

“Stop right there,” said the college president. “I don’t want to hear any more.” I was grateful for his unwillingness to discuss the matter.

Yet look who’s talking now.

Two days before your letter arrived in our mailbox, the president of these United States referenced the gay rights movement in his second inaugural address. He enfolded it into the larger American story of the struggle for human rights, referencing in one breath Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall. President Obama rattled some cages when he said, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law; for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

To hear our struggle given voice, our journey made visible, our lives accorded value, all from so elevated a platform—what a launching pad for your coming out. You’ll not be swimming in mud, girl.

All the same, you’ll face some people who will sling dirt your way. Last night, on a long drive home, your Uncle Dave flipped through radio channels. He listened in on a long harrangue about the evils of homosexuality and the subversive influence of gay people. Such voices still pepper our airwaves. May their words not lodge in your heart.

By countless acts of courage and resolve—undertaken in love, anger, sorrow and joy—lgbt pioneers made it possible for all of us who have followed to witness and work for an ever-rising tide of acceptance and appreciation, to continue to call for change. I’m so excited to cheer you on in this journey, to wonder what chapters you and your generation will add to this ongoing story. With your coming out letter you’ve turned the first page.

With love to you, from your

Uncle Bryn

This essay appeared in the April issue of The Community Letter