Tearing Down Closet Doors — A Personal Story

autoshowilyssaMy name is Ilyssa, and I am a lesbian. “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

A few weeks ago, after receiving many inquiries from fans of my page, Politically Preposterous, about who I was, I decided to post a picture of me at the New York Auto Show with the following caption:

So a bunch of you have inquired as to who runs this page. Well, my name is Ilyssa, I’m an attorney and a political scientist who lives in NYC, and has a passion for politics. Here is a pic of me at the NYC auto show, sitting on a car that I will most likely never own. Also, I am older than I look and yes I’m gay (and single – hi ladies). So now you know.

The outpouring of support was overwhelming. Many of my fans were ecstatic to finally be able to put a face to a name and get some background on who I was. Some of my fans used the opportunity to thank me for everything I do. Some complimented me on the page, my views, and my writing style, and others yelled at me (in jest) because I was sitting on a really expensive Lamborghini. But, there was one question I received in the comments that really struck a chord with me, and I felt I needed to address it in an article, rather just as a response. The question was, “What does it matter [that you are a lesbian]? Why do we have to label ourselves?”

As far as I am concerned, my being “out” matters, because it shows teenagers (and even adults) who are struggling with their sexuality and sexual identity, that they too can have success in life and that ones sexuality is not a setback, a downfall, or something to be ashamed of. Additionally, I do not look at it as merely a label, but rather an important part of who I am, and why I feel the way I do about many political issues. It is part of my identity, and just because it is not outwardly expressed, like ones skin tone, it is equally important. Moreover, coming out is liberating and helps me (and others) to express pride in myself and my sexuality, rather than feeling shame or social stigma. I came out to my fans because I felt they could not truly understand who I was and what makes me tick, without first knowing that in some respects my identity shapes my views on the world. For we all view the world through our own rose-tinted glasses.

The first time I ever “came out” to anyone was eleven years ago, when I was sixteen years old. I probably knew I was gay long before that without knowing exactly what gay was, but at twelve or thirteen it is hard to understand all of the other things going on in your life, let alone your sexuality. Suffice to say that in my early adolescence I knew I was a bit different from others but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

The first person I ever came out to was a good friend of mine. We were at a park in my hometown hanging out at the jungle gym when I told her. It actually took me quite a bit of time to articulate it. Although the details are fuzzy and my memory has faded, I know that I must have said, “I have to tell you something” four or five times before I struggled to enunciate the words, “I’m gay.” Eventually, however I did in fact get them out. Her response? She hugged me and said, “tell me something I didn’t already know.” With that, my journey became easier, albeit I realize I just happened to be lucky to have such support from people who knew and loved me. After that coming out became a process. First, I told a few other close friends, who were all extremely accepting. Second, I started to wear a rainbow pin on my hat to school. It was subtle, but it was my way of dealing with being out in an environment where teenagers can be extremely cruel. Eventually, I came out to my parents, although I am not going to get into the details of that, since my mother will probably read this article and I don’t think it is appropriate to disclose all of my personal business to the entire world. However, I will say that I am very lucky, since my parents are and always have been extremely supportive. Their motto is that they do not care who I love, so long as I am happy.

In closing, being “out” matters. It is not merely an issue of labeling oneself. It is a matter of understanding, accepting, and valuing one’s identity and being able to share that identity with others. I did not tear down my closet door because I needed to label myself. I tore down my closet door to pave the way for those who haven’t yet and for those that feel they cannot. I’m here, I’m gay, I have an opinion, and I’m not going away.

Ilyssa Fuchs

Ilyssa Fuchs is an attorney, freelance writer, and activist from New York City, who holds both a juris doctor and a political science degree. She is the founder of the popular Facebook page Politically Preposterous and a blog of the same name. Follow Ilyssa on Twitter @IlyssaFuchs, and be sure to check out her archives on Forward Progressives as well!

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  • Amazing article. You are intelligent, amazing, and fun to know.

    • Ilyssa

      Thanks Elke, you’re too sweet. Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Heather Ferris

    This is excellent, especially today in light of some of the reactions that Jason Collins has been receiving coming out in SI. I’m amazed at some of the comments: “How dare this guy get the spotlight,” “When is so-and-so NBA player going to come out as straight and black,” etc., etc.

    You are 100% right. It DOES matter. There IS a lesson here. Thank you for being who you are.

    • Ilyssa

      Thank you Heather! I am glad you enjoyed the article. I started writing it last night, before the Jason Collins story broke this morning, which was coincidental but appropriate timing. I am very glad that he came out, he basically proved my point. Feel free to share it on FB/pass it on to your friends. 🙂

  • Melody J Haislip

    We have a “strapping young Muslim socialist” in the White House – for a 2nd term. We have Jason Collins speaking out to the world and receiving amazing support from teammates, other sports figures and even the POTUS. Now if we could only turn some of that laser spotlight onto the fight for women’s rights!

    btw, if you’ll give me a ride in your Lamborghini (the most beautiful car in the world), I promise not to say a word about your sitting on it.

    • Ilyssa

      If it was my Lambo I would gladly let you give it a spin, unfortunately it’s a demo car for a “Rent Your Dream Car” for a day company. As for women’s rights, I completely agree. The problem is Congress… but 2014 is coming!

  • Excellent Article! as Heather Ferris commented, it DOES matter! it is a part of who You are. Keep up the Outstanding Work & know You have a Supporter in NC!

  • Ilyssa this just put me in tears. Love you girl

  • Ilyssa, thankyou you are a great hero to me, I honestly wish I could shake your hand as for I am 25 and sometimes still afraid to show who I am. I have not been feeling to to good lately due to stress, but I find your story very inspirational, and for the most part its helping me to truly find me and I know I need to be more honest not only to people I care about but to myself. I still feel like im trapped inside no matter who I tell, I have never liked labels, I just feel I struggle to even know who I am or want to be, due a bad upbringing and past. Thank you again I wish we can meet and hangbut thankyou for this article true inspirational.
    Sebastian

  • Cyndi Kiser

    Thank you for sharing your story. My 23 yr old step daughter came out to me when she was a freshman in college. Like you, she gradually came out to others in her life-not because its anybody’s business who she’s attracted to but because it is an integral part of who she is and what her life experiences are. The hardest for her was her mother who is very narrow minded and devout Mormon. But I’m happy to say she told her mother recently and she was actually pretty accepting. It’s because others (like you) have come out before her and shown that it is nothing to be ashamed of that not only did she feel like she could be honest but also I believe it makes everyone more tolerant.