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.