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Haley Henderson on National Coming Out Day: “Maybe, if I can come out to people as though it’s nothing more than a fact of life, I can convince myself to be comfortable in my life… If enough queer people can be comfortable in their truth, maybe we can create a culture where I don’t have to worry about who I come out to.”

National Coming Out Day: ‘I Came Out Three Years Ago, I Haven’t Stopped Yet.’

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I came out three years ago. I told my mother over dinner that I was bisexual. My heart raced, and I blurted the sentence out before I could talk myself into changing my mind. She didn’t acknowledge it.

I came out again about 18 months ago. I told my mother in an airport that I was a lesbian. My hands were shaking as I realized I was going to have to tell her that there was no chance of me being “normal.”

I came out again a month after that when I told all of my friends. They all rejoiced that I was even gayer than we thought.

I came out to one of my favorite teachers a few months ago and to a boy in my class a few weeks ago. I came out to a grown man on MARTA the other day because I thought it’d make him stop hitting on me, and I came out to my math teacher last week.

Coming out isn’t the sort of thing you only do once. I came out three years ago, and I haven’t stopped coming out yet.

Since I’ve gone through that process so many times now, my fears don’t really stem from how that person will perceive me after I come out. My reservations come largely from a fear of whether that person will become a threat.

I have learned over the last few years that admitting you’re a gay woman is like admitting your only purpose is to be a commodity. I have learned that sometimes my only worth to straight men is to be a sexual spectacle– someone to either convert with the magic of his penis or someone who has lost worth unless I can be convinced to have sex as a performance.

I get told that men can turn me straight so often the stories are no longer interesting to me. Usually this happens when a man accidentally finds out that I’m gay. He’ll notice a pride sticker somewhere or that my home screen has two girls kissing, and he’ll smile and tell me that I just haven’t met a man who can show me the right way. He’ll tell me that he’s the man to show me how much better it is to be straight. Then I smile, and I don’t say anything. I try to figure out how best to remove myself from the situation without letting him think he needs to force me to believe it’s better with him. This fear of strange men with strange propositions is normal enough not to phase me anymore.

But I don’t know how to deal with men who still want to use me even after I give them a reason to not be interested. I was lingering outside of a MARTA station trying to reorganize my belongings so that my card was easily accessible when a man at least twice my age tried to strike up a conversation with me. He asked my name, then my age. I told him that I was 15 and he was not phased. He asked me if I wanted to meet him later that night. When I told him no, he asked me why not.

I racked my mind trying to decide what would make him stop talking to me. My age didn’t make him uncomfortable. My lack of responsiveness didn’t phase him, but my straight friends were always telling me that if they were gay, they would use that as an excuse for strangers that hit on them.

“I’m actually gay,” I said with a shaky voice trying to gauge how well that was going to go.

The man stared at me for a few seconds as a sly smile spread across his face.

“Well, then I like you even more now. Cause, see, you and me have something in common,” he said, and his voice felt like sandpaper grating against my skin.

I did not respond. I walked quickly into the station, and thankfully he did not follow me. I watched him watch me as I turned to walk down the stairs.

I have learned not to tell strangers that I’m gay.

Because that is how it always goes. I tell the wrong person that I’m gay, they think that makes me nothing more than a sex object. I wonder how easily I will make it out of that interaction.

More often than that though, coming out requires me to battle my own internalized homophobia. Every time that I almost tell someone I’m a lesbian, I find myself holding back because I want it to fade away someday. I keep waiting for my sexuality to not be true anymore, so that I can be normal. And maybe if I don’t tell people, I can pretend I’m not gay. I can pretend that there is still hope for me. Every time I come out, I make my sexuality real again. I have to face my own identity.

But really, I have to face the internalized idea I have that if I don’t marry a man someday, I’ll never be normal, so I’ll never be happy. Queer people deserve to feel normal too. I deserve to feel normal and to feel happy.

Coming out is a never-ending process. You come out to your family. And then your extended family and your friends and your coworkers and your teachers. It’s not that everyone needs to know. It’s that I want to tell stories about the ridiculous thing my girlfriend did the same way straight girls talk about their boyfriends. I want to talk about my girlfriend in the same boring way that straight people do– like it’s nothing to make a scene about.

And maybe, if I can come out to people as though it’s nothing more than a fact of life, I can convince myself to be comfortable in my life. Further still, if enough queer people can be comfortable in their truth, maybe we can create a culture where I don’t have to worry about who I come out to. Because maybe, my existence will be so normal that it’s no longer a commodity.

Haley, 16, is a dual enrollment student from Grady High School to Georgia State University. She hopes that you have a fantastic National Coming Out Day, whether you celebrate being out and proud, decide to come out, or decide that this isn’t the safest moment yet in your life. She hopes that one day you won’t have to make that call.

This story is published in partnership with Georgia Equality to celebrate National Coming Out Day.

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