My friend Tracy came out in 2001, when she was 40 years old. She was married to a man with two pre-teen children, and it took three or four years of realization before she decided it was time to tell her husband. Tracy explains that at the time she was thinking,"'yeah, I'm attracted to women but I'm in a marriage and don't want to break up my family,' going in and out of it until it was like this is definitely who I am."
Attending a counseling group for married women who were coming out and then being with a woman were the key pushes she needed: "I was pretty sure [I was a lesbian] but I think spending so many years thinking I'm straight but not being straight, just getting out of that took a lot of convincing." Tracy told her husband that she was enrolling in the group therapy, and they decided not to tell their children until the divorce proceedings began.
I asked Tracy if she thought she would have come out sooner if she had gone to college in a different era. "It's hard to tell. Part of coming out ... was learning more about the gay world, becoming more exposed to it. I remember when Ellen came out, it was around the same time I did and that was really helpful. Here's this person who's funny and she's on TV and people are accepting her...it helped me. I guess if I had had more exposure. But in college [I did have] a coach who was gay and out but it didn't make me think about me being gay. It wasn't like I hadnt seen gay people before, but I didn't have any close relationships with any. ...If I were in college now, it would be a lot different, there's a lot more that's talked about."
In coaching high school ultimate frisbee, Tracy sees some shifts in attitudes towards lesbians and gays. "The high school kids are really interested and really want to talk about it. ...Mostly they want to know who's gay and not gay, of people they know, people in our community, the other kids. I don't think [gay] is really scary, it's just something different for these kids." But still not everyone figures it out in college or high school. A close friend of hers was married for two years to a man before coming out in her late 20s.
Although it's been over ten years since Tracy came out, "I wouldn't really say it's over. ...I still live in a really straight community where my kids grew up and the parents of the kids they grew up with don't all know about it. ...[It's a] straight comunity and I don't think they're very aware of gayness. It's something I'm always challenged with. It's not like I hide it, but it can still be a challenge. Coaching high school, there were some kids talking about the coaches being gay and their girlfriends shouldn't go out for the team. I don't know if it's coming out as much a society issue, but it's a little of both."
I wanted to ask Tracy about her experience as someone who came out post college and also works with high schoolers, because my friend Stephen and I had been talking about the future of coming out and LGBT Centers on college campuses. Stephen pointed out that LGBT Centers' primary function over the last 30 years has been to support students coming out. But given how many people are coming out before college and the rising number of people coming out who are met with acceptance may mean that LGBT Centers need to adapt, or maybe even won't be as necessary in the near future.
Tracy weighed in: "I think there's still going to be a lot of college kids coming out and needing to talk about it. ...I definitely don't think they have it figured out by high school. It helps to have a place where there's people like them to hang out and talk."
While I agree with Tracy that for at least the next 5 to 10 years there is going to be a significant need for the supports that LGBT Centers provide, it may become one of those careers where you are working towards putting yourself out of a job. Because if you are successful in educating college and university communities about LGBTQ issues and demonstrating that multiculturalism of all kinds is everyone's business, there may not be a need for separate Centers on campus. Maybe, just maybe, there will be one big desegregated community where all members feel equally safe and respected.
Am I naive to think this will happen in my lifetime?