This post in celebration of National Coming Out Day is sponsored by This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson.
There’s a long-running joke that, after “coming out,” a lesbian, gay guy, bisexual, or trans person should receive a membership card and instruction manual. THIS IS THAT INSTRUCTION MANUAL. You’re welcome.
Inside you’ll find the answers to all the questions you ever wanted to ask: from sex to politics, hooking up to stereotypes, coming out and more. This candid, funny, and uncensored exploration of sexuality and what it’s like to grow up LGBT also includes real stories from people across the gender and sexual spectrums, not to mention hilarious illustrations.
I’ve been in the coming out game since 2010, and I like to think I’ve Seen Some Things. There was the boyfriend who made the joke about threesomes; there was the boyfriend who wasn’t joking about thinking “I’m bisexual” meant “I want a threesome;” there was the range of invasive questions strangers asked me when I got a queer-presenting haircut; and there was the tearful conversation with my boss, in November 2016, when I said, “I need you to know I’m queer, so that if we lose any of our rights, you’ll know I’m one of the people working for you who would be affected.”
But this summer, I came out as gender nonbinary, and the scariest thing yet happened: I had to come out to my students. I’m the staff advisor to a group of high schoolers who run their own literary magazine, and I needed to explain to them that my pronouns were they/them and that I was Mx. Ross, not Ms. Ross. This wasn’t something I could conceal from them on the grounds that my personal life wasn’t appropriate for me to share with them (sometimes a legitimate argument, sometimes not); nor was it something I knew they’d have heard before, like “I’m gay” or even “I’m trans.” This was something that would change how they interacted with me, and it was something I might be the first person to talk to them about. I was terrified.
So I went full Ravenclaw. (And I’m a Huffleclaw, so you know there was a scared little badger hiding behind my know-it-all eagle front the whole time, all like, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENING, I JUST HAVE TO BE HONEST.”) I reconnoitered with teachers who had already done some on-campus LGBTQIA+ activism, to get a sense of the gender and sexuality concepts that might be familiar versus confusing to my kids. I developed a coming-out strategy that included an email to our principal to affirm I could count on administrative support even if I got student or parent pushback (I could; I regret to have to remind you, dear reader, that many professionals are not so fortunate). I scripted my little coming-out speech to the letter. I printed copies of articles about the definition of “nonbinary” and the use of “they/them” as a singular pronoun.
I even brought a prop. I went to my first young editors’ meeting of the year with a prism in my tote bag. I was going to explain to my students that gender is a spectrum, like color. That all of us take in light from the universe. That some of us reflect one specific color back—and that our society tends to assume that color will be either red or violet. That to me, being nonbinary means feeling like a prism: I present a wide range of color, a wide range of gender, to the world. My gender is like my favorite color when I was ten: “Rainbow.”
Thusly armed, I began my coming-out talk with my students. “So,” I started, “I’m changing my name on you again.” Some of them had known me since before I took on my mother’s maiden name, Ross, as my last name.
They all laughed. Good, good. “Ms. Rose?” one student guessed.
“No, no,” I said. “It’s actually the ‘Ms.’ part that’s changing.”
“Mrs.??” another gasped.
“Hang on, now,” I told them. “It’s Mx. Spelled M-X, pronounced like ‘mix.’ I’m gender nonbinary, my pronouns are they/them, and I’d like you to call me Mx. Ross from now on.”
I gave my students a second. They looked…unconcerned.
“Are any of those terms unfamiliar to you?” I asked. That question was in the script!
They all shrugged. “Nope,” said one or two.
“Wow, well, great,” I said. “Well, when we hold our open-door workshop this afternoon, I’m going to introduce myself this way to the rest of our community—”
“Can I say, ‘If you don’t respect their pronouns, I’ll punch you!’?” someone asked.
“No,” I told her quickly. “But, um, yeah, if any of you have more questions about this at any time, I’m happy to discuss them with you.”
“I have a question,” piped up another student.
“Go for it,” I said. A question! Yippee! Perhaps I would get to use my prism!
“Will you listen to my mix tape, Mx. Ross?”
I high-fived her. “Let’s go set up our workshop,” I said.
Coming out is ongoing. Coming out is a privilege. Coming out brings with it the threat of loss. Coming out is a paradox: brave, but not the only way to be brave. Coming out is scary, almost every time.
But at its best, coming out is an act of resistance. And if you get as lucky with someone who loves you as I did with my young poets, it’s also a source of hope. On National Coming Out Day 2018, may you all be blessed with coming out stories that strengthen you!
From a dream team of LGBTQIA+ Rioters, here are a few such stories to get you started: