Today, Oct. 11, is National Coming Out Day for LGBTQ, tomorrow is National Atheist Coming Out Day. I have a lot of admiration for the reasoning behind these days — the more people realize that they know people who are different from them, the less different those people are going to seem. If you’ve never met an open atheist, you probably think atheists are weird creatures who all talk like Christopher Hitchens (I wish!), but when you realize someone you already know and like is an atheist, it makes you rethink your prejudices.
That being said, I don’t like Coming Out Days, on a personal level, even though I completely agree with the political agenda and logic behind it. That’s because I’m not a big fan of labels.
It’s a little easier with atheism, because I have a very clear idea of where I stand philosophically, and there are a dozen terms I could use for myself, though they don’t always make me feel totally at home. Skeptic, atheist, agnostic, nonbeliever, nonreligious, antitheist, freethinker, bright, rationalist, skeptic. None of those is inaccurate, but it always feels so reductive.
It is much, much harder for me when it comes to LGBT Coming Out Day. There’s a little box the HRC (don’t get me started) asks you to fill out to describe yourself: are you a straight ally, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer? And I don’t really think of myself as any of those. I don’t really think sexuality is one of those things that is very binary, and the idea that I have to reduce it to something that can be described in one word is just impossible.
I grew up in the gay community, I’ve always felt at home with the LGBT community in general. Except, there’s a little voice in the back of my head, so quiet as to be easily missed, that says “They think you’re straight. They think you’re a breeder. They think you aren’t one of them.” I don’t identify as straight, partially because I grew up hearing straight people not spoken very highly of, and partially because I find women attractive — I find people attractive based mostly on their personality and things that aren’t strictly based on their genitals. I know, that’s a radical thought — but, realistically, I don’t see myself in a relationship with a woman. It could happen, but I don’t think it will. Therefore, do I really want to call myself bisexual and have to deal with everyone saying that it’s either for attention or a stage on the way to gayness? That’s a fight I’m just not interested in fighting, because it’s almost never going to come up.
So, what then for the people on Coming Out Day who are like me? Who don’t have a label they understand as related to them? Shouldn’t I feel included in the movement? What about those people who are agnostics who really aren’t comfortable Coming Out as Atheists, shouldn’t they feel included too? Greta Christina posted about how the Atheist movement should really be working hard to include agnostics and secularists (secular ally?) because we’ve seen what happens in the gay community when you exclude bisexuals, and I think that’s true.
I hope there will be a day when the stigma is no longer attached to being atheist or gay, and I know coming out is incredibly important on that front, I just wish the price wasn’t having to reduce yourself to a label, to have to assume the responsibility of making a whole group look good, and to have people assume your entire identity is your sexuality or nonbelief. But I think there will be a day when Coming Out Day is completely pointless, because no one cares.