We hear a lot about people in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community coming out of the closet, but I never made the decision to go in.
I was just living my life, completely unaware that my closet was silently building itself around me. I didn’t even realize I was trapped until I heard the doors SLAM shut the exact same moment I realized I was falling in love… with a girl.
My closet was built of layers and layers of heteronormative expectations, and the lock on the door was the fear of living outside those norms. Which family members would disapprove? Which friends would I lose? Would my church turn me away? What jobs could I be fired from? What harassment would I face?
We all have a closet built around us
The terrible fact of it is, we all have a closet built around us. Maybe someone in your family suffers from addiction, someone you care for is a religious minority, or perhaps your sibling struggles with mental illness; there are an infinite number of situations that violate the prevailing idea of "normal." Our closets force us apart, and make us to repress our authentic selves to appear "normal." This is a personal and societal disservice, because if we never talked about addiction or mental illness, there would never be treatment, and if we never tried to understand another's religious views, intolerance would prevail… we must come out of our closets to improve societal norms.
We need to push back on our respective closets and share our authentic selves
That's why I’m posting this blog on National Coming Out Day, it's a reminder that we need to push back on our respective closets and share our authentic selves - we need to #LiveOutLoud. This is much easier said than done, but when you cancome out of the closet it starts the conversation and opens avenues to better include and support our diverse experiences in personal and professional life.
I want to stress, that I say CANcome out, because sometimes you CANNOT. If coming out puts you in danger - please consider carefully and seek help however you need to. You are not alone. It does get better. You need to be ready to come out, and only you know when that is.
Being open with your authentic self is a lifelong process
Coming out is both the hardest and best experience I've ever had, but being open with your authentic self is a lifelong process.
The full details of my and my family's coming out story can be a different post (comment if this is something you're interested in), but suffice it to say many of our colleagues, friends and family were incredibly welcoming and exceeded our expectations, while some people in our lives have chosen to leave.
How you tell people can be as important as what you tell them
One side of the coming out story you don't hear much about is coming out at work.
I started by telling one of my most trusted mentors. Then a few of my coworkers. The nice thing about coming out is that the more you tell people the better you get… and this is key because howyou tell people can be as important as whatyou tell them. When I first started sharing the truth about my relationship with my girlfriend (now, wife #lovewins) I was anxious. What I observed is that people's reaction would often mirror my delivery - if I was nervous or projected shame in my truth, people were less receptive, but when I was finally able to deliver my truth as a statement of fact people started responding more positively.
Come out by talking about the truth casually
Unfortunately, you don’t get to come out just once... unless you are the type to carry around a billboard (I am not). An alternative to a one-on-one conversation focused on you coming out, is to come out by talking about the truth casually. I talk about my wifeat work in casual conversation; I talk about going to Pride; I talk about supporting LGBT+ organizations… I talk about it… and when people have questions, I do my best to create a safe space for us to have the discussion. And I correct people when they use the incorrect pronoun for my spouse within the natural course of conversation.
Be Bold in your Bio & Profiles
Another way I’ve found to keep the closet doors open is to be out in professional communications; like my Bio. This visibility helps those who don’t know my story. And before I was married, I used the following statement to come out in my bio: “Vanderspiegel is an advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT+) community and their allies. As a member of this community, Vanderspiegel knows how LGBT+ issues can negatively affect engagement and performance.”
Social media profiles also give you the opportunity to come out or stay out - think about how to use your profile details, photos and postings.
I’ve talked a lot about what you can lose in the process of coming out, but you gain a beautiful community of support and acceptance, and you no longer spend time or energy reinforcing the walls of your own prison.
On the other side of the coin… be listening for when people come out to you. Your kindness and acceptance can have an enormous impact.
None of us chose to go in the closet, but we can choose to come out.
In conclusion, my fellow humans, Happy National Coming Out Day. None of us chose to go in the closet, but we can choose to come out. Let’s start relegating our closets for shoes and bust out to the freedom and glory of living our truth.
How do you come out or #LiveOutLoud at work? Comment below!
Natalie Vanderspiegel serves as the Director of Diversity & Inclusion for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). She works at Solar Turbines advocating for a team that builds and tests robust overhauled natural gas turbines around our world. Natalie lives in Dallas, TX with her wife and their dog. Her educational background includes degrees in Ceramic Engineering and Engineering Management from Missouri University of Science & Technology.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the Society of Women Engineers and/or Solar Turbines.