National Coming Out Day (NCOD) is a vital LGBTQI awareness day observed annually on October 11. This is activist Dan Littauer’s story.
The 11th of October is observed in many countries around the world as the National Coming Out Day (NCOD).
The idea of NCOD was conceived in 1988 by activists Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary, and is now an annual LGBTI+ awareness day observed by many across the world.
Initially, the ideas were ethically and philosophically anchored in the feminist and gay liberation movements that emphasised the personal as being political. In this spirit, activists urged others to come out to family, friends and colleagues, and tried to foster the idea of living life openly.
The ideas were that prejudice and hate against LGBTI+ people thrives in a culture of silence, taboo and ignorance. Once people knew that they have people they love who are LGBTI+, they will gradually begin to accept their humanity and could gradually rethink and challenge prejudice, stigma and hate.
Of course, coming out is an extremely personal decision, and the road through the closet door is distinct to each person’s circumstances. It is also a mental health issue as living in the closet can take an emotional and physical toll on an individual, decreasing quality of life and general well-being personally and professionally, according to a plethora of research.
Community and family support can also make a huge health impact when a person decides to come out. A study by the Boston University School of Public Health found that LGBTI+ adults whose parents provided positive support during the coming out process are significantly less likely to struggle with mental health and substance abuse problems.
Numerous studies suggest that coming out also decreases the possibility of fear or internalised stigma about accessing sexual health services. People who are not out or in an environment, or a country that is not conducive to accept them, are more likely to engage in unsafe sexual health practices and contract sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, hepatitis and so on. Conversely, discriminatory laws also perpetuate such problems.
It is with these issues in mind that I document my own story about coming out.
I knew I was gay from quite early on. At first, it felt quite natural but soon enough, I found out that people thought it wasn’t, and that took me years to recover from – let alone feel comfortable enough about my sexuality.
When I was in kindergarten, as young as six, I remember feeling much more emotionally and physically connected to Jonathan, another youth, and I used to enjoy hugging him more than anyone, imagining that one day we’d get married! I also took a real interest in Greco-Roman statues, and you guessed, those muscular marble male ones. And my parents’ art book featuring male sculptures by Michelangelo was one of my favourite ‘reading’ materials.
Oh, and unlike boys my age who kind of worshipped the violence of wrestling, I instead enjoyed watching these shows because it was one of the few sporting events where I could see nice chunky semi-naked men and have the occasional glimpse, of… well, you know what… Especially in Greco-Roman wrestling and Mr Universe contests (before the era that male contestants turned to look like muscled knob mutants).
But the first real crush was on my PE teacher, Roberto, who looked like a young Tom Selleck, and yes, I did have a glimpse of his hairy chest once when I bumped into him in the changing room (er… OK, I did kind of arrange for that, staying late after class) when he was changing into his football gear.
One day, Roberto asked me and several other kids if we wanted to play football (soccer in American), with him guiding us in Central Park. Like, ‘OH YEAH,’ despite me not having the slightest interest in football. But I did turn up fantasising he’d whisk me away from the other kids back home with him. Instead, the ‘lesson’ cost my parents 5$ – parents who were delighted with my ‘apparent’ love of football. I was much more interested in playing, at the age of 14, with my girl neighbour friend than with the boys at school. It all seemed perfectly ordinary to me and perhaps I could have come out safely already then, until…
But being a teen in the 80s wasn’t easy, especially when the hysteria about HIV and AIDS hit the headlines. I remember reading an article written by a dying gay New Yorker telling his story with shame, loathing, regret and guilt. He talked about how he had sex with hundreds of men, and prayed to God that he’d take that ‘awful perversion’ away, eventually contracting HIV, then the AIDS-related illness and writing the story from his dying bed.
There was another testimony of a bodybuilder, whose name I don’t recall, who died from AIDS-related illness, and I remember the paper posting a picture of a ‘before’ and ‘after’ alongside comments by a psychologist who discussed how ‘homosexuality was caused by an unresolved oedipal complex.’
That put me off my ‘sexy’ wrestlers (well, for awhile), installing in me a feeling of terror and horror – ‘I don’t want to end up like them!’ I thought to myself: how horrible it must be to be inflicted with that illness of ‘perversion’ and then, on top of it, to contract the ‘gay disease’ which the paper labelled. I resolved to remain totally silent and practice abstinence (ha! that didn’t last long, I did have hanky-panky when I was 15 with a fellow high-school student). I also thought that I had better try to ‘be straight’ and had two girl-friends, but it just didn’t feel right, despite me loving them.
Being gay was illegal in Israel until 1988, although in 1963, the country’s attorney General declared that sodomy laws installed under the British mandate would not be enforced (the British criminalised same-sex relations throughout the Middle East, where it was previously legal under the Ottoman Empire, and throughout the rest of their Empire). Still, it could get you in serious trouble, like being blackmailed, fired from your job (anti-discrimination legislation only ‘came out’ in the year 2000, in Israel), declared mentally unstable (it was still listed as a mental health condition for 20 years after decriminalisation) and so on. Supportive literature about coming out, and positive examples, was not readily available until the 1990s. I, like many others growing countries where same-sex love was criminalised, was terrified, and for a good reason.
There was no “national coming out day,” and the people in the society with whom I grew up at that time who dared to come out, often suffered very serious consequences. In many countries, this still goes on, and some people even face the death penalty for being open about their sexuality – as well as extra-judicial killings, torture, ill-treatment, sexual assault, rape and other violations of human rights.
I fell in love with Eli when I was 16 and he was 17. I met him while working after high school as a computer programmer-nerd on the Unix computers in my hometown’s university. I even remember noticing how sexy he was and tried to work out the time when he was typing away in the terminal room so I could ‘turn up,’ as it were, doing my work next to him. His chat up line was: ‘my, you do type fast’. It took me six months to let him come close to me and then make love with him (the first time was actually quite bad, as I was terrified). Gosh, he was so patient! I took him to my favourite spot in the middle of an orange tree plantation, where there was a large clearing, and we engraved our names with a heart on one of the trees.
Eli taught me how to respect and love myself when I was very conflicted about my sexuality and my relationship with my parents. Eli and I adopted a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell policy’ which our parents were happy to collude with. Oh yes, they even met each other (like a married couple in denial).
Unusually for gay guys, I was closer to my father than my mother emotionally, and he was the first member of my family to whom I came out to when I was 22. I was studying psychology then in London and armed myself with several ‘PFLAG’ books when I went back home and told him. But my dad (and mum) already, of course, knew. ‘I love you no matter what, son,’ he told me, and put the books next to his bed. ‘Just be careful son with safer sex and don’t get your heart-broken too quickly by men,’ he added. ‘As for your mother,’ he said, ‘she knows but give her more time, since she wants grandchildren and it’s harder for her.’ A year later, she was already trying to play matchmaker, finding me a nice Jewish boy who went to her creative writing class.
A few years later, when I fell in love with a Palestinian man, my parents embraced him as a family member and that experience only strengthened our bonds. It also helped Adeeb deal with his sexuality and accept himself and no longer feel that being gay is unpatriotic to Palestine.