I’m not sure what people see when they look at me; most of the time, I imagine it’s the reflection of a happy person who identifies within the LGBTQ+ community. If you saw me, and that was your assumption, you wouldn’t be wrong. But what people can’t see by looking at me, is what it took to for me to get here.
Growing up around my family, I was lucky enough to be able to be whomever I wanted to be.
For me, that meant that I stole clothes from both my brother and my sister. I was privileged to know that regardless of how I chose to express myself visually, I would be told that I was beautiful and loved.
I realize that this foundation likely puts me in the minority. There are a lot of people who have a different experience and were not fortunate enough to have had the support of family to help them weather the storm of being different.
So, I just sort of continued doing me. I rocked my frilly dresses while volunteering to hold a Boa Constrictor. I competed on the boys’ baseball team while also playing on the girls’ soccer team. This all felt totally normal until I sort of unexpectedly fell in love with a girl when I was 16.
In some ways I feel fortunate, because instead of feeling confused by this revelation, I actually felt clarity. In fact, this was one of the first times I truly felt sure, acted surely, and was able to recognize the peace that accompanied such alignment of place and person. What did feel confusing however, was the way I felt beyond the safety of our private moments. Beyond the closed doors and the inside jokes, everything felt shrouded in shame and internalized oppression.
I badly wanted to expand the sureness and happiness that I felt in those private moments to the public spaces in which I walked, but I didn’t know how.
In 1997, the little representation of people like me in mainstream media painted a seemingly bleak picture of what a future would look like if I chose to live publicly as my authentic self. Ellen DeGeneres came out and her show got cut. Matthew Shepard was murdered for living his truth. Derogatory slurs about being gay were said and ignored by almost everyone, and someone’s sexuality – if not straight – was talked about with giggles at best, slurs at worst, and generally ignored or referred to as “lifestyle choice.”
I knew my heart, but my heart was suddenly only safe in private.
This was a terrible feeling. My existence felt invalidated and, despite the fact that I was in love, I felt alone and lost. The joy and excitement of first love was shared with no one. The truth I had learned to tell gave way to white-lies. I thought that keeping ‘my secret’ would protect both myself and the person I loved. Rather, it actually only led to this sort of self-imprisonment that made me feel even more isolated.
It wasn’t until I arrived at college in 1999 that I was suddenly given a language to better understand myself. It was like someone had given me a pair of prescription glasses. Instead of seeing the blurry outline of who I thought I was, I saw a clearer picture of the person I could become. I was finally being offered the space to be curious and to learn.
As I continued building and rounding out a community of people who loved me unconditionally, I realized that the secret I had been keeping was causing me harm. And so, just before the holidays, I hand wrote and mailed my coming out letters. I then spent the holidays talking – and sometimes fighting – with my loved ones. It took a while, but my family finally did come to a point of acceptance.
Understanding, feeling comfortable with and communicating about my sexuality and, later, my gender identity, have been lengthy, funny, enriching and sometimes painful processes.
Both of my coming out processes (as pansexual and as gender non-binary) have made me stronger in my sense of self. They have helped me develop my faith and have instilled a sense of hope in the process. I can assuredly say that things do get lighter, as long as hope is carried through the darker times. Looking back, I know that the storms that brought me here have allowed me to experience deep love. Love not just with a partner, but in my journey of who I have become and am becoming.
I’m not going to lie, becoming and accepting myself has taken time. BUT, because today is National Coming Out Day, and for those of us that still light up when a LGBTQ person shares their story aloud, I would like to assert that my name is Christine, I am pansexual and I use she/her/hers and/or he/him/his pronouns.
To me, a major part of coming out is becoming visible.
Being visible so that other people can see parts of themselves mirrored in someone else who has experienced success, happiness, fulfillment and peace while being out.
So thank you to everyone that came before me, that planted seeds, and inspired me to say these words aloud. By sharing these pieces of yourself, you have inspired me to declare my own reality in a more public way. The people that have come before me (I’m looking at you, Kit Yan, Janet Mock, Jonathan Van Ness, Sam Smith), taught me that staying silent is for people who may not be afforded the same privileges that I have. People that don’t have the support of my family, the color of my skin, and/or a supportive workplace from which I write this blog.
There is strength in numbers. I remind myself of this when going against our heteronormative world feels challenging. Having these lived experiences of coming out and learning to accept myself, makes it easier to hold the hope for my clients, their families and my own loved ones. This hope ensures a safer space for everyone’s truth, whatever that may be.
It is my sincerest hope that hearing about my journey will help you to feel safe enough to begin or continue your own journey of becoming. I hope that you too, are able to settle into a place of self-acceptance, self-love and maybe someday, even Pride.
For more information on eating disorders and mental health, please check out these blogs:
- Transgender Day of Remembrance: It’s Time We Do Something
- National Coming Out Day: A Story from One of Our Own
- Pride Month Promise: I am Trying
Christine Lang, MSW, M.Div. (She, Her, Hers) or (He, Him, His), is an adolescent clinician in the partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs in Amherst, providing individual, family and group counseling for adolescents, families and adults with eating disorders. She received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and English from Clark University, a master’s of divinity from Pacific School of Religion, and a master’s degree in Clinical Social Work from Simmons College. Christine is particularly interested in working at the intersection of trauma, eating disorders and addiction, and how that connects to identities of gender, race, sexuality and religion/spirituality. She utilizes Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy in her relational, strengths-based and trauma-informed approach. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and writing poetry, taking pictures outside, spending time with friends and family and watching Bachelor Nation shows with her wife and pup.