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Coming Out

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Editor 's Note: October 11 fe National Corning Out Day. The purpose ofthis day ís to support those lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals who are open about their sexuality and, according to U-M LGBPO Director Ftonni Sanio, to "encourage and motívate people 'in the closet' to take the next step in the 'coming out' process." The first National Coming Out Day occurred on October 11, 1987, in conjuntion with the second national march in Washington, D.C. for gay rights. The Human Rights Campaign Fund, a D.C.-based foundation supporting gay rights, picked up on this and made it an annual event. The theme of this year's Coming Out Day is "Out in the Workplace." To commemorate this holiday, LGBPO is sponsoring events the week of October 8-16 (for a complete list of events see the LGBPO ad on page 10 and the AGENDA Calendar). The highllght will be a community celebration, held October 14 In the Michigan Union, honoring those people who have made a difference for the Arm Arbor lesbiam 'gay bisexual community. What follows is an interview conducted by AGENDA editor Phillis Engelbert, in which two long-time Ann Arbor residents teil their coming out stories. Susan Callaban and Kay Beattie are a couple who have been together for nineteen years. For seventeen of those years they were closeted about their sexuality. Here they share their thoughts, fears and motivations about "coming out" and the rewards ft has brought. Susan: Our coming out is a continuing process. It's not something that's going to end, I don't think. For 17 years we were very closeted; we lived our life together and we presented ourseives to the outside world as just roommates, which was a silly f acade, but that 's what it was. We went to work and we had a condo and we had a dog - but to the outside world, we were just buddies. In '91 orso westarted rethinking our lives. We had no idea of the culture that was out there or anything. All our role models were heterosexual people. It was a very isolated existence. We were on the periphery of the heterosexual community and we knew no one like us. And now, it's a totally different world. The biggest factor in our coming out has been P-FLAG [Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays] here in Ann Arbor. I saw a notice where they had a speaker coming and I thought I knew the name. I said to Kay, "I think I want to go hear this speaker because it may be somebody I knew from high school. You're welcome to come or not ." And she said, "Oh, l'll go." We walked in the door not knowing what to expect. They surprised us because they start at two o'clock and the speaker doesn't start until four o'clock and they have other activities in between. So instead of just going for the speaker and being able to leave, we ended up participating in the discussion sections and in the social session, and then heard the speaker (who ended up being the nephew of the person I knew in high school). We went back to the next meeting. We've met a lot of great people and we've learned a lot about the community. l'm now on the board of P-FLAG. Kay: P-FLAG provided the support to take us on this - I guessyou'd cali it - ajourney. Going to PFLAG made us recognize that we were not alone in the world. Here we were with a whole church filled with other lesbians and gay men who were having problems of coming out and socializaron and contacts. We've met other couples who have been in long-term relationships (13-year couples, 20-year couples) and this is affirming to us, because we had no other models to go on. Six months after our first P-FLAG meeting, Susan said, "There's going to be this maren on Washington." She suggested we go. In my usual way, I just said, "Oh sure." I had no concept of what I would see there. Susan: We made reservations with the P-FLAG group, so we were inundated with P-FLAG parents. They had banners and t-shirts with messages like "I love my lesbian daughter." It was incredible. And then to actually walk in the maren and see all these people. They ran the gamut. l'm sure on TV they showed the drag queens and the women without their tops on, but there was also just everyday kind of folks. Kay: I was just awestruck. There were thousands and thousands of people who looked like me, not like what I envisioned as my culture. There were just all of these regular-looking people. I carne home feeling almost duty-bound that I needed to be more visible. This was something not to be afraid of anymore. I started talking to everybody. I carne out to oíd friends and colleagues from work. It just started to snowball. Susan: After the march, we decided we wanted this coming out process to move along. At the same time, there was the politica! campaign, the presidential campaign about family values, etc, and I think we were also motivated by that. It sounds cold, but we basically made up a form letter and sent tto my out-of-town relatives. We apologized for t being a form letter, but we wanted to say the same thing to all these people, many of whom we don 't see very often. We feit it was important for them to see us as a family, and for them to know there are legal documents in place - powers of attomey, medical patiënt advocacy fbrms- where f something happened, Kay's in charge. In response, we got calis, messages on the machine, notes - all very positive. We had two people who did not respond. We assume that by not responding, that was making a statement of some sort. Other than that, of the about 20 letters we sent, most everyone said, "We still love you. You're super people. Thank you for sharing wrth us." It was very supportive. Kay: Before we came out, walking by Common Language Bookstore was always a fearful thing. What f someone sees you walking in? You are so closeted you have no sense that really people aren't watching your every move. It's just that you have this sense that people you know will see you and make an assumption about you. Some of it has no logic, and a lot of it does. A lot of it is fear and internalized homophobia I think my most thrilling moment was going into Common Language Bookstore and asking Kelly for advice of books to buy Susan for Christmas. I was terrified. Kelly just came up with this whole list of books and she had them all there. She was helping me and she wasn't judging me and I was very comfortable there. Susan: Since coming out, we no longer feel isolated. We have some very close friends, which we didn't have for 1 7 years. Everyone was kept at adistance. Now if we have a problem or if we need help painting the garage, or if we have a personal problem, there's an abundance of people to cali. Friday and Saturday nights are full, practically every weekend. Life is very, very different in that regard and I feel very fortúnate. Something we've had a problem with, is learning how to be a couple. For 1 7 years, we weren't. We'd sit at opposite ends of the living room when company was over. That f iltered into our personal life even when no one was around. It's been a challenge - even when it'ssafe, or when weshould feel comfortable, we still have to be aware of it. It's coming easier now. We've been working at t for almost two years. For 1 7 years we never celebrated our anniversary. No presents, no cards, it was just no big deal. And then for our 1 8th anniversary a couple of friends took us out to dinner. And on our 19th anniversary, the couple that we met in Washington took us to dinner. They had balloons at the table. They had called ahead and said, "We're celebrating an anniversary." So when the wart staff came to the table, she must have thought, "Here'sfour women. Well maybe I havethis wrong; it's a birthday." So she said, "What are we celebrating?" "Their anniversary, 1 9 years!" said our friend. And the woman didn't miss a beat. She just said, "Congratulations." And we went on with the dinner. It was like, what have I been so worried about all these years? There's always reason for concern, but all of a sudden I was comfortable. Kay: To someone who is struggling with coming out, I would say: Look for support groups (like PFLAG, Affirmations in Ferndale, and LGBPO at UM) and make sure you're comfortable with what you're doing - that you're not doing something just because someone else is saying you ought to. You should know that all of these support groups are confidential and they're run very well and you don 't have to do it alone. And it's worth it in the end. Susan: We have to step forward and we have to be coming out and saying there's a reason for change. I know coming out is a very personal act, but it's also, in this day and age, very politica!. That's something we've had to come to grips with because we never considered ourselves political people. If Kay holds my hand in downtown Ann Arbor, that's a political act. It's personal, but it's also political. The easiest way to break down stereotypes is one to one. And if you know someone who's gay, you have to put a name toa face and you can 't just say, "Oh, those gay people. Oh, those lesbians who were on televisión." You would now haveto think, when you're asked to sign a petition or vote against civil rights, and say, "Wait a minute, this is Kay and Susan and I know them."


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