By Megan Sims
Reflections from an open mic.
The tables in Barker Café are draped with an array of pride flags: Gay, bi, trans, ace, genderqueer. Soft jazz music plays in the background. The lights are low.
The Harvard College Office of BGLTQ Student Life’s annual National Coming Out Day open mic is called “Narratives of Outness and Non-Outness.” People begin to fill the round room on a Tuesday evening. They eat churros, sip diet coke, and add their names to a large colorful banner celebrating the holiday.
National Coming Out Day is complicated because coming out is complicated. For most of us who are BGLTQ+ identified, it is a long, protracted process that often takes years, or even a lifetime. “Out” sometimes feels less like a physical state and more like an action continuously taken for fear of ending up back in the closet where we all started.
The open mic, co-sponsored by Speak Out Loud, contained some stories of coming out and of being out, but those were not the only narratives at the mic. There were meditations on transness and on loss. Performers read pieces by queer Chicanx poets and Walt Whitman. There were pieces performers had written years ago and ones written in the minutes before coming to the stage.
There isn’t a right way to come out or a right way to be out, and the variety of narratives on stage showed just that. Though National Coming Out Day is often seen as a way to celebrate only those who can safely be out, there is more to the story. Celebration does not have to be flamboyant. It does not even have to be vocal. Perhaps the space fostered by the Office of BGLTQ Student Life and Speak Out Loud, one of affirmation and openness, was enough for some, even those who weren’t out, to feel a part of the fabric of this coming out narrative.
Part of the beauty of the evening was in the way it flowed. There was no set structure. A few people signed up beforehand and performed at the beginning. Afterwards, audience members simply volunteered to speak. Some just talked without a script or a written piece. This space wasn’t a showcase but an acknowledgement that the multitude of coming out stories can’t be contained or neatly displayed and laid out for consumption.
One early performer framed his story with Harvard’s history of secret tribunals and homophobia. Another spoke honestly about his personal ties to the Orlando shooting this past summer. Being LGBTQ+, whether out or not, situates a person within a long and complex narrative that is so much bigger than a single Facebook status. Queer history is not isolated to National Coming Out Day. For so many of us live every day having to come out over and over again or not being able to. We fight bigotry. We sometimes lose. And one event cannot capture all of it.
Interns at the Office of BGLTQ Student Life gave every person who read a flower as a token of gratitude. And maybe it was not much, just a small gesture in the face of a world that is changing too slowly. But it was something. And that something was beautiful.
Megan Sims ([email protected]) wants to lend support to all LGBTQ+ people—from those who have been out for years to those coming out for the first time to those who cannot safely do so yet.