The Joy of Coming Out

The Joy of Coming Out April 1, 2012

Several speakers at Reason Rally spoke about “coming out,” and the phrase showed up in a couple of the sketchy news stories about it.

Speaking as someone who has “come out” twice, as an atheist and as – well, you know, this other thing I don’t usually talk about very much because it’s just not relevant to my work as an atheist blogger – I’d like to persuade you all to do it.

It can be rough at first, but you will eventually realize it’s one of the best things you’ve ever done. The freedom that comes with it will more than repay the transitory pain that might accompany the initial shock.

I remember my own coming out – the first one – very well.

It was in junior high that I started realizing I was different from my friends. There were clothes I started to wear, things I felt moved to do, that were not at all like the stuff the other guys did. Their interests were not my interests, and vice versa.

I would vanish from the company of my friends for long periods, and then when I came back, act like nothing had happened. People started to remark on it. I began to hang out with a certain crowd, and my new friends and I spent hours just talking about the new stuff we were into, about what clothes “worked,” and occasionally experimenting with some things I’m sure would have shocked my regular friends.

But we kept quiet about it. I mean, that was part of it, right? You stayed hidden.

Finally, after years of it, I decided to end the pattern of deceit. I could no longer hide who and what I was.

I remember the day I finally confronted my parents. It was after dinner, and they were in the den watching TV. I dressed in my favorite outfit, a sheenless black silk shirt with bamboo toggle buttons, and night-black canvas pants. I struck a pose in the doorway and cleared my throat nervously, then pushed ahead. “Mom, Dad, I’ve got something to tell you.”

My father was the first to glance over at me, and his sharp intake of breath drew my mother’s attention. Her hand flew to cover her mouth, and her strangled voice asked “Honey, what is this? Why are you dressed like that?”

I stood in the doorway for a second, letting them take it all in. Then I reached up and dropped the black hood over my face, forcing them to see me for what I truly was.

“Mom, Dad … I’m a ninja.”

Oh boy, the storm that followed was epic. My father raged about it for two solid hours:

“No son of mine is going to be a ninja! Have you got more of these little outfits, mister? Because I’m going to burn every one of them! You’re not going out of the house, young man, until I do! Get your little ass upstairs and bring down every piece of black silk you own!”

When I started up the stairs, he shouted after me “And don’t think you can fool me! I know the sort of things your type goes on with. You can just bring the throwing stars and climbing hooks too! And I better not find any little knockout-dart blowguns or dazzle powder in there when I come in to check later!”

I could hear him all the way up the stairs and behind my closed bedroom door.

“My God, what are they going to say down at the VFW? You think I’ll be able to hold my head up in there? You think I’ll even be able to GO there without somebody cracking jokes about invisible assassins every 5 seconds? This is your fault, Grace! I told you not to coddle the boy, and now you see what comes of it!”

There was a scary moment a few weeks later when I even found some literature on his desk about a deconversion camp where “confused” teens were forced into a regimen of heavy alcohol consumption, sex and drug use (“Just Like Normal Teens!”), a program called “Binge Away the Ninj.”

My mother tried one of those “talks” with me later. “Honey … have you tried NOT being a ninja?”

I tried to get her to see it. “No, Mom, this is who I am. I’ve known it for years. You might as well get used to it, because I’m telling everybody. Your son is a ninja.”

Before the end of the year I was vanishing for hours with my friends. Totally unseen, we would hang halfway up the wall in the gym during basketball games, or creep invisibly through calculus class during tests, copying answers from the smart kids yet remaining unnoticed by the teacher. Today I use my skills at office parties and family celebrations and can always get a laugh. Eventually, even my father was a sport about it – once for Halloween, he and I switched clothes, me in a suit and him wearing a black stealth outfit, and it was a cool moment.

So if you’re thinking about coming out as an atheist – or as a ninja – I can only urge you to do it. You can’t imagine the freedom that comes after.

Sure, you’ll face some negativity, maybe lose a few friends. But in the end, it’s all worth it, because you also get to be your true self. And there’s no real downside to that.

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