Throughout the first few months of my coming out, I noticed a distinct difference between how friends my age showed support and how older people did, and I think the difference highlights something very special about what has happened over the past few decades.
My fellow twentysomethings accepted me by really not reacting at all. It was not some huge revelation to them. There was no widening of their eyes or “oh my Gods,” no beat skipped between the moment I said “I’m in love with this girl” and their “tell me everything about her!” responses. No one ever paused a conversation to reassure me that they loved me no matter what because it never occurred to them that I didn’t already know that. That my sexuality could even be a factor in how they felt about me was too silly to even merit a discussion.
That is what made me feel best, those non-reactions. It was a comfort to see that this integral piece of me was not something that would shock everyone I told. For our generation, it seems it is just not that big of a deal anymore. Of course there are many exceptions, but I think young people as a whole have become a lot more comfortable not only with homosexuality as one of several norms, but with the idea that, no matter what you label yourself, you never know who you may end up falling for.
The way older people in my life demonstrated support used to bother me, but it doesn’t anymore because I finally understand why.
When older people found out I was gay, even if I was not the one to have told them, they more often felt a need to actively reach out and let me know they still love me. These unsolicited messages of support felt strange–as if they thought I’d assume they would not accept me until they proved otherwise.
I’m not trying to sound ungrateful because those messages made me feel so loved, and they are of course lightyears better than being rejected. These people had only wonderful intentions, but when I would get a message out of the blue just to let me know that someone thinks I am brave and stands by me no matter what, it felt like just another reminder that I was different, that there was something about me that required them to treat me in a special way. It was another indicator that now, among the people they knew, I stood out.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I began to realize exactly why they felt like they had to do what they did. They grew up in a time when homophobia was far more rampant, when words like “fag” were tossed around with ease and many considered AIDS God’s punishment to gays. Actively letting someone know you support them was probably the only way she could know you did, and when these people reached out, they just wanted to be sure I wasn’t afraid to be myself around them.
I think the generation gap between how people show support is actually really exciting. It demonstrates how much progress we have made and how being gay is slowly becoming something we see as commonplace. Older people voice support because they grew up in a time when gay people did not have much support at all. Young people don’t feel a need to tell me they are in my corner because coming out no longer means I have to stand in one.
While I do think there has been an overall shift in attitude, homophobia is, of course, still a huge problem. The anti-LGBT laws that have recently passed in this country are appalling, and LGBT people still face harassment every single day.
The new religious freedom law in Indiana that allows for blatant LGBT discrimination is incredibly frightening, but I have tried to focus on how many hugely influential people and corporations have come together to speak out against it. Pro-equality messages from companies like Twitter, Nascar, Salesforce, Apple, Subaru, Yelp, and more have been flooding my Facebook newsfeed. Influential leaders from Nancy Pelosi to Charles Barkley to Duke University have also spoken out against the law. There have been letters and protests and tweets to denounce it, and I can see that in the wake of this awful legislation, something beautiful is happening. A community that once lacked support has found it, and while we still have so much work to do, change is here and more is coming. I can see it on my newsfeed, and I could see it on the unruffled faces of those non-reacting twentysomethings.
I am truly touched by those who tell me I am brave and strong, but I am more excited to be moving in a direction where dating who you want need not require bravery. Support for same-sex marriage has reached an all-time high in the United States, with one of the most supportive groups being those between the ages of 18 and 34. I am hopeful that as these young people reach adulthood and begin to govern this country, things really will keep getting better.