They say “coming out” as if you do it all at once. There’s a party, you tell everyone, and you’re all set. Forevermore, they shall know you are queer. Unfortunately, coming out to people is rarely that easy. Instead, queer people have to question constantly if it’s safe to allow anyone to know who they are, let alone the people they love. For every happy parent and celebratory coming out party you see on social media celebrating, there are hundreds of stories of homes with tears and anger upon that revelation. I know. I get those messages almost once a week from friends and people who attended my pronoun workshop.
Wondering if I could ever be comfortable being my true self with family kept me in the closet longer than I’d like to admit. Not just letting them see my dark sense of humor and bad reality TV taste, but who I really am. Sharing the elements of myself that I’m just beginning to know. I told myself so many times that if I wasn’t sure, I shouldn’t share. I needed to feel confident. Unfortunately, the process of knowing yourself outside of the binary rarely comes with certainty. No one tells you how to be non-binary.
In that process of learning who I am, I had to unlearn all the things I was told about queer people while growing up. They never said it was bad, but told me in a million subtle ways. It’s the comment after someone walks past in the grocery store. The look when someone walks into the restaurant. The conversations at the table during holiday meals. I’m confident my family didn’t understand the message they were sending by doing that. I didn’t either.
These subtle signs added up to a belief that I was supposed to hide in plain sight. I ignored the whispers inside, hid the rainbow t-shirts, and pretended that it didn’t matter if they never used my pronouns correctly. I told myself a million excuses to bury my own truth. They were just old school. They didn’t hear about pronouns before.
The reality is that sometimes when queer people are coming out, they can’t trust everyone they love. When people show you they can’t be trusted with the truth, you have to set different boundaries. Yes, even with family. When you hide, it only sends a message to yourself that who you are doesn’t matter. Your truth matters more than someone else’s peace.
As a speaker on pronouns and LGBT+ issues, I am still working through my own hard conversations and I know I’m not the only one. Expert or not, queer people navigate this world with fear. But those questions and emails from people about how to live out loud remind me I am not alone. They remind me it’s worth being brave enough to keep coming out.
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.