Coming out isn’t just a one-time thing | LGBTQ | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Coming out isn’t just a one-time thing

Coming out as LGBTQ to new people can be anxiety-inducing — and liberating

click to enlarge Coming out isn’t just a one-time thing
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
People march over the Andy Warhol Bridge for the 2021 Pittsburgh Pride Revolution March

My coming-out journey was not the easiest, and I’m sure many others can relate. Society always wants to focus on the coming-out story, as though it happens once and it’s finally over with. Unfortunately, that is not the case — that is never the case. Being a part of the LGBTQ community means you “come out” almost daily — at least, I certainly do.

Growing up as part of an Indian family in London, UK, moving to Pittsburgh, PA in 2015 was the best decision I ever made. I didn’t know it then, but gaining independence is what allowed me to open up my heart to my true self. Living in my own space, exploring different types of people — and even forcing myself to embrace a heterosexual relationship over and over again — opened up my eyes to what I truly wanted and needed.

But that’s a whole other story.

I came out to my family, one person at a time, over a period of two years. With each person, it was harder than the next; each conversation more emotional and heartbreaking than another. And in my naïvety, I thought, everything will be fine once everybody knows. Except there’s never a point when everybody knows. Starting a new job, communicating with new co-workers, talking to different people every day– coming out will never end. And that is the sad truth.

I work as an orthoptist. I specialize in eye movements and visual development, seeing both adults and children each day. I work in various locations in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and I frequently meet new people. Over months and years, I’ve built great rapport with my patients and their families old and young. Often, patients notice my engagement and wedding rings — some simply compliment them and move on, but others dig deeper because they want to know what my real life looks like. Either way, my anxiety rises quickly. My fears that I’m going to be asked about my “husband” increase rapidly. Any acknowledgment of my rings makes my heart beat so hard that I feel it in my throat.

Am I overreacting? Am I being too sensitive?

Let me ask you this … does the average married heterosexual feel this way? Do they feel scared to share details of their partner, their wedding, their marriage? Things that I love to share with people I know accept me, support me, and love me. And yet, I feel unable to speak my truth. Of course, it isn’t the conversation of “I’m gay” that is the problem — that was the difficulty when I was actually coming out — it’s the judgmental reactions, the hesitations before a response, the sheer disappointment from those on the other end.

I am ashamed to admit this, but at times, I have dreaded speaking my truth so much that I referred to my wife as “he.” I have openly felt forced to speak about my wife as though she is a man. Why? To avoid judgment, to avoid feeling disrespected, embarrassed, ashamed, or fear of losing a connection I have built so well with a patient.

Most recently, I have had to train myself to respond with my truth, because I am not ashamed in the slightest. I am proud of who I am and who our community is. I am proud of my wife, my marriage, and our little family. I have learned that I do not need to hide this. It doesn’t change my anxieties or fears, but it does change my response to questions. It does change how I feel after walking away from those conversations, and it does change the impression I give off to people: it shows them I am proud of who I am and not embarrassed to share my story.

And still, in 2024, when I do tell my truth and answer honestly, the responses I get continue to be those of surprise, shock, and obvious disappointment. There is an immediate hesitation as people don’t know what to say next; I feel tight-lipped judgment (“Oh … OK”). I know it’s OK. It is more than OK. In fact, it is truly incredible to be gay — it is perfect; it is a great feeling. It is way better than “OK.”

click to enlarge Coming out isn’t just a one-time thing
Photo: courtesy of Kaajal Nanda
Writer, Kaajal Nanda

My message to you, reader, is to embrace it all. Love us all. Why shame us and make us feel bad for showing love, reciprocating love, living beautiful lives? Why pretend to care for us and then pray the gay away the second we leave?

Yes, I still feel the fear and anxieties around this. I feel it almost daily. Nobody deserves to feel this way. But I am happy, I am loved. The LGBTQ community needs more love and less hate. We need support and kindness. Be the person who gives that every day.

The 2024 Pittsburgh Dyke March
24 images

The 2024 Pittsburgh Dyke March

By Mars Johnson