Coming Out as a Survivor

By Ryan Price

Every time I watch a friend initiate that first discussion with loved ones about being gay, I’m reminded of the great courage it still takes to say two simple words.

I’m reminded of the massive fight for honesty we still must wage.

I’m reminded of the thousands of men and women still left “in the closet,” feeling immensely isolated, depressed and wrongly ashamed.

I’m reminded of the many people we each know still too afraid to say those two simple words. Yet, I’m hopeful that our generation just might be the first to change it.

I’m watching one good friend go through it now. He’s courageously opening up to his friends and family not for convenience, nor for the pride he does not yet have in being a gay man, but for the “moral responsibility of standing with and for his own” as put so adeptly by columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.

 In a sense, he’s doing it for the next kid that comes along.

I often see many social problems as intersectional, and I wonder if standing up as a survivor of sexual assault is not so different in some regards.

One friend cried to me when she revealed she was a survivor of sexual assault. She struggled to hold back her tears and calm her convulsing body. She wrongly felt ashamed and embarrassed for this heavy load she carries, yet simply telling someone who responds supportively helps lighten her burden.

Survivors of sexual assault share their plight with families and churches, and sometimes the perpetrator’s reputation is considered more important than justice.

 Similarly, LGBT people open up come out to families and churches, and the family’s “reputation” is considered more important than honesty.

Now the analogy of coming out as LGBT to coming out as a survivor of sexual assault should not make light of the violence and trauma I can’t even imagine survivors of sexual assault must reconcile with. Nor should it diminish the lifetimes of lies, confusion and sorrow LGBT people struggle to overcome.

However both groups of people are faced with a situation they did not ask

for, one that society may still treat as a scarlet letter, and one that often and undeservingly forces them to face ridicule, doubt, speculation and all too often scorn.

 Shame is perhaps one of the most powerful social forces in the world, and it’s time we put this wrongful shame in the closet.

It’s time we acknowledge the shame of a society that is embarrassed for its victims of violence, and not its perpetrators. It is time we embrace education over conformity.

Good for you, anonymous friends for standing up for yourself and others. Good for you. Here’s to the day when your courage means others won’t need to remain anonymous, and others will be heartened by it.

 I know this writer is.

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One Comment

  1. Catherine Thiemann
    Posted May 23, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    I appreciate this essay. I am beginning to come out as a survivor of clergy sexual misconduct, and I think it is very much like coming out as gay or lesbian, or as a survivor of sexual assault. Like the LGBT people of earlier generations, most survivors are still in the closet. Often, when I come out in a group setting, someone in the group will tell me privately afterward that they are a survivor too.
    Because I was shunned at my former church, I’m always nervous about identifying myself a survivor, but I have to keep doing it. One voice at a time, we will demand a compassionate response and an end to the ostracism and shame.

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