Expressing myself in ink this National Coming Out Day

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By: Jason Lydon/TRT Columnist-

This summer, I spent a good amount of time on the road, traveling around in an adorable red Toyota. I drove to North Carolina for work, Chicago to visit friends, and my last stop was in the northern part of Michigan to visit my sweet friend Ron, a 47-year-old gay man who had just gotten out of prison after 17 years. As there was not much to do in the back woods of Michigan, and Ron was still restricted to 50 yards distance to the house he was staying at, we decided that Ron should give me my newest tattoo.

Oct. 11 is considered one of our queer holidays, “National Coming Out Day.” This day functions as a reminder that we are entitled, should we choose, to proclaim our queer/trans identities to the world. Tattoos on our bodies can be an incredibly powerful way to make a similar kind of proclamation. My first tattoo was done on National Coming Out Day in 2005. In celebration of being out for half my life (I came out when I was 12), I wanted a permanent declaration. I got the word queer tattooed within an anarchist star on the inside of my right bicep. This was my moment to claim my body for myself and to choose a term that I knew described me as I identified at that moment.

Coming out is not something we do only once; it is a constant part of our life. Not only are we forced to come out to new people and in new spaces, due to the realities of heterosexism and gender normative assumptions, but many of us watch our genders and sexualities transform as we learn more about ourselves. When I was 12 years old I came out, as awkwardly as one could, as gay. I knew that I liked other guys and was excited about loving and smooching them. However, as I grew up and learned more about the world I got excited about the idea of queer. While I liked men I came to understand that gender is far more fluid than the strict binary of man and woman. If I wanted to authentically allow myself to love and lust after all the people I found myself attracted to, then the standard definition of gay simply could not work anymore. I started coming out as queer when and where I felt I could.

My newest tattoo is another coming-out moment. In the basement of the house where Ron was staying, I slipped off my jeans and rolled up the right leg of my boxer-briefs to expose my upper thigh. The tattooing gun hummed as the needles repetitively entered my skin. Ron carefully guided his hand and spelled out the letters, F-A-G-G-O-T, down my thigh. For too long this word has been hurled at me with intention of causing harm. Too often this word has taken power away from me. This word, now, is mine. I am proud to be a faggot. I’m proud to come out, in places where I feel like I can, as a faggot.

This word, this F-word, is not only a statement to straight people. When I come out as a faggot I am taking pride in the parts of myself that are not assimilating, not trying to be legitimate. When I come out as a faggot to other queer people, especially men, I am trying to challenge gay men’s misogyny. Too often I hear gay men say, or read in their online profiles, “no femmes” or that they want “real” men. Part of choosing my F-word is my F-you to that culture of femme hatred.

My friend Ron, very sadly, violated his parole and is now back in prison.

My tattoo is no longer only a reminder of my identity, but a reminder that there are those behind prison walls who, when they come out, are putting their lives at risk. My tattoo doesn’t get to be seen by many people, but when I take a shower at the gym or sit in the sauna and other guys see it I think about how there are so many people for whom coming out puts their lives in danger. I commit to continuously coming out as gay, queer, faggot as often as I can and honor all of those who live their LGBTQ identity differently than I do; I hope this National Coming Out Day you can join me.