I have a confession – which will come as little surprise to those of you who know me – but I love the undisputed Queen of Motown, Ms. Diana Ross. I grew up with her soulful, constant and reassuring voice on the radio, and as a ten year old I may even have had the odd secret dance in my bedroom fancying myself as one of her supreme backing singers. Seeing her perform live many years later with my partner and our two girls was a highlight of my life and further sealed my adoration for the ‘Boss’. The girls were even persuaded to present her with flowers on stage. The lipstick left on their cheeks after she kissed them both was not removed for some days at my insistence…actually it may have been weeks. From that time on we lip-synched for our lives (that’s before lip-synching was even a thing), hairbrushes in our hands, to ‘Aint No Mountain High Enough’ and ‘I’m Coming Out’.
Showbiz rumour has it that in 1979 Ms. Ross had commissioned a new song and one of the composers, having seen three drag queens dressed as Ms. Ross in a New York Night club, penned ‘I’m Coming Out’. Ms. Ross, unaware of its origins, thought that the song nicely summed up her departure from Motown Records where she had felt under the thumb of one of the producers. Allegedly on finding out about its true meaning, and its reference to homosexuals ‘coming out’, Ms. Ross was distraught and in tears, feeling she had been made to look foolish. She subsequently had a massive fall out with the composers over this and some other artistic differences. However, I am glad to say that they eventually managed to settle their differences and that the song went on to become a huge success and a subsequent anthem for LGBT+ communities everywhere – and many a handbag has been danced around to this celebratory camp tune since.
I recently attended a deeply moving and inspirational event at Sheffield Hallam University where a diverse group of LGBT+ people spoke openly about their experiences of ‘coming out’ – people of different classes, colour, cultures and religions and different ages. Whilst all of their stories were personal and unique to them there were still common threads to all of their experiences – fears of rejection and actual rejection; internal struggles with self- acceptance and shame; feelings of having let family or friends down in some way; and an overwhelming sense of feeling different. The 24 year old Olympic diver, Tom Daley, speaking recently as a castaway on Desert Island Discs, described his feelings and sense of always being ‘less than’ when he first came out. The other element which links all of these stories – all of our stories – is the sense, despite how difficult it may be to come out, that ultimately there is some feeling of relief; a sense of arriving at some destination we could only ever dream of in the distance. A sense that in spite of the fear of pain and anguish, it was the right thing to do and yet the most difficult thing in the world to do. A sense of an arrival, of coming up for air, of feeling truly whole. Paul Monette describes it so perfectly when he says:
“When you finally come out, there’s a pain that stops, and you know it will never hurt like that again, no matter how much you lose or how bad you die.” (Monette, Becoming a man, 1994).
So today I will be toasting all those who have already come out; those still contemplating coming out; those who, for whatever reason, never can come out; and all those allies who are there for us and continue to love and support us when we do come out. Here’s to National Coming out Day!