By Alex Cordero
The San Gabriel Valley celebrates Pride in October to bring awareness to National Coming Out Day which is commemorated on Oct. 11. The vice president of the San Gabriel Valley LGBTQ Center, Dylan Lizarraga, shared their coming out story with us and was transparent about what it means to come out.
When I asked Lizarraga why it was important for them to come out, they answered, “I think it felt that it wasn’t important for me [to come out]. It was more important for everybody else, and so that made it important to me.”
A day prior to our meeting, Lizarraga had been part of a training for cultural competency in which they was responsible for including the LGBTQ aspect in the San Gabriel Valley area.
One of the topics up for discussion during this training was the idea of privilege. “Not having to come out is a privilege and also the idea that we only come out once is a constant conversation.” They continued, “You come out to yourself and then when you realize who you are. Because for the most part you’ve been likely taught, like I was taught: ok, you’re assumed to be straight, you’re assumed to be cisgender, and then you’re assumed to be what you are and work from there.”
The nonbinary pronoun ‘they’ has been added to the dictionary. https://t.co/tadl1VdfB0
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) September 17, 2019
Lizarraga went on to describe that based on their experience it felt like it was more meaningful for other people for them to state their gender or sexuality than it was for them personally, but eventually it begins to feel important to them too: “I realized my identity is different and now I have to share this [identity] with people, because they’re assuming the wrong things about me.”
They shared how the way they identify their gender identity has changed from when they first came out to present day.
“When I first came out, it was just as a gay male and that was my understanding of it. But as I am currently now, I realized non-binary is a more accurate understanding of my own gender and identity.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign glossary terms, non-binary is defined as “an adjective describing a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman.”
Lizarraga remembers first coming out to themself at age 11, and then coming out to a close friend for the first time at 13 during their last year of middle school. “She’s the first person I came out to, and I didn’t realize at the time, but I realized afterwards how conservative she was and how not ok she was with that [coming out] as I thought she would be. And that was a little bit of a blow—but it was, at least at the time, having to come out to somebody—I felt more comfortable with the people that I know now and have become friends with and with my own class mates.”
We transitioned to discuss the question: Is coming out a one way conversation?
“No, it is a constant conversation. Because it is about everyone else and is not about you anymore.” Lizarraga answered, and we began to discuss the concept of how common it is for people to feel pressured to come out or get pressured into it.
Lizarraga does not feel as pressured to come out anymore as they did when younger. They recall only two people asking them in private about their sexual orientation and then later expressing their sexual identity as part of casual conversation as they got older amongst friends.
“My idea is for other people not to be pressured into it. [Coming out] is not going to be quick. It’s going to be a very long process—probably last longer than my lifetime, unfortunately—to have people not have to come out, or that they get to realize it [gender identity/sexuality] and it’s not as big of a process. I want it to feel like the same conversation you have with your parents at one time when you bring home a boyfriend or a girlfriend: just as uncomfortable but there is no stress and there is no real danger.”
Lizarraga continued to express how they hope having coming out conversations come from the same level of interest as when introducing someone you are dating to your parents. “It should come from that same level of care and concern, but not judgment from the people who are supporting you. Not judgment from people outside who were not even involved before this [coming out] came up.”
It is still considered important to come out—whether as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or non-binary—because it builds a stronger support for equality under law.
Lizarraga had meaningful advice for people who may be considering coming out. “Coming out is not necessary; it’s something that will happen. You come out to people you feel safe and comfortable with. You come out to yourself, if the environment is not safe. If it is not to your benefit, do not do it.”
They also stated the positive impact coming out has had for them. “It is so affirming to have an identity, to go from not being recognized to being part of something, to knowing who you are.”
Lizarraga began to mention all of the resources and support groups like the San Gabriel Valley LGBTQ Center offer to local communities. “Our mission is to build a safer and more inclusive environment in the San Gabriel Valley, and that starts with the popups and places we develop. We have a trans peer support group, we have our senior support group, we have our youth group as well.”
Join our team! (If you don't feel like board membership is a fit for you, you can always become a volunteer. Every person who walks through our doors is valued and needed!) https://t.co/ppj2SMVjBI
— (S)poopy (G)houlish (V)ampire LGBTQ Center (@sgvlgbtq) September 30, 2019
Other types of resources the San Gabriel Valley LGBTQ Center provides are events that focus on creating safe spaces for people in the community. Places Lizarraga describes as environments where people don’t have to come out but just be themselves.
Lizarraga clarified that although coming out is considered a privilege, it is still important to continue recognizing National Coming Out Day and the significance of it. “If we don’t encourage it, if we don’t talk about it then it will be swept under the rug again.”
In addition they followed by stating, “What I believe should and will change is the narrative around it [coming out], the pressure to come out, and the encouragement or the idea that there is safety to come out first. Because we are quite a long way from changing the systems in place from patriarchy and cisgender power.” They continued, “But what we can do is at least build enough safe space for people to come out, and it is more empowering to come out then it is detrimental.”
The SGV Pride Festival will be on Saturday, Oct. 12 at Central Park in Pasadena. The event is free to the community and there will be plenty of resources available to local residents in attendance.
If you would like more information on how you can get involved, volunteer, or be educated on the LGBTQ community in your area, please visit The San Gabriel Valley LGBTQ Center and discover how you can also make a difference in your community.