Society’s thickest and most elaborate masks are born from oppression, and it’s a beautiful day when people get to take those masks off, throw them on the ground, and stomp all over them as they dance to Single Ladies by Beyonce on one of the gayest days of the year.
October 11 is National Coming Out Day. The day is not only an opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people to come out across social media platforms and in real life, it’s also an occasion to celebrate pride and the freedom of being out. It wasn’t always the case that LGBTQ+ Americans could be open about their sexualities, and in countries across the world, people who identify as anything other than cisgender heterosexual must spend their entire lives in the closet, for fear of the heavy price they’d pay if they didn’t.
For people who have been out for years, October 11 is a chance to celebrate that freedom; for people who aren’t out yet or are questioning their sexuality, it’s a day where they can see what a truly great community they’re apart of. Coming out is an emotional experience, and if the reaction is generally positive, it’s a cause for great celebration. One of the scariest things you can do is tell someone that you’re not straight, or that you’re not cis. National Coming Out Day is an acknowledgement of the difficulty of coming out, but more importantly, it’s a chance to be proud of the community and all that it’s overcome.
Across the country, there are parties to celebrate the date, but none is bigger than Outfest, which takes place in the Gayborhood in Philly. I was one of over 50,000 people who came out, pardon the pun, to celebrate all things queer. I suited up in my Glenside apartment, choosing to wear hot pink thigh-high tights with my bright blue skirt. The day was warm, perfect early October weather, and as I walked to the train station, I was in a great mood. I was heading into the city to meet a few friends for my first Pride celebration, and it was bound to be a good day.
Once in Philadelphia, I walked a few blocks past the Gayborhood without realizing it, and had to turn around and readjust several times, marching my thigh-highs through Philadelphia with slight trepidation. I’m not usually a very outrageous dresser, as evidenced by the fact that the gayest clothing I own was a pink pair of tights. I felt like people were staring. It was only once I managed to find the Gayborhood that my concern shifted from looking too weird to not looking weird enough. Everything was decked out in rainbow.
150 vendors set up around several blocks in the heart of Philadelphia with rainbow-themed booths. Several area churches had booths with heartwarming messages of love and acceptance toward the community. People were handing out brochures about LGBTQ+ groups, choirs, charities, and more. There were some booths selling X-rated items that my friends and I walked past with awkward glances at each other. Fair games had been set up on one of the streets, demanding extortionate amounts of money to win cheap prizes. I stood and watched people fall off a mechanical bull for about twenty minutes, laughing at their misfortune, comfortable in the firm fact that I would never get on one myself. That’s not a question I need answered.
Most remarkable about the event was how much people had transformed their physical appearances. Walking down the street in Philly on any other Sunday of the year, you’re likely to see a couple of people dressed outside of the norm. But on this particular Sunday, everyone was decked out in whatever it was that made them happy, be it heels, floor-length gowns, rainbow flags, platinum-blonde wigs, or buttons that read “I <3 Jewish Boys” or just the simple “PRIDE.” Everyone was part of a colorful human rainbow, myself included, and I felt a strong sense of community. Thousands of people had all come together to embrace one another’s queerness with love and acceptance.
Outfest was the chance to take off the mask of normality and let yourself shine. While people in the LGBTQ+ community can be much more open in modern America, things aren’t perfect. We do wear masks in everyday life to avoid awkward conversations or sometimes, downright disgust from other people. Often, it’s easier to not come out if it isn’t necessary, and that’s perfectly okay. That just makes it even more freeing to dance around in a rainbow tutu, hand in the air, screaming the lyrics of Single Ladies, completely and totally unmasked, feeling perfectly safe.