Play this song while you’re reading this: "Gracias a la Vida" by Mercedes Sosa.

Today is National Coming Out Day. I suppose I could Google it to find out when the celebration started, but it doesn’t matter. I first became aware of it a few years ago, and as most made-up holidays, it made me roll my eyes. This year, however, in the midst of the hatred and division that has taken hold of our country, I embrace it as a reminder that life—my life—has been beautiful. I embrace it as a reminder that being gay, and coming out, has added to that beauty.

The song you’re listening to has long been an anthem of mine. “A thank you to life,” it begins. Life, “which has given me so much”:

It gave me eyes like bright stars, which when open
let me see clearly what’s black and what’s white;
they let me see the starry depths of high heaven,
and among the crowds, the man I love.

I came out when I was 20. It was an exhilarating time in my life. I lived in Guatemala back then, and had just started working at the country’s second-largest newspaper. Before even graduating college I had the title of Chief Editor of the Opinion section. My editorials drew wrath and resentment from the country’s politicians; they earned me threats and thrilling hate mail. Yes, thrilling—what 20-year-old doesn’t get a rush from pissing off The Man?

A thank you to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me sounds and the alphabet,
and with it the words I ponder and declare:
Mother, friend, brother, and light shining
on the path taken by the soul of the one I love.

I grew up with a wealth of privilege that I didn’t always appreciate. I came out, driven by the self-confidence I drew from my job at the newspaper. I told my family and my closest friends. My parents didn’t like it, and I cried when I talked about it with my mom, but most of my friends didn’t care. I visited my first gay club, located in an old house in a part of the city that people in my family’s social circles would never visit. What I found was an underworld that was as dark as it was beautiful: that club was the only place I knew in Guatemala where the white upper class socialized with people of mixed and native backgrounds.

A thank you to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me the gait of my tired feet;
with them I traversed cities and puddles,
beaches and deserts, mountains and prairies,
and your house, your street, your backyard.

I left Guatemala and my job at the paper just a few months after I came out. I settled in the United States at 21, not so much out and proud as out and blasé. How kind has life been to surround me with people who see sexuality as a non-issue. Life has allowed me to travel, see some of the world, and see the heart of America. Life has shown me loss, despair, and the depths of loneliness. And it has freed me to love, to grow, to make mistakes—to find redemption. Life has taught me humility and it has led me to joy.

A thank you to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me a heart that shakes its framework
when I see the fruit of the human mind
when I see the good so far from what’s evil
when I see the depths of your clear eyes.

Being gay has made me kinder, better able to see the plights of others. Finding Christ has taught me grace. Life has given me friends who love courageously, who stand when they’ve been beaten, who risk it all for the sake of truth. And life has brought me to the man I love. It has allowed our souls to share a path. It is taking us to new prairies, testing us with new mountains. Life, allowing us to be out, is showing us the true depth of the Divine, the incomprehensible magnitude of the God we love.

A thank you to life, which has given me so much.
It has given me laughter and it has given me weeping;
with them I distinguish joy from sorrow—
the elements that make up my song
and your song, which is the same song.

National Coming Out Day (OK, I Googled it) is about sharing our stories. We share them because stories help us better understand ourselves and others. Some of Jesus’s most important lessons were taught in parables. The Bible itself is mostly narrative. It’s the story of God’s creation, the story of Life itself. So today I say thank you, Life, for my story—for the challenges and the differences; for letting me be gay; for pushing me past the margins.

 

The cover photo was taken in October 2011 in Cheaha Mountain, Alabama. Constantino spent 13 months traveling across the United States, walking from New York City to the Southwest, as a fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University. He chronicled his travels here.

 

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