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  • I am going to talk to you tonight

  • about coming out of the closet.

  • And not in the traditional sense,

  • not just the "gay" closet.

  • I think we all have closets,

  • your closet may be telling someone

  • you love her for the first time.

  • Or telling someone you're pregnant.

  • Or telling someone you have cancer.

  • Or any of the other hard conversations

  • we have throughout our lives.

  • All the closet is, is a hard conversation.

  • And although our topics may vary tremendously,

  • the experience of being in and coming out of the closet

  • is universal.

  • It is scary, and we hate it,

  • and it needs to be done.

  • Several years ago, I was working at the Southside Walnut Café,

  • (Laughter)

  • a local diner in town,

  • and during my time there,

  • I would go through phases of militant, lesbian, intensity.

  • (Laughter)

  • Not shaving my armpits,

  • quoting Ani DiFranco lyrics as gospel,

  • and depending on the bagginess of my cargo shorts,

  • and how recently I'd shaved my head,

  • the question would often be sprung on me,

  • usually by a little kid:

  • "Mmmm, are you a boy, or are you a girl?"

  • And there would be an awkward silence at the table,

  • I'd clench my jaw a little tighter,

  • hold my coffee pot with a little more vengeance,

  • the Dad would awkwardly shuffle his newspaper,

  • and the Mom would shoot a chilling stare at her kid.

  • But I would say nothing,

  • and I would seethe inside.

  • And it got to the point that everytime

  • I walked up to a table that had a kid

  • anywhere between 3 and 10 years old,

  • I was ready to fight.

  • (Laughter)

  • And that is a terrible feeling.

  • So I promised myself that the next time,

  • I would say something.

  • I would have that hard conversation.

  • So within a matter of weeks, it happens again:

  • "Are you a boy, or are you a girl?"

  • Familiar silence.

  • But this time, I am ready.

  • And I am about to go all Woman Studies 101 on this table.

  • (Laughter)

  • I've got my Betty Friedan quotes,

  • I've got my Gloria Steinem quotes,

  • I even got this little bit from Vagina Monologues I'm gonna do,

  • so I take a deep breath, and I look down,

  • and staring back at me

  • is a 4-year old girl in a pink dress.

  • Not a challenge to a feminist duel,

  • just a kid, with a question:

  • "Are you a boy, or are you a girl?"

  • So I take another deep breath,

  • squat down next to her and say:

  • "Hey, I know it's kind of confusing,

  • my hair is short like a boy's,

  • and I wear boys' clothes,

  • but I'm a girl

  • and you know how sometimes you like to wear a pink dress,

  • and sometimes you like to wear your comfie jammies,

  • well, I'm more of a comfie jammies kind of a girl."

  • (Laughter)

  • And this kid looks me dead in the eye

  • without missing a beat and says:

  • "My favorite pajamas are purple

  • with fish, can I get a pancake please?"

  • (Laughter)

  • And that was it, just:

  • "Oh, OK, you're a girl. How 'bout that pancake?"

  • (Laughter)

  • It was the easiest hard conversation I have ever had.

  • And why?

  • Because Pancake Girl and I,

  • we were both real with each other.

  • So, like many of us,

  • I've lived in a few closets in my life,

  • and yeah, most often, my walls happen to be rainbow.

  • But inside, in the dark,

  • you can't tell what color the walls are.

  • You just know what it feels like

  • to live in a closet.

  • So really, my closet is no different than yours,

  • or yours,

  • or yours.

  • Sure, I can give you 100 reasons

  • why coming out of my closet

  • was harder than coming out of yours,

  • but here's the thing,

  • hard is not relative,

  • hard is hard.

  • Who can tell me

  • that explaining to someone

  • you've just declared bankrupcy

  • is harder than telling someone

  • when you just cheated on them.

  • Who can tell me

  • that his coming out story

  • is harder than telling your 5-year old

  • you're getting a divorce.

  • There is no "harder",

  • there is just "hard."

  • We need to stop ranking our "hard"

  • against everybody else's "hard"

  • to make us feel better or worse about our closet

  • and just commiserate on the fact

  • that we all have "hard."

  • At some point in our lives,

  • we all live in closets,

  • and they may feel safe.

  • Or at least, safer than what lies

  • on the other side of that door.

  • But I'm here to tell you,

  • no matter what your walls are made of,

  • a closet is no place for a person to live.

  • (Cheers) (Applause)

  • Thanks.

  • So why is coming out of any closet,

  • why is having that conversation,

  • why is it so hard?

  • Because they're stressful.

  • We're so concerned about the reaction

  • of the other person, and understandably.

  • Will they be angry?

  • Sad?

  • Disappointed?

  • Will we loose a friend?

  • A parent?

  • A lover?

  • These conversations cause stress.

  • So let's kick out on stress for a minute.

  • Stress is a natural reaction in your body.

  • When you encounter a perceived threat,

  • -- keyword, "perceived" --

  • your hypothalamus sounds the alarm,

  • and adrenaline and cortisol

  • start coursing through your veins.

  • This is known as

  • Fight or Flight.

  • Sometimes you rumble,

  • sometimes you run.

  • And this is a totally normal reaction.

  • And, comes from a time

  • when that threat was being chased by a wooly mammoth.

  • The problem is

  • your hypothalamus has no idea

  • if you're being chased by a wooly mammoth,

  • or if your computer just crashed,

  • or if your in-laws just showed up on your doorsteps,

  • or if you're about to jump out of a plane,

  • or if you need to tell someone you love

  • that you have a brain tumor.

  • The difference is

  • the wooly mammoth chases you for, what,

  • maybe 10 minutes.

  • Not having those hard conversations,

  • that can go on for years,

  • and your body just can't handle that.

  • Chronic exposure to adrenaline and cortisol

  • disrupts almost every system in your body

  • and can lead to anxiety,

  • depression, heart disease,

  • just to name a few.

  • When you do not have hard conversations,

  • when you keep the truth about yourself a secret,

  • you're essentially holding a grenade.

  • So, imagine yourself

  • 20 years ago.

  • Me,

  • I had a pony tail,

  • a strapless dress,

  • and high heel shoes.

  • I was not the militant lesbian

  • ready to fight any 4-year old that walked into the café.

  • (Laughter)

  • I was frozen by fear,

  • curled up in a corner

  • of my pitch-black closet,

  • clutching my gay grenade.

  • And moving one muscle

  • is the scariest thing

  • I have ever done.

  • My family,

  • my friends,

  • complete strangers,

  • I had spent my entire life

  • trying to not disappoint these people.

  • And now, I was turning the world upside down.

  • On purpose.

  • I was burning the pages of the script

  • we had all followed for so long,

  • but if you do not throw that grenade,

  • it will kill you.

  • One of my most memorable grenade-tosses

  • was at my sister's wedding.

  • (Laughter)

  • It was the first time that many on attendance

  • knew that I was gay.

  • So in doing my Maid of Honor duties,

  • in my black dress and heels,

  • I walked around the tables,

  • and finally landed at the table of my parents' friends,

  • folks that had known me for years.

  • And after a little small talk,

  • one of the women shouted out:

  • "I love Nathan Lane!"

  • And the battle of gay relatebility

  • had begun.

  • "Ash, have you ever been to the Castro?"

  • "Well, yeah, actually, we have friends in San Francisco."

  • "We've never been there,

  • but we hear it's 'fa-bu-lous'!!"

  • "Ash, do you know my hairdresser Antonio,

  • he's really good, and he's never talked about a girlfriend."

  • "Ash, what's your favorite TV show?

  • Our favorite TV show: favorite, Will and Grace,

  • you know who we love? Jack.

  • Jack is our favorite."

  • And then one woman,

  • stumped,

  • but wanting so desperately to show her support,

  • to let me know she was on my side,

  • she finally blurted out:

  • "Well, sometimes my husband wears pink shirts."

  • (Laughter)

  • And I had a choice in that moment,

  • as all grenade-throwers do.

  • I could go back to my girlfriend,

  • and my gay-loving table,

  • and mock their responses.

  • Chastise their unworldliness,

  • and their inability to jump through

  • the politically-correct gay hoops

  • I had brought with me,

  • or,

  • I could empatize with them,

  • and realize that that was maybe

  • one of the hardest things that they had ever done.

  • That starting,

  • and having that conversation,

  • was them coming out of their closets.

  • Sure, it would have been easy

  • to point out where they fell short.

  • It's a lot harder

  • to meet them where they are,

  • and acknowledge the fact that

  • they were trying,

  • and what else can you ask someone to do,

  • but try.

  • If you're going to be real with someone,

  • you've got to be ready

  • for real in return.

  • So, hard conversations are still not my strong suit.

  • Ask anybody I've ever dated.

  • But I'm getting better.

  • And I follow what I like to call

  • 'The Three Pancake Girl Principles."

  • Now, please,

  • view this through gay-colored lenses,