Changing the conversation by having the conversation

Many of us know what it’s like to have the conversation — the coming-out conversation. Some may still be in the closet, fearing the conversation. But a phenomenal thing happened on April 15 that may help change that conversation, or perhaps make it slightly easier for some LGBT people going forward.

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., who officially announced his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination last weekend, had a very-public conversation during which he candidly discussed his coming-out journey with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, an out lesbian.

Two high-profile LGBT people having a personal, open and emotional discussion about the decision to come out, the timing, the struggle, and how different and individual it is for everyone is not something often heard on primetime TV.

Buttigieg, 37, came out at age 33 in an editorial in his local newspaper after having already been elected mayor. Maddow came out during college, saying it would have killed her to be closeted for so long.

“Coming out is hard, but being in the closet is harder,” Maddow said.

Buttigieg was on the other end of the spectrum saying how, for him, accepting within himself that he was gay took an excruciatingly long time.

“There’s this war that breaks out, I think, inside a lot of people when they realize they might be something that they’re afraid of, and it took me a very long time to resolve that,” he said.

Buttigieg is a Rhodes Scholar with degrees from Oxford and Harvard, a Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan, the mayor of a decent-sized Midwestern city and a presidential candidate who, if elected, would be the youngest president in history.

Impressive, yes. But success doesn’t really matter when it comes to this struggle. Even the most accomplished among us cannot guarantee success at the coming-out thing. People may, and often do, still reject you.

What is often not in the public conversation, is how many people struggle, as Buttigieg says he did, to come out to themselves.

Many in the LGBTQ community fear not being accepted by others. Just as many of us cannot accept ourselves.

To hear someone like Buttigieg give voice and legitimacy to this inner turmoil was indescribably poignant.

For some LGBTQ people, maybe what seemed like an enormous moment for the community eased some fears or offered solace to those who similarly suffered. For some non-LGBTQ people, maybe it provided a fuller understanding of the coming-out journey.

Hopefully, it made clearer that there may be those who come out immediately because it would kill them otherwise — yet there are some who may never be able to do it and are dying inside.