Nicolette Graf

I’m Coming Out… Again.

6-minute read
Image of a school

I’ve only had the experience of dating very tall, somewhat nerdy, straight men. It’s all I knew, and honestly all I wanted to know. Stepping outside of my “type” seemed terrifying and somewhat unfeasible in the middle-class Minnesotan suburb I grew up in.

That is, until my entire world was rocked in my mid-twenties. I met a very short, somewhat nerdy, gay woman. We happened to try out for the same women's football team; I earned the position that stood in front of hers, and we fell madly in love.

Our love story is one to be told another time, because there’s a different story I wanted to share. I had always heard coming out stories and how tragic and lonely they could be. I had also heard about the lighter, happier celebrations with glitter and rainbows. I never thought about either of them as being an experience I would have because they were for people who were braver, stronger, and more self-aware than me.

I can recall teetering the line of wanting to fully embrace myself and telling the world of the girl I just met, and the shame I’d feel having to explain that boys I loved in the past were a part of my story too. I can distinctly remember responses like, “Did something happen to you as a kid?” or “you’re confused” rang louder than the joy I was building up the courage to share. I even remember how much peace I had holding the hand of the love of my life combined with the distress of not having the words to share with my family just yet.

However, there was a pivotal moment when I decided that there was a place for me on the other side: I found a partner who asked me to seek freedom from limited thoughts and behavior. I was given permission to do and be more.  

So I began the journey, and here’s how it went…

Coming Out and Embracing My Whole Humanity

Self-Discovery: Through introspection, questioning, and understanding my feelings I recognized and started to honor myself, my feelings, and my beliefs. I realized I have been who I have been from the beginning of my life, I was just never curious enough. I identify as a queer woman.

Acceptance: Feelings like fear, confusion, shame, and self-acceptance were frequent until I came to terms with myself and accepted who I am fully. When those feelings still come up, I remind myself of how little time I have had with this version of me- and that we need patience and compassion.

Confided in Close Friends or Family: I shared being queer loud and proud everywhere I could. Not many get the same support I did, but man, the words, “this is my wife” still rings symphonies in my head.

Coming Out Publicly: Frequently and often, this step never seems to end. At work, at our children’s school, to legislators, to doctors, to store clerks, to lawyers, to dentists, to people I will never meet again. There will never be an ending to coming out because there are still people who have yet to know.

Navigating Reactions: Navigating reactions can be emotionally challenging and can influence how comfortable I feel being open about my identity. I’d hate to admit it, but sometimes I still say I have a husband just to get through an interaction. I’d say this is the step that I’ve learned to grow the most.

Building a Support Network: Creating or finding a supportive network of friends and community is key. Using this space to work through issues or things I have yet to understand about myself and the world have given me hope and a sense of belonging.

Living Openly: Coming out is an ongoing process. It's not just a one-time event but an ongoing journey of being comfortable and confident in your identity, and this can take time and I won’t stop learning.

Now, 7 years into my marriage to my wife, I thought that coming out was an event in my past. That was, until a man came into the picture.

On May 25th 2020, we were at home 19 minutes from 38th and Chicago where George Floyd was murdered. We sat in silence holding our two daughters in our laps as we changed television channels from one to another replaying the video of his murder.

Memorial to George Floyd near the spot where he died while in custody of the Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020

My wife and I’s souls ached over the few weeks our cities responded, but for drastically different reasons. As a white woman, I had minimal experience of racism and this was new for me to see. For my wife, as a black woman, it was her life.

Together we witnessed black, brown, and white residents of our state clutch one-another through something tragic and lonely and create beauty on our streets and building walls with glitter and rainbows when the pain subsided. Again, an experience I wouldn’t have because it was for people who were braver, stronger, and more self-aware than me.

I recall my white friends asking why I wasn’t at protests and claiming my absence as silence; the worst kind of violence. I remember white colleagues at work starting book clubs and “shocked” that this could happen in our state. I remember my black family members saying, “this is what happens to us” and feeling hopeless to provide a different response than a head nod. I remember the shame and guilt I held being married to a person of color, raising children of color, employed in work and living in a neighborhood that revolved around people of color and had absolutely no real way to eliminate the pain caused prior and during my existence.

There was again a pivotal moment when I decided that there was a place for me on the other side: My wife, my children, my work, and my community asked me to seek freedom from limited thoughts and behavior. I was given permission to do and be more. It was that time to come out again.

So I began the journey, and here’s how it went…

Redefining White Allyship in my Full Humanity

Self-Discovery: Through introspection, questioning, and understanding my feelings I recognized and started to honor myself, my feelings, and my beliefs. I realized that being white in America comes with privilege, power, and the ability to unlearn all the false narratives about race and our role in it. I identify as a co-conspirator in eliminating racism.

Acceptance: Feelings like fear, confusion, shame, and self-acceptance were frequent until I came to terms with myself, and the experience whiteness has given me. I used these feelings as fuel to the power I have to change policies, practices, behaviors, and spaces that do not allow everyone to belong and thrive.

Confided in Close Friends or Family: I made every conversation about race when it was and wasn’t appropriate; especially with those who are closest to me. To make meaningful change, I had to ensure my people (meaning white people) were strong, educated, and supported to be anti-racist. I could only do that by creating common spaces for difficult conversations with people with similar racialized experiences.  To my people (meaning people of color) I had to admit imperfection, hold myself accountable, and really listen to racialized experiences different from mine. I owned my learning and used vulnerability when I needed to learn more.

Coming Out Publicly: “Hi, my name is Nicolette Graf and I am a co-conspirator to eliminating racism” is a new statement to me. I lacked confidence in this identity because I had to shift my commitment of  “good white-person” to focusing on owning co-conspiracy in it’s entire messiness and imperfection.

Navigating Reactions: Navigating reactions can be emotionally challenging and can influence how comfortable I feel being open about being a co-conspirator. It takes a real risk of losing jobs, relationships, and reputation. Identifying this way can leave my character or actions open for question. Regardless, the impact of the work I want to do is greater than reactions.

Building a Support Network: Creating or finding a supportive network of friends, colleagues, other anti-racist professionals is key. Using this space to work through issues or things I have yet to understand about myself and the world have given me hope and a sense of belonging.

Living Openly: Being a co-conspirator is taking active action against racism regardless of the consequences. It’s a pledge to dismantle white supremacy culture and the harm it causes all of us. Like being queer, being anti-racist is an act of committing to the rawest version of myself. It allows me to love deeper, listen harder, provide care that is unbiased, and lead my life with purpose. It’s the most authentic form of living.

True Liberation Means Humanity and Belonging for Everyone

In the process of coming out twice, I've come to understand that true liberation lies not only in the acceptance of oneself but in the relentless pursuit of justice and equality for all.

As I navigate the ongoing paths of self-discovery and advocacy, I know that coming out isn't a destination.

It's an ongoing commitment to live openly, authentically, and courageously. It's about using my voice, my privilege, and my experiences to create a world where everyone can thrive without fear or prejudice.



So, here I stand—proudly and unapologetically—as a queer woman and a white co-conspirator against racism, committed to a world of love, justice, and acceptance.

About the Author

Nicolette Graf serves as the Director of Equity and Inclusion at Child Care Aware of Minnesota. Her work revolves around creating equitable decisions and reinventing oppressive systems that impact young children and their families access to quality child care. However, her DEI and anti-racism journey isn’t only professional. She is a mom to five young children who inspire her daily to take on an active role in interrupting racism. Whether working or parenting, Nicolette, has committed to being a co-conspirator to compassionately deconstructing a world that doesn’t work for all of us.

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