I remember hearing the words “to come out of the closet”. It seemed ridiculous. Why would I be stuck in a closet? Or anyone else for that matter? Why not under the bed? Or behind a mask? Why the closet? To this day, I’m not quite sure though now I refer to it as that sweater my aunt gave me that I was ashamed of wearing because it would give me a bad image. Wearing that sweater would be akin to coming out.
Before coming out, I remember stirring it around in my head. I never really did announce it, but talked about girls incessantly. I think people got the hint. For me, talking about the same sex or gender did not have any dangerous consequences except for possibly stares or people not wanting to be my friend. Many others, as I previously believed to be sort of a myth, got kicked out of their houses. I’m not sure if I could have survived if I was kicked out of my house, let alone want to survive.
“Coming Out” is only real because of the assumption of heterosexual desire. I would not be writing this if our country was not homophobic. Coming out in this day and age is getting easier for queer people, but mostly in urban areas. In rural areas, especially for trans people, it can be incredibly dangerous. One of the groups that is barely ever recognized in coming out are Intersex people because it is the most invisible in our clothed world. Coming Out also is not only for people who are queer, but for all stigmatized identities or marginalized invisibilities, for example: being a Muslim (post 9/11) in the US, being HIV positive, telling someone you have a mental disorder, or mentioning that your family lived on welfare.
I commend all those who have come out and wish I could change beliefs and situations so that people could live safely while being themselves. This is for those who think about queer desires, those who wish to announce their social differences, and who want to recognize difference in themselves.
How to know you might not be straight
Ok, for some this is easy to know. For some, you might be in complete denial about staring at ads of Angelina Jolie and drooling (come on!).A lot of desires are stereotyped in terms of how someone dresses or behaves. For example, a man who likes to decorate and cook is gay or a woman who has short hair and listens to Tegan and Sara all the time is a lesbian or a bisexual person is in love with Johnny Depp but equally fawns over Scarlett Johannsen. People define themselves sometimes differently from how they sexually behave. For example, a man might have a wife, but on weekends go have sex with a man and call himself straight. Also, You can still be gay, bisexual, lesbian, etc if you have never had sex respectively with a person who you have desire for. Personal sexual tags correlate with sexual behavior and/or desire, but not all the time.
The thing is having desires has a range from being attracted to a person physically, emotionally, to their personality, etc (see Kinsey and Klien post). Desires also change across time. During your 20’s and 30’s you might be attracted to men and then when you turn 50 you might want to live the rest of your life with a woman. Sexuality, Attraction, and Love are complicated.
Coming Out is defined on Wikipedia as:
“… the voluntary public announcement of one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Being “out” means not concealing one’s sexual orientation, usually a LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) orientation. This contrasts with being closeted which means concealing one’s orientation and identity. Being outed refers to having this information revealed, often without consent. Outing is the process of deliberately disclosing the sexuality of another who wants to keep this information private“(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coming_out).
“Some people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or who otherwise might prefer same-gender sexual activities or relationships, have engaged in heterosexual activities or have had long-term heterosexual relationships, including marriage. Well known examples include Sir Elton John and Oscar Wilde. Such apparently “heterosexual” behavior by people who would otherwise consider themselves gay or lesbian has often been regarded as part of being “in the closet” to create an illusion for acceptance by heterosexual surroundings. Imposed heterosexuals are to be distinguished from “out” bisexuals in long-term heterosexual relationships. Others who are “in the closet” have no heterosexual contact and simply want to protect themselves from discrimination or rejection by not revealing their sexual orientation or attractions .” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coming_out)
The idea of coming out was introduced in 1869 by the German homosexual rights advocate Karl Heinrich Ulrichs as a means of emancipation. Claiming that invisibility was a major obstacle toward changing public opinion, he urged homosexuals themselves to come out.
In his 1906 work Das Sexualleben unserer Zeit in seinen Beziehungen zur modernen Kultur (The Sexual Life of Our Time in its Relation to Modern Civilization), Iwan Bloch, a German-Jewish physician, besought elderly homosexuals to come out to their heterosexual family members and acquaintances.
Magnus Hirschfeld revisited the topic in his major work The Homosexuality of Men and Women (1914), discussing the social and legal potentials of several thousand men and women of rank coming out to the police in order to influence legislators and public opinion.
The first important American to come out was the poet Robert Duncan. In 1944, using his own name in the anarchist magazine Politics, he claimed that homosexuals were an oppressed minority.
In 1951, Donald Webster Cory published his landmark The Homosexual in America, exclaiming, “Society has handed me a mask to wear…Everywhere I go, at all times and before all sections of society, I pretend.” Cory was a pseudonym, but his frank and openly subjective descriptions served as a stimulus to the emerging homosexual self-consciousness and the nascent homophile movement.
The decidedly clandestine Mattachine Society, founded by Harry Hay and other veterans of the Wallace for President campaign in Los Angeles in 1950, also moved into the public eye with many gays emerging from the closet after Hal Call took over the group in San Francisco in 1953.
In the 1960s, Frank Kameny came to the forefront of the struggle. Having been fired from his job as an astronomer for the Army Map service for homosexual behavior, Kameny refused to go quietly. He openly fought his dismissal, eventually appealing it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. As a vocal leader of the growing movement, Kameny argued for unapologetic public actions. The cornerstone of his conviction was that, “we must instill in the homosexual community a sense of worth to the individual homosexual,” which could only be achieved through campaigns openly led by homosexuals themselves. His motto was “Gay is good.” “(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coming_out)
Do not do this at home!
Ways to not come out (there will be a lot of pain and drama that would come your way if you did this…or maybe not? your choice)
1. In Anger
2. On the Internet (this is just tacky)
3. As Revenge
4. Through someone else
5. When you don’t want to
What is Key to Remember in Coming Out
So, after learning all about the history, the meaning, etc it is time to evaluate what you need in doing this and why you are doing this and what will happen when you do. Do it when you are ready. Ready to answer questions, see the response, and feel the response. Get a support system before and know that you are safe (most important!). Know that there are multiple responses that you can get, some very unexpected (especially from people who you thought would be accepting) and some very expected. They range from hostility to total acceptance and your parents or loved ones immeadiately joining PFLAG the next day.
Know that in doing this, you are not alone. There are many support services, such as hotlines, religious communities, PFLAG, and your local glbtq group (if you don’t have one, hotlines are super) to the accompanying stigma that comes with announcing your queer desires. Some of these are listed below and are on the HRC website in downloadable pdfs.
Next, you can go out and date, explore, get to know people, etc. and know that there is always a support system out there through anything (you’ll need it during a break up for sure).
Some identities that are not clearly visible (unless you have a girlfriend/boyfriend, are transitioning, have visible different facial structure, etc) are harder to tell people about than others. Bisexuality, Intersexuality, and being Trans or some of the most stigmatized identities to reveal within the queer community because they are not as easy to understand and are more rare statistically (though some people beg to differ). Coming out is difficult, confusing, and sometimes a big relief or disaster. In Coming Out, wherever you are, I applaud you. Coming Out is a political statement, sometimes better for your mental health, and will remain a social phenomena for years to come.
This site called “Out Youth” provides questions to ask yourself before you come out as LGBTQI, the dangers it might present, and the situations you might have to face/explain. This site also provides a book list, well know GLBTQ people, and multiple other useful resources. An interesting tidbit is this site is managed by people from Texas (woo!):
Coming Out Stories: These are especially helpful when you want to feel as if you are not alone. There are many people out there like you who can provide support, who you can ask question of, etc:
The HRC website (Human Rights Campaign): This provides amazing resources (of course) about how to come out in a community of color, as transgender, as bisexual, and has a comprehensive guide to coming out. They also have many factoids, resources and multiple other links of interest:
Answers.com: This site provides a lot of answers, obviously, about how to come out to every possibly person who is involved in your life from your doctor, your spouse, your kids, your parents, etc: