National Coming Out Day
We hear the phrase often. It is a cliché of the sort, but there still is some truth to it. For many years now, people and society at large have described the act of a person revealing a queer identity to friends, family, or the world in general as ‘coming out of the closet.’ Of course, no one is actually hiding in the closet, but this phrase has been used to depict how queer people must keep a part of themselves hidden and closed off from others. There are many reasons why someone within the LGBTQ+ community might decide to keep their identity to themselves such as oppressive policies, fear of disapproval from loved ones, or even one’s own internal process of accepting their own identity. Regardless of the reason, the phrase alludes to a singular, momentous moment where everything comes down to either acceptance or rejection from their loved ones for that individual. In doing so, it fails to recognize the process and years of self-reflection and work that a queer individual goes through to get to the point where they are comfortable expressing their identity.
From my own experience as a gay man, I never felt that the term ‘coming out of the closet’ fully encapsulated the whole process that an individual goes through. My journey began at a very early age. Growing up, I had always felt like there was something different about me, but it took until I was about 15 or 16 to finally understand what that difference was. Even then, I struggled for the next two-ish years to accept that difference myself and then feel ready to tell people. But even then, I never really felt that I was the one that was able to tell someone else. The first time that I ever told someone, I was with friends, and one of them simply asked me. I was at the point where I had been debating whether I should begin telling my friends or not, so I took that as an opportunity to finally ‘come out of the closet.’ However, what ensued was where my story began to become complicated.
Of course, I had pleaded to all my friends to please keep the information I had shared with them a secret. Just because I had shared that information with them did not mean I wanted a bunch of other people to know. I went to a private religious high school, and although I was never bullied or antagonized for my identity, it wasn’t a place I necessarily wanted everyone to know that I was gay. I began having people ask me if I was gay. For people that I trusted, I told them the truth, whereas I continued to deny my identity to people that I was not super close with. Then it came to the point where I had been outed to my parents. I was not given the chance to tell them myself, at my own discretion, when I was ready. Luckily, I have an excellent relationship with my parents, but that’s not to say there hasn’t been a learning curve for my family, including myself when navigating my queer identity. The point of the matter is that there was not this one moment where I shared with everyone that I was gay, and then it came to this ultimate climax where everything went one way or the other.
Even to this day, I am still ‘coming out.’ I feel very comfortable with myself and love being a gay man, but it still is something I am constantly self-reflecting on. Whenever I meet someone new, I must contemplate whether I want to tell them I’m gay. Often, it boils down to whether I trust the individual and think they are accepting. Whenever I begin a new job, I have to think about what kind of an organization it is and if I think they value diversity, equity, and inclusion. I think if I share this information with my coworkers, how will it affect the team dynamics? Will some people not feel comfortable with me sharing this part of myself? I am still coming out. I have been coming out for close to 10 years now. I never quite related to the famously coined term, ‘coming out of the closet.’ I like to think of it in a much different way. I envision a stage with a large curtain. Behind that curtain lies all these different aspects of myself and my identity. Just like a stage curtain can be pulled in either direction to reveal or conceal what is behind it, I feel more open about myself some days, while other days I do not. Depending on who is in the audience that day, I might reveal more or less of what is on the stage.
National ‘Coming Out’ Day is celebrated on October 11, 2023. It began in 1988 to encourage people to embrace their identity and live their life as a publicly queer person. Regardless of whether someone embraces the metaphor of ‘coming out of the closet,’ the point is that every person’s story is different. There is no right way or wrong way to come out. There is no right time or wrong time to come out. There might be one time or multiple times that a person must come out. Regardless of the manner, people deserve their own space and time to explore their identity to flourish and blossom as their most authentic selves.
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