National Coming Out Day is on October 11th. As someone who has bounced between the various letters of the LGBTQ+ spectrum for most of their life, and maintains a very carefully balanced state of “outness,” I have a lot of complex feelings about it.
For one, the notion of “coming out” is rooted in cisheteronormativity and the idea that queer people are “secretive” or “hiding something.” This was especially so during the AIDS crisis, where queerness was inherently tied to illness.
But cisgender heterosexuality is not the default, and we should stop allowing society to treat it like it is. Whether or not eliminating the idea of “coming out” is a stepping stone to breaking down that hegemony though, I can’t say. But it Is not the norm to “come out of the closet” as straight or cis.
Furthermore, there is no one “coming out” event. Sure, there may be a single instance where you decide that you will publicize your queerness, but from then on you will constantly be coming out. Every time you meet someone new or go out in public visibly queer, you are coming out over and over again.
And that’s not even accounting for any other changes in your identity over time, be it gender or sexuality.
My Own Struggle With Coming Out
I personally spent most of my life solely identifying as aromantic, and like many people, reckoned with my queerness during quarantine. In the past year I have come out as a demigirl, then as nonbinary in terms of my gender, and in all reality prefer terms like gendervoid and voidpunk. In regards to my attraction, I came out as bisexual, then as a lesbian, and then as queer and demiromantic.
Things can change, and change quickly. So to reserve a single day of the year for coming out feels trivial, though of course I say this with the understanding that most people may not necessarily hold out for this day.
And yet as I prattle on about the unnecessary weightiness of coming out, it is also something that’s been sitting heavy on my shoulders for a while. As it stands now, my family still believes I am cis, straight and Christian (though I have gotten inquiries from my dad about my sexuality in the past), when in reality I am none of those things.
As my college graduation creeps closer, so too, I hope, does my move out date. With my own space and independence, I would not have to hide in my own home. And with every intention to be unapologetically myself, I still wonder when and how to come out, and what impacts that could have on myself.
Would I lose my family’s support? It’s hard to say. They aren’t actively vitriolic toward the LGBTQ+ community, but listening to my father and grandfather chuckle about a meme that reads “I’m not fat, I identify as trans-slender” and my father alone joking about a friend of mine who uses they/them pronouns having multiple personalities...needless to say the environment isn’t exactly welcoming.
And there’s a certain defeat in knowing my deadname will soon be scrawled across my degree, because I simply don’t think I can come out too long before I move out.
But this leads me to another concern I have about Coming Out Day: readiness.
Sugarcoating the Process
The way that this day is usually publicized is too utopian for our reality, I believe. There is this push to be open, to live one’s truth, and how life changing and freeing it can be. And while all that can be true, it almost leans toward a toxic positivity laced peer pressure, and an over-assurance that things are going to be okay.
But things are not always going to be okay, and that just isn’t addressed enough. I am still haunted by the social media posts I saw last year of young queer people coming out, and subsequently being kicked out or facing abuse in retaliation.
This is unfortunately still the harsh reality; coming out is still a dangerous thing, and something that should be done with heavy consideration. My plea to those who plan to come out, not just on Coming Out Day, but any time, is to thoroughly weigh your situation, especially if you are still dependent on your family.
Waiting is painful, but your time and mine will come.
All this to say, I don’t believe that queerness and coming out shouldn’t be celebrated, and in fact I do love being openly and radically queer. But I believe we should spin the narrative. Coming out is a nuanced situation, and isn’t the sunshine and rainbows we would like it to be.
You are not any less genuine or authentic if you are not out yet. You do not owe anyone expediency to your identity. Your safety and wellbeing comes first, because you are still a part of this community, and we need you to stick around.
If you are planning to come out, the Trevor Project’s Coming Out Handbook provides prompts as you prepare to come out and excellent explanations on identity for yourself and others. It also emphasizes the above mentioned need to “test the waters” of those you plan to come out to, and also how to take care of yourself through this considerably stressful process. The very end also includes other resources to help you as you move through coming out.
The Human Rights Campaign also provides a Resource Guide to Coming Out. It focuses less on the explanations of identities and more on the actual process of coming out. It weighs the pros and cons, potential reactions from friends and family, and general expectations for coming out to someone. It also addresses the “coming out continuum” (the aforementioned idea that there is no one “coming out”), and the especially the importance of heavy consideration in coming out to one’s family if they are younger than 18 or financially dependent.
*As a disclaimer, this guide was published in 2014, and therefore some facts, figures and statistics included within may no longer be accurate.