It’s National Coming Out Day! I’ve written about this before – I compared coming out to Doctor Who (hey, don’t judge!) in 2013, and I wrote a list of bizarre things people have said to me after I came out to them in 2014. So, basically, I’ve previously talked about being out.
This time, however, I would like to dedicate a post to those who are not yet out, who can’t come out now or maybe even ever.
This post is the result of many things: Conversations, stuff I’ve read, things I learned about in class. And all but one of these things happened recently, so they’ve been on my mind a lot lately. Soooooo. I’m going to try to pull these thoughts together so they form one cohesive post, OK? I’ve even bolded all the thingies so you know what it is that drove me to write this post.
It is National Coming Out Day. What does that mean?
There is a pervasive idea that everyone has to come out. EVERYONE. E V E R Y O N E. And that’s just… not a good idea for many? In and of itself, National Coming Out Day isn’t necessarily a bad idea – if you’re ready to come out and can be sure that you’ll be safe afterward, then go for it – but I think there is wayyyyy too much pressure on LGBTQ+ people to come out or else.
Spectrum – my college’s LGBTQ+ group – set up a National Coming Out Day booth on Friday. (Because there are more people on campus on a weekday than on the weekend!) I volunteered there for a few hours, and one of the things we did involved taking photos of queer students/faculty (and a few allies) holding up whiteboards with positive messages written on them.
I did a few messages myself, and I was going to include the photos with this post, but… well, they haven’t been uploaded to Spectrum’s Facebook page yet, so I can’t. I WILL SOON THOUGH. AS SOON AS I FIND THEM.
Anyway, I walked past the booth later that afternoon after my Media History & Culture class was over, along with a few of my queer friends from that class, and I asked if they wanted to do a photo or two with me since plenty of people were doing silly group shots. They both said that they’d be totally down for it if they were out to their parents, but they weren’t, and they couldn’t be. (FYI, everyone had to sign a waiver saying they were OK with Spectrum putting the photos on social media. We didn’t want to accidentally out anyone!)
Similarly, some of my Internet friends aren’t in a position where they can come out, either. One of these friends started college at the same time I did; the other leaves for school in a few months. Both of them are extremely upset about this – about not being able to come out to their friends, family, et cetera – and I feel bad about seeing my friends so sad like this, but what can I do? If they come out their families will disown them, and then both of my friends can kiss the dream of college (let alone grad school) goodbye. It’s really not as simple as “What are you afraid of? Just come out and everything will magically be OK! It Gets Better!”
I recently saw a post… somewhere, I think it might’ve been on Facebook? I’m really sorry that I don’t have the link, especially since I’m providing links to all the other online thingies I’m discussing in this post, but I JUST DON’T KNOW WHERE IT IS. Anyway, the gist of the post was basically, “We need to stop making queer people responsible for coming out, and start making straight and/or cisgender people more responsible for the effects that their assumptions have on queer people.” In other words, the only reason queer people have to come out in the first place is because cishet people assume that everyone else is also cishet.
One of the (many!) LGBTQ+ Facebook pages I follow – Gayce in Space – shared this post today, and I thought it was AWESOME and really relevant to all that I’d been thinking about lately. Like, why do we prioritize coming out soooo much, even when it’s at the expense of others’ safety? Even today, many children and teens who come out will be kicked out of their homes, and we’re so invested in the idea that everyone must come out… but we’re not really willing to devote resources to the issue of homeless queer youth, are we?
(I particularly like #5: “What does it mean when not being ‘out’ is associated with being repressed/self-hating rather than being strategic and discerning?” UGH. SO TRUE. Is there even such a thing as a queer person who is completely out? I really don’t think there is – heteronormative assumptions mean we’re always closeted to someone, and besides… we have to be discerning. There are people I am deliberately not out to, because I wouldn’t feel safe being out to them, or because I just don’t want to deal with their reaction afterward. I am Not Out to some people because… quite honestly, I feel they don’t deserve to know about that part of me, because I know they’ll be horrible about it. They’re never going to really know me unless they change their attitude, and I don’t feel one ounce of regret about that.)
Aaaaand that post really reminded me of my Intro to Gender, Women’s, & Sexuality Studies class! It’s not something we’ve discussed in class yet, and I doubt we ever will because that class is soooooo heteronormative that it makes me cringe, but it really made me think about all we’ve learned about systems of power/oppression so far. Take, for instance, #2: “What does it mean to make the onus of liberation on the individual (you! come out!) versus the system (you! eradicate the closet!)?”
The solution to destroying “the closet” isn’t to have more and more people come out – not when we don’t have resources set up to help those people out of the terrible situations they all too frequently wind up in afterward. The solution is to destroy that system entirely by eradicating the ideas that form it – in other words, we need to start challenging the assumption that everyone is cis and straight until proven otherwise.
A couple of days ago, my friend John – who writes for Barnes & Noble’s teen blog – posted a list titled What To Read (and Watch) in Preparation for National Coming Out Day. And… well, it had some good recs! So thanks for that! I really mean it.
Buuuuut… and I feel horrible about saying this, because he’s my friend, but I feel like it really, really has to be said… he started his post by saying: “Two years ago, I first accepted that I had to come out. That might sound odd to many people – obviously being gay is tethered to telling people you’re gay. There isn’t much of a question there.”
And I just. I have so many issues with that way of thinking, John. SOOOO many. That way of thinking is still quite dangerous for so many people. You don’t have to come out. No one does. It is not a duty. I don’t think that idea was even created by queer people, but we’ve certainly grown attached to it. I know many (maybe even all) of us want to come out, but that isn’t quite the same thing. Sometimes we want to come out, but we can’t. Some LGBTQ+ people are not now – and may not ever be – in a position where coming out is safe, and we need to let them know that that is OK. That it isn’t really fair, but that that is a reality for many people.
(And we need to fix that reality, obviously – I’m not saying that we should let society stay this way! But at the same time… well, like I wrote earlier, we can’t solve that situation by encouraging everyone to come out, regardless of their particular situation. Because it has less than stellar results for some people.)
And the second half of the second line – “obviously being gay is tethered to telling people you’re gay” – especially bothers me. It reminds me of a quote from the book that the It Gets Better Project published a few years ago. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at the book, so I’ll have to paraphrase the quote, and I’m not even 100% sure of the author but I think it was from an essay by Ivan Coyote.
SO. The quote was, essentially, “It is OK if you are not able to come out. It doesn’t make you any less cool, or radical, or queer than the kid with the purple hair and the rainbow socks. It just means he has a different situation than you.”
I FREAKING LOVE THAT QUOTE. It helped me sooooo much when I was still in the closet! And… yeah, this idea that being LGBTQ+ is tethered to telling people that you’re LGBTQ+ really bothers me. Nothing you do can make you more or less queer. You exist as a queer person, and that’s enough. Coming out doesn’t make you more queer, and being closeted doesn’t mean that you’re just a faker. It just means that your situation is different from those who are out. And that’s OK. It’s not easy, but it’s OK. Coming out is still a luxury for a lot of people.
The final thing that inspired this post is this…. this thing I saw today. It’s an old post – from a blog I follow, actually – but it was reposted today on yet another LGBTQ+ Facebook page I follow. Because it was National Coming Out Day, I guess? I don’t even know. I don’t even know why this post was published, to be quite honest, and I was amused and pleased to see that many of the comments (on both the blog post and the link on Facebook) disagreed with the author.
The post in question is titled “A Straight Ally Tells Her LGBT Friends, ‘What I am Asking is Hard, but We Need for You to Remove the Mask'” and I just… I can’t even. This post includes such gems as:
“Unfortunately, in order for those of us who are straight to understand your path, we need you who are gay to have the courage we will never have to muster ourselves, and take your masks off. We need to see that you are no different than those of us who are straight.”
Like… can you not? Can you just please NOT? This person is the epitome of “entitled ally who thinks LGBTQ+ people owe them everything just because they’re not being actively hurtful towards LGBTQ+ people.” Why on earth would you frame coming out as something that should be done to help straight people? Why? Why wouldn’t you start by having straight people examine the ways in which their assumptions forced queer people into the closet in the first place?
And I just… oh my god, the bit about needing to see that queer people are no different? It gets worse:
“I needed to see that my friend was a nurse and liked racquetball just like me.”
Wow! It’s almost like…. queer people are people too! Wow. I’m a person? Wow. Nice.
…I have no patience for straight people who are all like, “It was hard for me to understand and relate to queer people until I met one of them.” Like, really? You couldn’t come to the conclusion that we’re all human beings worthy of respect on your own? You needed help with that? With, like, respecting everyone? I. Um. I don’t even know what to say. I mean, this whole post is basically blaming queer people for straight people’s lack of understanding of queer issues, rather than expecting straight people to take an active role in their own education about said issues.
One of the comments on the Facebook link made me go “!!!!!” Someone pointed out that those who wear the masks are straight people – straight allies, in particular. A lot of straight allies don’t make it obvious that they do, indeed, support us (I’m not saying to “come out as an ally,” though – ew, don’t do that, it’s mocking and disrepectful) and that makes things really hard for us.
There is an all-too-common coming out narrative that goes something like this: LGBTQ+ comes out to straight people and then finds out whether or not those people accept them. And that needs to stop. If you really want to help us, MAKE YOURSELVES KNOWN. Help us out by letting everyone know you care about and respect us – if we know that you care, then we won’t have to play that guessing game of “just how badly might this person react, and what should I do to prepare?” and it’ll eliminate a lot of stress and angst and sleepless nights.
(This is the point in my story where my parents and a few of my friends shake their heads and laugh and say, “Well, of course we support you! I don’t see why you were so worried!” I came out 2.5 years ago, and my coming out was fairly uneventful, but I was lucky. I WAS INCREDIBLY LUCKY. Coming out was a shot in the dark – I had no idea how anyone would react because they didn’t talk much/at all about this kind of thing, and knowing that someone has queer relatives or acquaintances really doesn’t mean much. It just means that you know a queer person. It doesn’t tell me where you stand on the issue of acceptance. So, yeah. I have a lot of complicated feelings there that I haven’t quite figured out how to articulate until now.)
So today, I’d like to tell everyone who is not yet out that it is OK. They are OK. It’s not easy, but it is OK. I am not saying that LGBTQ+ people shouldn’t come out, but there shouldn’t be a mandate for us to do so, either, not if doing so harms us in some way. There is this “come out, come out, wherever you are” idea, and it’s just… no.
Please be safe, and think carefully about coming out if there is any possibility – any at all – that you could be in danger if you come out. If coming out means you’d be kicked out or cut off from your family, or if you are not yet economically independent and your family is helping out in that regard, then you don’t have to come out. YOU DON’T.
In general, there is a lot of pressure to come out, and even more of it on this day. And that can be hard. If you’re on social media – and who isn’t? – then you’ve doubtless seen tons and tons of posts and status updates about National Coming Out Day. And that can be hard. Here you are, unable to come out, and out there (pun totally intended) are all the openly queer people, and that’s hard.
So today’s post is basically one gigantic hug to everyone who can’t come out – those who can’t come out right now, or at all, or who are out to some people but really, really wish they could tell some important people, like their parents or best friends, but can’t. I LOVE YOU.
P.S. No one should let me drink an entire bottle of yummy yummy cherry Coke after 10 PM and then release me onto the Internet ever again because I get really sad and gay and deep and end up staying up late writing angry 2500-word posts. I REALLY NEED TO GO TO BED BECAUSE I HAVE CLASS IN THE MORNING. I can’t believe I used up all my brainpower writing this post and not one word of my Intro to GWSS paper… I mean, it’s not due until the 24th, but still.