Coming out of the closet is a different experience for everyone and it may not always be as positive as the Diana Ross song.
For most people, you’ll end up coming out more than once – which people don’t really tell you about. Sure, the first time is the hardest and most nerve-wracking but as long as you’re meeting new people and you don’t have an I’M GAY tattoo scrawled across your forehead, you’re going to end up coming out… a lot. Like most things, it gets easier over time and those two simple words will end up flowing out of your mouth almost habitually. But it’s that first time, that one moment where you break it to the people closest to you – be it your immediate family, best friends, whoever – that seems to swallow up the spotlight.
I’ve met people who openly talk about their coming out experiences with warm, knowing smiles. On the other end of the argument, I’ve also met people who refuse to conform to this notion that we as gay people owe anyone but ourselves a need to self-label. Personally, talking about how I came out makes me uncomfortable. Because that’s the reality – or my reality, rather. I wasn’t sat down opposite my parents with my fingers entwined with my boyfriend’s on my eighteenth birthday, I wasn’t at an emotionally happy place to be able to merrily own my label, I was a shivering wreck and I’m pretty sure I blubbered the words out inaudibly at first. That glorified moment of self-empowerment, of owning my sexuality and confronting my traditional parents, was eclipsed with awkward mumbling, a permanently nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach and enough tears to drown a whale.
At the forefront of this day, October 11th, coming out is celebrated for the extreme bravery that it takes to leave that dark, damp closet and step into the light. But that’s an over-simplification of something that’s just not as black and white as saying “I’m gay” or “I’m bi” or “I’m whatever letter of the LGBTQIA+ community”. There is validity behind the argument that by coming out you’re fulfilling this necessary quota before you can officially call yourself an out and proud queer person (and I’m using queer as an umbrella term here).
As a community that has been ostracised, marginalised, called every pejorative name in the book, beaten and even made illegal, we are taught to hate ourselves. That we’re going to Hell. The relationship between teenagers who commit suicide and their sexuality or gender identification is alarming.
Homophobia isn’t as dead as some people want to believe and it isn’t a matter of being a social justice warrior, these heartbreaking facts that plague our community with exceptionally high numbers of homelessness and violent prejudice warrant wanting days like these. For civil awareness and to discuss issues in our community.
Coming out seems like a meagre thing when you compare it to the more pressing matters that we face. If I’m safe and comfortable with myself, why do I need to come out? Why should I directly have to express my sexual orientation to those around me to prove that I am, in fact, not straight? Judith Butler, a philosopher and gender theorist, argues that coming out does not protect oneself from oppression or discrimination. A lot can change from coming out, perhaps you won’t feel as alienated, perhaps you’ll be able to be more in touch with yourself and other around you, perhaps you won’t have to hide away a part of yourself that you’ve been purposefully repressing.
While, in that sense, coming out can bring you closer to your friends or your family if there’s one thing you take away from reading this I want it to be what follows: You don’t owe anybody anything. There’s no plausible situation where you have to come out or disclose your sexual identity if you do not want to. There are people in this world who will love you unconditionally and accept you without question, I’m not denying that. But at the expense of sounding cynical, there are also people who won’t do either of those things. And yes, it’s unfair, and yes, they’re assholes, and yes, they don’t understand what it’s like but you don’t gain anything from coming out that you won’t already have if you know who you are and you love who you are.
The pressure that we receive, especially as young people (hi, I’m seventeen), can feel overwhelming, can feel overpowering. There might be people you look up to who say that if you don’t come out, you’re lying to yourself, or that you owe it to be a role model and come out so that people know it’s okay to be who you are. I know that that’s definitely been the case for me multiple times. The only reason my heart was beating so fast on the day I came out, on the 17th of October in 2015, was because I was afraid. Not that I wouldn’t be accepted, I knew they wouldn’t take it well. But my fear came from outside – from the reaction of others – I knew who I was a long time ago and I had come out to myself way before I came out to others.
Like everything in life, this day is filled with contrasting emotions; I am happy that I took a leap of faith and came out to my parents two years ago, but I am also saddened by the fact that some people can’t come out or feel the need to do so prematurely because everyone’s telling them they should. I wrote down my coming out experience because I wanted to remember it. I said, “They cried, I cried, we hugged, a lot was said. Too much to mark down. But it was one of the scariest things, but also one of the bravest things, I will ever have to do in my life.”
To my fifteen-year-old self, to anyone who hasn’t yet, I just want to tell you that this day is a day of celebration. Not for coming out to the people around you, but for coming out to yourself. I was wrong when I wrote down that coming out to my family was the scariest and bravest thing I will ever have to do – coming out to myself, first and foremost, was. No one has the right to demand a label from you, or that you label yourself, but what I will ask of you is that you love who you are regardless of what anybody says. Anyway I try to finish this will be unoriginal and cheesy so I’ll end with this:
You matter and you are never, ever alone.
Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you’d like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.