Two days on from the National Coming Out Day you might argue I have missed the boat on this subject but you know, it’s a relevant topic every day of the year and even so, the event is also regarded as Coming Out Week in some circles so the nature of these things are fluid… as is gender. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Now you might think I’m here to announce my previously unannounced secret sexual tastes but I’m afraid you’re mistaken, I’m comfortable where I stand. Straight, for those who are uncertain, I’m pretty certain I’ve mentioned it before but elucidating it in case, not out of a “Ugh don’t mistake me for being gay!” knee-jerk reaction but literally just so the topic of my sexual orientation is settled right from the start. I never had to come out in my life, I know in certain parts of the world you have to come out as an Atheist and though I was raised a Christian by my mother, once my Dad took charge in her passing he supported my brothers and I in supporting any belief system, seeing as he’d been biting his tongue on how he’s a Buddhist for her sake. For me though, on a serious note, I never had to have the courage to admit to being who I am, I never faced those pressures or inner conflicts outside of the usual straying of the imagination we all experience. So, you might now argue I am not the person to talk to about coming out and you’d be right really, I don’t have that history to recall but I know about so many different people who went through it and I want to say my piece. You don’t have to be directly affected by an issue to see how it affects others so with that said, here I am.
In a broad sense, we as a society have come a long way with regards to sexuality and gender identity, though obviously there is further to go with China still ‘treating’ homosexuality through shock therapy and trans violence being shrugged off as “The assailant panicked because they were confused, of course you’re going to beat some stone dead with your bare hands when you’re confused!”. Whilst once upon a time it was largely an underground society, the LGBTQIA community now holds pride marches and legal victories have been won left, right and centre against the bigoted traditions of old. The community isn’t perfect, things like asexuality and pansexuality get sidelined as weird or made-up, bisexuality is still largely seen as a phase more than the other two like it’s the part of the game of life where you’re still deciding between Charmander or Squirtle, terms like genderfluid are largely seen as wanting to be ‘special’ rather than someone finding a true identity, these are acts of ignorance and discrimination that occur within that same community of those once oppressed (or in some cases, still are). I’m not here to poo-poo the progress thus far by pointing out the road is still a long one, not at all, great job to us for all that, but I am merely providing context because whilst there are so many of us comfortable to proudly announce who we are, there are still so many who aren’t.
National Coming Out Day or Week then, is the chance for people to stand together and encourage their closeted colleagues to embrace who they truly are and let the world love them for it. A noble cause and if you’re taking this opportunity to share the truth, good for you, seriously, you deserve credit for that. On the other hand, the reverse side of this coin is an implied pressure to make the big announcement, to come out and shout from the rooftops that you are in fact not what assumptions make you out to be. At a time like this, we can perhaps be a little expectant of people to tell the naked truth, for better or for worse. Individual circumstance can make these things so much more complicated for so many reasons but I’ll try to explain as best I can.
A friend of mine said that you don’t come out once, it’s nonsense to think that there is one pivotal moment in your life where you gather every single person you know in one room and make the truth known to all. I can understand that, I know people who are out to some groups and not to other, my own youngest brother came out to the immediate family first and then slowly let it slip in school once he felt comfortable people wouldn’t react by beating the snot out of him. Coming out is something people go through time and time again – to the family, to friends, to schoolmates, to work colleagues and so on and so on, each experience is difficult and there’s no guarantee how people will react. We tend to see cisgender heterosexuals as the default sexuality setting, straight until proven otherwise as it were, so we don’t always look at our peers with a neutral judgment of them. Admit it, you’ve seen people in the street and sorted them into straight, gay and lesbian in your head right? You don’t usually look at someone and think “I bet they’re a genderfluid aromantic… they just look like they are” but we still seem to associate certain visual traits with being gay or hetero. As a result of this, most people who came out the closet even as young as say, fifteen, still find themselves ‘revealing’ they are a homosexual at thirty and that’s going to be a thing until society as a whole stops making assumptions that everyone is straight and cisgender before changing their mind somewhere along the line.
So coming out, as we all know it with the family in the living room and teen angst kid Johnny having to reveal his secret desire to sleep with men to startled parents is perhaps untrue. However, just because it isn’t a big “all will be revealed” affair like we imagine it, it doesn’t make it less daunting for those involved, nor does it guarantee it will be safe. Sexuality and gender identity are topics that can polarise people to one camp or the other and even within the same family, it can be hard to deal with. A friend who shall remain nameless is out to their close family and pretty much everyone they know but still has a grandparent in the dark, said grandparent not having social media to see the truth. Why? Well, they’re of the belief it’s unnatural to feel same sex attraction or to want to be a different gender to the one you were assigned at birth and this friend of mine doesn’t want to compromise their relationship with their grandparent by saying “Guess what? I’m one of those unholy abominations you mouth off about!”, so they endure the flak and pretend to be ‘normal’. Sounds unfair but this isn’t even the worst, that’s someone doing something by choice, not to protect themselves, some people keep their sexuality or gender identity under wraps for fear of their life. Who can blame them? Many US states still stand by the panic defense that attacking someone who is trans or homosexual is forgivable if you claim you were scared they were going to make a pass at you. Like, homophobia being an actual fear of homosexuals in such an instance, which is ludicrous and credit to California for calling that legal defence bullcrap. In a world where people are disowned, beaten, electrocuted, sexually assaulted and just plain humiliated for being outside of the expected norm, can we really shame them for hiding in safety? Let me tell you, if being straight got me forced into having sex with men against my will or locked away in a correctional camp to brainwash me into suppressing who I am, I’d need some serious chutzpah to say I am straight.
In summary, if you can come out and you feel safe to do so, go for it, I hope we will one day live in a world where everyone can feel okay to be who they are and ‘coming out’ becomes a thing of the past. However, if you’re choosing not to open that door, be it for self-preservation, uncertainty or just not feeling up to it, I say go for that too, what matters most is your well-being, if that’s better preserved by not saying anything, so be it, though obviously I wish that wasn’t the case. Don’t pressure people to come out if you know they’re still in their closet, it’s not encouraging or inspiring, it’s terrifying, it’s telling them to strip off and jump in the shark pool because hey, if they survive it, won’t it be cool to say they did that? Most importantly, DO NOT OUT SOMEONE ELSE! I can’t stress that enough, only thing worse than trying to make someone step out, is to shove them out. You aren’t risking anything yourself in doing that, that is pushing someone else in the pool and saying “Aren’t I brave? Am I not a great friend? Isn’t this so much better than just watching the sharks?”. So to everyone, take your time, come to terms with who you are and let the world know when you feel ready, there is absolutely no rush.