In honor of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, I want to discuss the complexities surrounding the concept of coming out.
Honestly, it’s an action predicated on society’s assumption that we are all straight, cisgender people. It is a series of moments in which a nonconforming person does two things.
First, they remind the person(s) that people exist outside the social norms. Second, they assert themselves as a nonconforming entity. This is not an action without danger. It takes a lot of courage, and often the focus is merely on the person stating their truth.
Not that that isn’t important–it is. But just focusing on that moment avoids the complexity of both the events culminating in the moments of coming out and the subsequent reactions.
I believe that coming out is neither entirely triumphant nor burdensome. Sometimes, coming out falls closer to one than the other. Sometimes, it feels like neither.
Frankly, I don’t want to champion coming out for the nonconforming person. Coming out is a deeply personal choice, and regardless of the decision the person will always be valid, even if their identity isn’t known to everyone. I’d rather spread the message that LGBTQIA+ people ought to do what works best for them regardless.
I want to put the focus of coming out onto the other parties involved. You know, the people we come out to. As a queer person, I have complicated feelings on my role in the moment. However, I find that my own complex issues on the other person(s) might be better resolved or clarified through addressing the audience.
So, someone has come out to you. For the sake of this scenario, it is someone you love, however that love might label itself.
It may be surprising, hearing this other person’s truth. It may not be. The language they use might not make any sense, or it might make perfect sense. Regardless, the assertion of this new aspect of them results in a shift.
You add this spoken dimension to your perception of them with whatever feelings might come with that. Or, you put this identity into a metaphorical shoe box and shove it away.
You might wonder if you’ll have to alter your language. You might never realize an alteration is necessary, just as you might wonder if there is a whole new dialect you must learn.
At the end of the day–you don’t have to change. You can store away the knowledge and keep on addressing them as you always have.
It’s your decision. It’s a path many people take, and it might even seem like the best way. After all, they’re someone you care about, what else is there to know?
There are, however, places with information on LGBTQIA+ identities and issues, should you wish to learn more. I would advise asking the person that comes out to you if they’d like to share more and if, regardless of whether they wish to explain more or not, they have any recommended sources for further information.
I don’t want to speak for every LGBTQIA+ person, nor would I have any right to, but for me coming out to people who want to learn more is the dream.
Look, we all have internalized homophobia and transphobia to unlearn. It’s part of growing up in a society that is inherently bigoted. Reaching out to hold my queerplatonic partner’s (partners who acknowledge that their relationship isn’t just friendship but also does not align with romantic or sexual feelings) hand in public is still difficult for me sometimes. And yes, sometimes new terminology for sexual, romantic or gender identities intimidates me.
At the same time, even unlearning the little things means the world to me. Hearing or reading “all genders” instead of “both genders” makes me happy. Inclusive language and basic knowledge of other identities is what I strive for.
So often, coming out narratives ignore this part: the growing and learning that occurs because of sharing your truth.
Coming out is not just about one person. It is reflective of all of us, as a community, previously lacking the awareness and acknowledgement of those existing outside heteronormative, cisgender identities.
It is a reminder that more truth will continue to be shared and a reminder that, while learning and growing exist within a communal setting, each of us is accountable for our own knowledge and lack thereof.
Cover photo courtesy of socialsciencecollective.org.