The closet and coming out is something I have spoken about a lot and I’d like to take the opportunity in this day to bring many of these thoughts together.
Firstly, the closet itself. Too many ignorant straight, cis people consider the closet to be an asset to us – that the fact we can hide makes homophobia and transphobia a “lesser prejudice” compared to others. This is a highly privileged and dismissive view that misses the damage and pain the closet causes – and the elements of homophobia and transphobia that arise because of the closet.
The Closet is not an asset. It is toxic.
Being in the closet, constantly hiding who we are, is actually extremely hard work and often very painful. The closet clings to us as an eternal burden.
The closet itself leads to the unique experience of coming out which, in turn, leads to one of the fraught dangers that most afflicts GBLT people. We’re very rarely born among our own people. We rarely have families and mentors close to us to guide our way and tell us how the world is. This not only makes us vulnerable to negative influences from society and media since we lack personal counters – but it also means that we are often born among our worst enemies. That those who should love us the most are the ones who will reject us, hurt us and torture us so completely. The closet is so toxic that it can warp us.
It’s a vulnerability that makes coming out important for both us personally – to counter the shame that society tries to force on us with the Pride of public affirmation – and as a community, because so many of us – most of us – are born alone and need to know we’re out there. For this and many reason, coming out matters. And, no, you’re not being super accepting by asking “who cares” or pretending you’re above it all. You may be – we can’t afford to be. It matters – and not just for us, but for GBLT people in history as well. The closet has consumed our heroes, our role models, are forbearers and left us with a broken history and damaged legacy – a process that is continuing today.
But coming out isn’t easy.
It’s a struggle and it’s a risk. I do not know a GBLT person around me who hasn’t faced violence. I do not know a gay man personally who hasn’t faced violence on multiple occasions. The majority of my GBLT friends have spent time in hospitals. Every single GBLT person I know has been hurt by their families, the people who are supposed to love us unconditionally. That’s not “some” or “most” – that is ALL.
I lost a job for being gay, I face constant annoyance from my work for being gay. I have nasty fools posting homophobic notes on my door for being gay – this isn’t isolated; this is common.
So don’t tell me people have to come out. Don’t shame people for being closeted. Don’t presume to out people (except our enemies which is a separate issues). Don’t, especially if you’re straight and cis, presume to advise us on whether to be closeted or not or how to come out. You Do Not Know.
But aside from being risky, dangerous and terrifying, coming out is HARD. It’s a process and it’s a fight because society will constantly try to erase us and push us back into the closet our out of existence. There is always a push back against being out, a demand that we be quiet and hide. Being out isn’t a single experience, it’s not even a series of revelations to different people – it’s a constant push against the forces trying to get you back into that closet. It’s not a one time deal, it’s an eternal struggle of identity policing, censorship and suppression.
And this is before I even touch on the difficulty of unlearning the homophobia and transphobic messages that have been pummelled into our minds from the very cradle.
All of these words and I’ve barely scrapped the surface. The closet has it’s dirty hands all over just about every aspect of homophobia and transphobia that exists. Consequently, Coming Out remains one of the seminal moments of GBLT experience, one of the most powerful things we can do both personally and as a community, one of the most dangerous, one of the scariest and one of the most important elements of many of our lives. It’s important in a way that defies description
Which means that straight, cis people also need to treat it with the respect it deserves, even if they don’t – can’t – understand it themselves. Which means less appropriation of the coming out experience, less claiming the concept of the closeted GBLT person for your own, unrelated purposes and less trying to draw on an experience you know nothing about. Just stop – look an and respect it, but this vital, important element of our culture is not yours to claim and use as you see fit; you have so very little idea of what you are disrespecting.