How do I come out as queer?
Wherever you’re at in your personal journey, disclosing or discussing your sexuality with someone else can be tricky terrain to navigate.
What is coming out?
In today’s context, the term ‘coming out’ is a shorthand way of saying ‘coming out of the closet’. To come out means to disclose that your sexuality is not straight, that you are not heterosexual.
The concept of coming out of the closet seems to have emerged in the early 70s – it was language that was part of the sexual liberation movement of the time, you were leaving the oppression of the closet, you were freeing your secrets which were your skeletons in the closet, and you were embracing the liberation and freedom of openly being yourself.
The power of disclosure has a longer history. In 1869, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs wrote about the importance of homosexual people revealing their same-sex attraction – it’s a theme that other writers have echoed across the subsequent centuries.
In the 1950s and 60s, as the equality movement began to gather momentum, there was a growing movement focused on increasing the visibility of LGBTQ people, encouraging people to disclose their sexuality and publicly identify as homosexual.
When should I come out?
Coming out is an intrinsically personal moment.
There’s no right or wrong way to do it, and there’s no correct age at which to come out.
Just because someone has come out earlier than you or different than you doesn’t have any reflection on your personal journey.
Also, you don’t have to be specific or definitive in your coming out. If you’re still working through what your sexuality means to you, you can use fairly broad terminology if you need to let people know that you’re ‘not straight’ or queer or experimenting.
Do I have to come out?
Don’t let anyone pressure you into coming out if it doesn’t feel right for you. Figuring out your identity – whatever your sexuality – is a uniquely personal journey. If it’s not something that you want to share with others or talk about publicly, then that’s totally cool. Your experience is still valid and your sexuality is still valid – even if you don’t want to put any labels on it.
You also need to be conscious of your surroundings. Is it safe for you to come out? If you live in a socially conservative community, or you’re worried how your family might react, or it’s illegal to be gay where you live, these factors all shape how you navigate that coming out journey.
The first step is to come out to yourself. Try and figure out how you describe your sexuality and what your sexuality means to you. Then you can think about where to go from there.
How do I come out?
There is no right or wrong answer with this. Once you’ve come out to yourself, it can be pretty empowering to tell other people. Maybe start with a close friend or family member. You can do it in person, or in an email, or a text. You could bake a cake or announce it on your Instagram. However you choose to express yourself is valid.
The reality is that coming out is an ongoing process. Saying it out loud for the first time is generally the hardest bit, but throughout your life you’re going to have to let people know that their assumptions about your sexuality might be incorrect. You’re going to get plenty of practice at coming out.
What is National Coming Out Day?
Yes, this is a thing. Since 1988, the queer community around the world has been marking National Coming Out Day on 11 October.
National Coming Out Day is a concept that was created by Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary. The idea draws inspiration from the principles of feminism and gay liberation that the personal is political. As queer people, the most basic form of activism we can take is to come out to family, friends, and colleagues – to live life openly as a member of the LGBTQ community.
Eighberg and O’Leary believed that homophobia thrives in an atmosphere of silence and ignorance, and that once people know that they have loved ones who are queer, then they are far less likely to maintain homophobic views.
How should I celebrate National Coming Out Day?
When it comes to celebrating National Coming Out Day, a pretty safe option is just to be as unreservedly queer as possible – whatever that means for you.
If you’ve already done the coming out thing, and everyone you know is tired of you telling them how queer-as-fuck you are, why not watch a queer movie? Or donate to an LGBTQ charity? Or support queer artists? Or troll homophobic politicians?
Just be gay, or queer, or whichever bit of the LGBTQ umbrella you most identify with. Just be you. That’s pretty powerful.