Note: this piece discusses my experiences as a cis gay man. I’m making a huge assumption that some of those experiences might also apply to lesbians and bisexual people. I am certainly not in a position to speak for or about trans people, so any references to LGB people are deliberately limited.
An ask.fm correspondent asks:
How old were you when you ‘came out’ to family/friends? Were you scared?
I’m pretty sure anyone who is openly gay or bisexual is on the receiving end of this question – or a variant thereof – from time to time. On the face of it it’s a fairly innocent question: “when did you first tell your family you were gay?”, and I actually don’t mind answering usually. Although I’m not going to do that here.
Innocent though it is, it’s also a very misguided question. It assumes that we have one grand “coming out”, that there are two states of being: secretly gay/bi and publically gay/bi, but also that we have some sort of duty to tell people details of our sexualities before actually living our lives in the open.
I often speak about “everyday” coming outs. Little events that happen almost daily where we reveal that we are not heterosexual – often when speaking about a partner (“what does she do?”). They are usually very mundane, and certainly not the grand events that the original question wants to know about. Because we don’t only come out once. We come out every single time we meet someone new, and we have to reveal our sexuality.
The more I think about it, the more I dislike it. And I’m not doing it any more.
The Closet is a wonderful invention designed by mainstream society to keep us in our place. We are deemed to be “in the closet” until or unless we announce our sexualities to the world. And always a focus on the announcement part. It’s not just a place for people who choose (for whatever reason) to hide their sexualities, it is for everyone who is gay or bisexual and who has not done mainstream society the courtesy of making clear their sexualities.
Grand or everyday or otherwise, I’m not making announcements any longer. I’m just living my life the way I want to live it, and people can work out for themselves what category they want to put me in. I wish I’d done that from the start, if I’m honest. Wish I’d just told my parents about my first boyfriend, instead of feeling like I had to pre-warn them by making it clear that I was gay first. I wish I had realised that The Closet doesn’t exist, that I didn’t have to come out of anything before I started living my life the way I wanted to.
It’s how society works: they won’t acknowledge you unless they have full disclosure from you first.
I’m not complying any more.
And to my ask.fm correspondent, I was 18, it was damned scary, and it needn’t have been.
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