The Coming Out Myth
Updated: Sep 8, 2018
It’s time to bust the myth of the single, dramatic “coming out” experience.
It’s in every piece of gay literature, it’s in every movie with a gay character, it’s ingrained in the cultural mindset - we are trained to believe that LGBT people experience some grand “coming out” gesture, which is then followed by a lifetime of everyone around them automatically understanding how gay they are. We say it once and, like magic, every person we’ve ever met and every person we have yet to meet just knows, without question, that we are LGBT.
Well, I hate to say it, but that’s just not how it works in real life.
Sure, okay, most cultural stereotypes have some element of truth to them. For most LGBT people, there is one big moment in which we come out for the very first time - and simply because of how nerve-wracking and terrifying that experience is, it does tend to be a dramatic moment, at least to us. But that experience varies for everyone. Some of us have a private conversation with the person we trust most in the world, while some of us post a Tweet and send it out for the world to see.
Regardless of how you come out for the first time, that is never, ever, the last time you come out.
Here’s the reality: LGBT people are forced to come out every single day, over and over again, for the rest of our lives.
Think about it: coming out, for the most part, is a relatively isolated experience. Sometimes it’s a conversation among friends or family. Sometimes it’s a post on social media. Sometimes it’s a leak of the truth that’s totally out of our control. No matter what happens, your initial coming out experience has a limited reach. Word will naturally spread, but everyone you’ve ever met isn’t going to suddenly know you are LGBT once you come out.
Think about all of the tangential people from your past: old teachers, friends that moved away, acquaintances of family members, etc. None of those people are likely to hear about your LGBT identity, at least not right away. Sure, word may trickle down to them eventually, but a lot of the time that burden comes down on you at some point in the future, if you ever reconnect with those people.
What this post is really about, though, is all the people you have yet to meet.
The unfortunate reality of being an LGBT person is having to constantly worry, every time we meet someone new, how much of ourselves we are going to divulge to them - and when we are going to divulge it. On top of that, we have to think about how that person is likely to react to our identity - even in the most innocuous of circumstances.
Some of the straight people reading this might be thinking It’s your fault if you’re stressed about telling the barista at Starbucks that you’re gay. Just get your coffee and move on. But that type of thought process comes from a place of ignorance based in a lack of experience as an LGBT person.
Here’s the reality of that interaction with the barista at Starbucks for an LGBT person: you order your coffee, and as you’re paying the barista starts making light conversation about her boyfriend and the picnic they are going on this weekend, and then she asks you if you have a girlfriend because she is just trying to make polite conversation, and then you suddenly have to decide whether to smile and say no and move on with letting her think you’re straight, or saying something awkward about how you don’t have a girlfriend because you’re gay, but you might have a boyfriend, but then you’re afraid to say that because you don’t want to make it seem like you are correcting her and thus make her feel bad, but you also don’t want to lie or misrepresent yourself, so you clam up and suddenly the simple and friendly interaction with the barista at Starbucks becomes a thing.
That’s what I meant.
Oftentimes, when LGBT people meet someone new, we are confronted in a million different ways with these miniscule decisions about how much of ourselves we share and how we go about sharing it. We have to weigh the risks and rewards of sharing our identities with people who were strangers just moments ago, while not really knowing how they are going to react if they know we are LGBT.
This applies to bigger life situations like new jobs and new friends, but it also applies to little daily interactions like getting coffee or checking out at the grocery store. You just never know when you’re going to have to come out again. And then again. And then again.
So, yes - most LGBT people do have one big, defining “coming out” moment - but we also come out every day after that, for the rest of our lives, in both big ways and small.
It’s just one of the many little things that make our lives slightly more complicated than those of our heterosexual, cisgender counterparts.
This post is brought to you by Song For Zula by Phosphorescent, because it’s tranquil and lovely and I first heard it in a coffee shop after having one of those awkward little coming out moments with the barista. It’s been added to my blog playlist, which you can download on both Spotify and Apple Music. Enjoy.
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