Everyone in the LGBTQ+ community is familiar with this idea of “coming out.” Media and tradition have led us to believe every queer person must go through this rite of passage: sitting down with a loved one, taking a deep breath, and revealing a new part of your identity to them. It has been built up as an anxiety-ridden and serious conversation all queer people must have sooner or later.
Historically, “coming out of the closet” emerged during a time when queer acceptance was rare. However, with the recent steady rise of acceptance for queer people, the question is raised: is “coming out” still necessary?
The answer is up to each individual. It is up to each person to decide for themselves if “coming out” is important or not. Every queer person I have met has a different philosophy on this, myself included.
Most commonly, people will come out to a person if:
- They want someone to call them a different name/pronouns
- They don’t want someone to be surprised when they bring home a romantic partner
- They want someone to understand their identity
- They trust someone and want to be open with them
- They want someone to vent to or talk to about being queer
- They want someone to advocate for the queer community
Despite the abundance of reasons there are to come out, you may not feel a need to formally come out. And that’s okay.
If you don’t feel inclined to come out, don’t stress it. There is no reason to feel guilty or like you are keeping a secret. Remember that your identity is yours, and you are under no obligation to tell anyone about it. Straight and cisgender people don’t explain their identities to everyone they meet, so you don’t have to either. You are not obligated to disclose personal parts of your identity to anyone—not your family, not your friends, not your classmates.
However, if you do feel inclined to come out, go for it! Just make sure it is when you feel ready and comfortable. Do not let any outside influences pressure you into coming out. Your identity is yours, and so is your decision to make it known. Some people wait years (even decades) before coming out.
Around twelve or thirteen years old, I started to come to terms with being a lesbian. At first, it was a difficult part of my identity to grapple with. I spent several years telling people I was bisexual or “I don’t really know what I am” because I was scared to tell people the truth. I was not only scared to tell others, but I was also scared of facing it myself. I desperately tried to convince myself I was not gay. At the time, I had no queer friends or family members to turn to. I felt isolated and broken, like there was something wrong with me.
As I got older, though, I slowly came to terms with my identity. I met others who were queer and I fed off of their confidence. It inspired me to finally come out.
For me, coming out was a cyclical process. One thing you quickly learn as a queer person is that you never come out just once. You will mostly likely come out to hundreds of people in your lifetime. I started by telling the people I trusted the most: my brother and my close friends. Sometime after that, I came out to my parents. Then I had to come out to my classmates and people I knew at school, which happened over the course of many, many conversations.
There are still people I have yet to tell. My philosophy, though, is that I don’t need to tell them—they will learn sooner or later whether or not it comes directly from my mouth. I don’t consider it a big deal that I am a lesbian, therefore I don’t present it as one.
You may have a different philosophy, and that’s alright. There is no one way to view being queer. All queer people face different struggles, both internal and external. Likewise, all queer people will have different experiences in “coming out.” It’s important to remember that the choice is entirely yours.