Is There a Good Day to Come Out?

Coming out day raises a lot of questions with no good answers.

I came out nearly as far away from the year as one can get from coming out day. It was an accident: I didn’t know the day existed until later, but I take a certain pleasure in the coincidence. Coming out is a risky business. It’s a letting go, a relinquishing of control. Perhaps I miss the point, but the idea that we all have a day where we celebrate being thrown to the wolves seems a little odd.

Many manage to come out safely, particularly if their coming out was sexuality. Gender is more dangerous by several degrees in most places. My sexuality coming out has been more of an evolution over several months rather than days, but I did send my mum a text at one point that simply read, “Definitely gay.” We moved on without ceremony. I don’t even remember if more was said about it.

I came out again as bi when I had to admit I wasn’t actually 100% gay. Just very, very gay. This happened organically over a period and invited one or two comments from my bi friends, but it blew over. That I’m backing off of the bisexual designation now is happening without announcement or comment, but the point is my sexuality never really happened in a day. I didn’t feel I needed to specifically come out to anyone, either. I sent the text to my mum in a whimsical moment. It wasn’t a joke, but I didn’t have a specific need to share either.

An irony: that last paragraph makes this piece a coming out post. But does it really matter at this point? In my sphere, my sexuality is irrelevant to the extent that I have no need to come out. I can simply act and allow others to adjust accordingly. Or not. Using the correct name and pronouns of my partner isn’t an adjustment. The only thing the identity of whom I love changes is how my friends and family address them. Do we need a day for that? We’ve normalised it, why are we making it a special occasion?

"UNLIKE SEXUALITY, THE ADJUSTMENT IN A TRANSITION ECHOES THROUGHOUT OUR SOCIAL AND OFFICIAL LIVES."

Of course, coming out about gender is far more dangerous and potentially more destructive. My coming out as transgender was an announcement, and in many ways it had to be: I needed people to know my new name. I needed to change documents and I had to start an adjustment period. Unlike sexuality, the adjustment in a transition echoes throughout our social and official lives. Even when everyone is perfectly safe and accepting, they still need to know what to call me.

Then again, not everyone is willing to settle for logistical questions when coming out. In my case, my entire life fell apart. Is there a good day for that? What day is a good day to be homeless? In some parts of the world, coming out means risking getting killed by your family or caught by police and tortured. What day is good for that?

Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky

If I sound bitter it’s because I am. Pride, when it’s an actual protest, I understand. Trans Day of Remembrance I absolutely understand. Coming Out Day seems a waste of space to me. It’s either irrelevant or glorifying our vulnerability.

Maybe Coming Out Day is a welcoming party. Like, we come out and we join this broader community. I’m rather disillusioned with the idea of a cohesive transgender community. The more I learn, the more I’ve come to understand that there is no common transhood. Gay communities seem to be more coherent but I’ve lived my life around them as the daughter of a gay man, so maybe their incoherence just makes more sense to me. But maybe that’s what this is all about.

If that’s the case, Coming Out Day should be focusing on support. My coming out day was a day to be homeless, alone and rescued by friends. I could see Coming Out Day being a decent excuse to distribute information on local shelters or friendly support organisations. Direct folks to safe people to talk to and spread that awareness so when someone does come out, they have the support they need.

But that doesn’t seem to be what people do. The LGBTQ+ charity I used to work for didn’t note it down at all and social media posts on the topic were nondescript. Some coming out stories, some general well wishing.

"THE PROBLEM WITH HISTORY MONTHS AND AWARENESS WEEKS IS THEY OFTEN UNDERMINE INCLUSION BY SINGLING OUT THE PEOPLE THEY SEEK TO HONOUR."

A truly inclusive society wouldn’t have holidays of this kind. The problem with history months and awareness weeks is they often undermine inclusion by singling out the people they seek to honour. It effectively becomes their time and we put it all away the rest of the year. When I was studying education, I was taught that a truly inclusive approach involves year-round, embedded consideration of a given group. Spotlighting is counterproductive, but specific days or weeks can be helpful if they serve a specific purpose.

I suppose that’s why I keep looking for what issue Coming Out Day attempts to address. The ultimate goal is to be truly inclusive and that means discarding these kinds of things as obsolete, which means they need a purpose to fulfill. With no purpose, they spotlight and single out rather than include. And let’s face it, coming out seems to be either catastrophically risky or a non issue. If it’s just a celebration, what are we celebrating? Who are we helping?

Social action is powerful. Social action created the LGBTQ+ movement in the first place. Social action is changing the world’s views of consent and sexual violence. Social action is also crystallising fascist movements — it isn’t good or bad, it’s just powerful. If Coming Out Day is going to be a positive force in the LGBTQ+ movement, we need to focus on the hard stuff. We need to pay attention to the very real danger coming out presents and address that. We need to share our stories and raise our voices, but we need to do so in aid of something. Otherwise, it’s just noise.

Comments
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Emily Wells
Emily Wells

I could really relate with your story and you have touched an accord within me. When I first heard of coming out day, long after I had come out as trans, I associated this event exclusively for cis-males to come out as gay, and later to include cis-females to disclose being lesbian.

Like yourself and what happens to most trans-people who do come out, my entire life also fell apart. After years with bouts of unemployment and homelessness, along with the discrimination and isolation that comes with being transgender, from my interactions on line, nothing has really changed in 30 years. Reality is that to come out as transgender today is no better than it was 30 years ago.

This makes the promotion of such a day to transgender people still in the closet incredibly dangerous and stupid. I mean really, why are we encouraging transgender people to put themselves into a situation that is most likely going to result in discrimination, homelessness, unemployment and all the health issues that result.

If you are transgender and still in the cupboard, my advice is if you can stay there. Ignore what others are saying, and don’t come out. One day you may well have to make a choice, and either be yourself or simply not exist, but you may be lucky and able to stay hidden and never come out, so why destroy your life now.

MelissaD
MelissaD

Coming out Day was 1st held in 1988. The idea was, if enough gays came out of the closet that the general population would realize they knew a gay person and that would help the cause. Remember Ellen did not come out till 1997 and that made headlines. It really had nothing to do with the "T" part of the alphabet soup. We were still fodder to sweeps week on talk shows. Since I started my transition in 1988, I remember this time of our collective history. As you point out there are a great many differences between coming out as gay and coming out as trans; although in 1988 gay discrimination was still pretty high. I remember my mom saying "can't you just be gay?" that would have been so much easier. Coming out Day has become one of those things lost to history.

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