Is it still necessary to "come out" in a society of marriage equality?
The phrase “coming out of the closet” is largely associated with a person disclosing their sexual orientation to someone else. Although I have experienced “coming out” several times throughout my life, it is something that I am not a huge advocate for. However, because society is still heavily heteronormative, “coming out” is something which most LGBTQ+ people will experience throughout their lives. Society’s opinions on LGBTQ+ equality have improved significantly over the last few decades, and recent years have seen a growth in LGBTQ+ visibility as equal marriage laws are being approved around the world. Oppression against the LGBTQ+ community is still present around the world however, and it is essential that we do not stop fighting for equality simply because we have achieved it in our own country. Although my life has not been shaped by homophobia, it is extremely important to remember the past and to not forget those who fought for our right to love – that is what LGBT History Month is all about.
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a German gay rights activist, introduced the idea of self-disclosing one’s sexuality in 1869 as a means of emancipation (though much of the progress for the LGBTQ+ community did not occur until the late 1900s). In a time when the LGBTQ+ community was invisible, “coming out” was essential to ensure visibility for the community. While some may argue that the LGBTQ+ community is no longer invisible, the community remains subjected to oppression and persecution around the world. In places where LGBTQ+ people are viewed equally, however, is coming out still necessary? Should people still feel the need to “come out” in a society where (at least in Glasgow), people in the LGBTQ+ community are accepted? Are all members of the LGBTQ+ community viewed as equal or are the LGB community failing to support the visibility of the transgender community? Should we continue to “come out” and raise visibility until equality is achieved worldwide? There are perhaps no clear answers to these questions but, by looking at the roots of “coming out”, it is understandable as to why it can be beneficial to the community.
Perhaps because I've always felt comfortable as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I never felt compelled to "come out". I was often told that I should tell my parents I am gay and that they have a duty to know because they are my parents, but I do not recall my straight friends sitting down with their parents to tell them "I'm straight", so why must I verbally disclose my sexuality? And why are people so keen to put pressure on others to “come out”? Our duties and responsibilities do not lie in us disclosing our sexuality to certain people before we reach a certain age. Sexuality is not black and white - it needs to be explored and may take time to understand, especially in societies where being LGBTQ+ is not very visible.
Although “coming out” is something that I personally did not find necessary to do, it is positive when done for visibility reasons. Without people “coming out” publicly, then the young LGBTQ+ generation may not understand their sexuality until later on in life. By making the LGBTQ+ community visible, “coming out” can be seen as emancipating, but it should not be something that a person feels obligated to do. Of course, I do not speak for the whole LGBTQ+ community or their experiences, as bigotry is still very much alive in modern day Britain – but society is improving.
Perhaps my privilege of being born into a very accepting society has made “coming out” easier for me – though it was still challenging and daunting nonetheless. For other people, it is not as simple and the idea of “coming out” is terrifying. To those people, here is some advice:
Love yourself. Never feel ashamed for who you are; be proud to be part of a community full of love. Being born an LGBTQ+ person in 2018 is perhaps one of the best times to be LGBTQ+, and we have those who fought for our rights to thank for that; those who encouraged societal change by not backing down; those who spoke out and fought against society, the government, and the law. And, if you are going through a difficult time right now trying to figure out your sexuality, then remember that it gets better.