Come Out, Come Out?

Reflections on National Coming Out Day

The Feminist Closet

I don’t really remember what I did on Oct. 11, 2015. It was a Sunday, so I probably went to church with my family, ate a late lunch, and started my homework. It was also my senior fall, so I probably worked on college applications. One thing I know for sure is that I did not come out to anyone.

I was aware that it was National Coming Out Day. But at the time, the idea of coming out felt unattainable. Sure, I was excited to read about other people’s coming out experiences, but I couldn’t envision myself as one of them. I kept telling myself that they had some mixture of courage and confidence that I lacked. How could I possibly be part of their community if I couldn’t take the risk they took and live honestly? Was I really queer if practically no one knew?

For some LGBTQ+ people, National Coming Out Day is an opportunity to open up to the world about their authentic selves. As the name suggests, many people do indeed come out, either for the first time or the hundredth time. It can also be a day to celebrate how far our community has come in our fight for equality, and to look ahead to the work we still need to do. It’s a chance to raise awareness about LGBTQ+ issues, as this might be one of the few times a year that cis straight people remember we exist. Many National Coming Out Day events are public and loud, a way for us to take up space in places where we’ve historically and presently been told that we don’t belong.

All of this increases visibility for our community and brings us closer to full equality and acceptance, and I’m thankful that so many people do participate. But we can’t forget that these events are completely optional. Moreover, for some people, participation is not an option. An overemphasis on coming out can feel quite othering for those who can’t or don’t want to come out, whatever their reasons. National Coming Out Day is one of the most well-known LGBTQ+ holidays, but it’s typically centered around just one potential aspect of the queer experience. We have to keep in mind that there are other equally valid ways to be queer, and coming out doesn’t need to be a part of it.

National Coming Out Day is also frequently framed as a celebration, which is great because most negative media coverage can lead people to believe that every LGBTQ+ person is miserable. I love turning that narrative upside down and reminding everyone that queer people can be happy because they’re queer, not in spite of it. Queerness is not an inherently bad thing; it’s queerphobia that makes life harder for LGBTQ+ people. But, I also recognize that coming out and the general experience of queerness is not always the most positive experience. For some of us, coming out is incredibly challenging and calls for somber reflection, not party music and rainbows. Many have lost their jobs, their families, and even their lives after coming out. We should hold space for those experiences, too.

National Coming Out Day should be a day for all LGBTQ+ people, regardless of whether they shout their queerness from the rooftops or haven’t come out to anyone other than themselves, whether they wear a rainbow cape all day or do nothing special. While I now openly celebrate National Coming Out Day, my queerness does not depend on that. And I’ve come to realize that there are many other ways that I embrace my queerness beyond coming out on a particular day.

I embrace my queerness every Thursday night when I host Queer Movie Night with some of my close queer friends.

I embrace my queerness every time I look up at the “Love is love” poster hanging on my wall, reminding me of how hard my community fought to guarantee my right to marry whomever I want.

I embrace my queerness every time I drink from the mug my sister bought me as a gag gift which says, “World’s Okayest Sister.” I always misread it as “World’s Gayest Sister.” It’s displayed on my shelf as a daily reminder that I have a sister who loves and accepts me just as I am, even if I was the world’s gayest sister.

I embrace my queerness every time I walk to class with two rainbow pins on my backpack—they make me feel invincible yet still a little vulnerable.

I embrace my queerness every time I use my column to call attention to injustices the LGBTQ+ community faces.

I embrace my queerness every time I open my closet and see my bag of rainbow paraphernalia from Pride. When my parents came to visit, I stashed it away in a friend’s dorm. Every time I look at the bag, I remember how lucky I am to feel comfortable being out at school.

I embrace my queerness every time I cultivate friendships with other queer people—I’m currently texting a lesbian friend about the merits of Cameron Esposito’s side mullet.

I embrace my queerness every time I get involved with LGBTQ+ life on campus, whether it’s through interning at the BGLTQ Office or peer counseling for Contact.

But even more importantly, I embrace my queerness every day by just being me. And that’s what National Coming Out Day should be about: embracing your queerness in any way that feels best to you, whether you come out or not.

Becina J. Ganther ’20 is a Crimson Editorial editor in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays

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