National Coming Out Day (October 11) is a day to recognize and celebrate LGBTQ people and the individual journeys they take in declaring their true selves. This year marks the 29th anniversary of National Coming Out Day, and the first under the Trump administration. On the same day, The Washington Post published the opinion piece, “It’s time to end National Coming Out Day.”
Not only is this headline click bait at its worst, the entire article is self-serving, irresponsible, and dangerous. Summed up, it’s the gay version of “All Lives Matter.”
ONE AUTHOR’S OPINION ON COMING OUT DAY
The author (who is gay) argues that by declaring our queerness, we’re furthering the idea that being straight is the only “normal” way to be.
Continuing to use the rhetoric of “coming out” reinforces a view that heterosexuality is the norm. “Coming out” implicitly announces … that gay people are aberrant. Our homosexuality is so different that we must proclaim it; heterosexuality, however, is normal and expected.
He goes on to call out his own privilege, which permeates the entire piece.
Further, I recognize that as a white, 30-something, married professor, I am writing from a place of social, institutional and personal security.
In the very next sentence, he dismantles his own argument, while simultaneously reinforcing the disturbing trend of white, gay, cisgender men lacking empathy for anyone in the LGBTQ community but themselves.
And I realize I probably would not be able to make this argument without the existence of National Coming Out Day for the past 28 years. For people in different circumstances, this day might provide much-needed support and strength.
ALLOW ME TO DEBUNK THIS NONSENSE FURTHER
LGBTQ people are all but invisible until they proclaim themselves. Amidst assumptions, conjecture, and gossip, the only way to know someone’s identity or orientation is for them to tell you so. The coming out process also gives queer people more power over their own narrative.
LGBTQ people will always fall into the “other” category. Regardless of how many laws are passed and hearts and minds changed, there’s no reality where queer people aren’t a minority — it’s just not biologically feasible. Whether we acknowledge our otherness or not, it will always exist — no matter how much we integrate into heteronormative society. So why not take the opportunity to celebrate it?
The author then asks the reader to imagine a scenario where Coming Out Day is for everyone, including straight people. Then he asks us to imagine a world where being gay was the norm, and only straight people came out.
Until he comes out, casually ask your neighbor’s son if he has a boyfriend. Nudge him and point out the cute boys in the neighborhood. I suspect your neighbor’s son will not be pleased, assuming he’s straight. The reaction is understandable. Having one’s sexuality mistaken is alienating and destructive to one’s sense of self.
These scenarios come from a place of great privilege. What about the scenario of a trans sex worker? Or a gay teen living in a homophobic household? Or a young bisexual person in the rural South? Just because the author’s existence doesn’t warrant a Coming Out Day doesn’t mean millions of other LGBTQ people don’t have myriad reasons to extol a life lived out and proud.
BUT ONE POINT IS THE MOST IGNORANT AND DAMAGING
…America is a safer place in 2017. Polls suggest most Americans consider same-sex relations morally acceptable. Same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. And the latest Gallup survey indicates that most Americans believe new laws are needed to reduce discrimination against LGBTQ individuals.
Yes, same-sex marriage is legal, for which many others and I are very grateful. And yes, more Americans are more accepting (or at least tolerant) of LGBTQ people. But who is America safer for?
Certainly not for the 49 queer, Latinx people slaughtered in Orlando last year. Points to the author for mentioning this in passing.
Certainly not for the trans community, who not only have been banned from serving in the military by our commander-in-chief, but who are also being murdered in record numbers. A study by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) shows that as of August 23rd, there had been 19 homicides of trans people. In the month and-a-half since, that number has risen to 23.
And contrary to what the author may experience, certainly not even gay or bi cisgender men are safer. While 4 murders were reported in 2016, that number was up to 17 as of August 23rd of this year.
A FINAL ATTEMPT TO SHOW THE FOLLY OF COMING OUT
Of course, National Coming Out Day helpfully raises awareness of the gay community, its interests and its rights. But, paradoxically, the more Coming Out is celebrated, the more it reinforces a normative ideal that is harmful to gay people. In the process of trying to make ourselves safe and visible, we are marginalizing ourselves. This will end either when all people are expected to “come out” or when no one is expected to do so.
This description of what Coming Out Day accomplishes is both impersonal and incomplete. In addition to the overreaching goals mentioned, it allows individuals to revel in their own discovery; it encourages long-out queers to commemorate how far they’ve come; and it reminds us all to be about encouraging the next generation of LGBTQ people.
In a recent episode of the Will & Grace redux, Jack and Will are grappling with getting older, resulting in attempts to woo younger men. Will ends up lecturing his date about the importance of remembering the past. The two men compare their comically disparate coming out experiences in the clip below:
While the younger man’s shallow stereotype is overdone for sitcom effect, at its core it rings true. Progress has been made, but not for everyone. Gay, white, cisgender, affluent, able-bodied men can no longer be the voice of the LGBTQ community — certainly not the only voice.
A CALL TO COME OUT (AGAIN)
The Post article is unsound at best, divisive at worst. Instead of doing away with something based on one white man’s experience, we should instead be exploring ways to reach the most marginalized in our community.
Coming out isn’t a single day or a moment in time. Coming out is a lifelong process. If you’ve been out for a decade or two and are living comfortably in the suburbs with your husband and adorable children, maybe “coming out” means something else.
Maybe it means reaching out to our trans brothers and sisters. Maybe it involves advocating for policy and curriculum changes in your school district. Maybe you’re called to donate time, money, and experience to ensure young people will always have reason to celebrate themselves and their truths.
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