Getting Out of ‘Coming out’

January 24, 2012

– Some Personal Thoughts on ‘Coming out of the Closet’

Words By: Felicia Dahlquist
 
Sometimes I wonder what my ‘coming out party’ might have been like if I were to have had one. I would make a big entrance dancing to Diana Ross’s 80’s hit; ‘I’m coming out, I want the world to know, got to let it show…’
My friends and family would be gathered and my mother might wrap a feathered boa around her and dance like never before just to prove to everyone how extremely ok she is with having a lesbian daughter. My friends would be wondering what the big deal is; ‘Isn’t everyone gay nowadays?’ and my grandparents would not know what to do or were to look.

For myself, and many who live openly as gay, informing people of your sexual orientation, probably doesn’t happen in the form of a coming out party. Nor is it something that happens one time. Once you make the decision to tell people about your sexuality, it is in most cases something you need to keep disclosing to most people you meet. Not to say that it is the first thing you mention to someone new, ‘Hi, nice to meet you, by the way I’m gay,’ but rather bound to come up at some point. Once you ‘come out’, you will never stop coming out to people, it is actually a never-ending process.  

This is one of the many problems with the idea of ‘coming out of the closet.’ It is a term, which implies that when you decide to tell people that you divert from the norm with your sexual orientation it is something that happens once, a few times or over a certain period of time. And although most people would consider the coming out experience to involve primarily those in your immediate surroundings, this milieu is in constant change for most people. We move, travel, get new jobs, and make new friends meaning that, as a gay person one needs to constantly evaluate, consider and perhaps worry about the outcome of telling people about ones identity.

Another issue with the term is that it implies that there is a closet. It is a dark, hidden and derogatory place, which is perceived to be somewhere to hide for those who don’t dare be honest with themselves and others. There is an idea that being ‘out’ will make you happier as you will be free and liberated, and that those who choose never to live openly as homosexuals are sad, oppressed and scared people. This is obviously a very black and white picture, as gay people aren’t necessarily either or. And even though I wish that we lived in a world where homosexuality had reached universal acceptance, this is not the case, and so a gay person cannot be simplistically placed in a ‘hidden’ or ‘open’ category.  

Apart from the obvious worries and dilemmas people face when coming out, such as acceptance, there is another dimension to the concept of coming out, which proves problematic. The sex in sexuality cannot be avoided. When admitting that you are gay you are essentially specifying and claiming a sexual preference, or who you want to have sex with. This is in addition to the existing sexual and promiscuous stereotypes often surrounding gay people. Having a sex talk with people you meet and having to confront prejudices and stereotypes about gay sex is easier said than done.  

Although at first glance, it may seem as if the happy-clappy people in Soho don’t have any worries concerning being open with their sexuality, the picture is obviously much more complex than that. Last year the reality show ‘Candy Bar Girls,’ aired on Channel 5 and followed the lives of a few lesbians at one of London’s lesbian bars. The show’s slogan was ‘Real Life, Real Lesbians,’ but like many other Channel 5 reality shows it displayed a slanted and limited view of what life for a lesbian in London might be like. Although I strongly welcome the further emergence of various sexualities being broadcasted in TV-series and films, the ‘Candy bar girls,’ was mostly cliché and filled with stereotypes.

But more interestingly I was fascinated by everything that was going on behind the camera, when I by chance found myself at the bar one night during filming. There were a large amount of girls who left the bar when the film team arrived and people who deliberately dodged the camera out of the fear of being revealed as gay when the show was to air. Fears of how family, co-workers and one’s surroundings would react if they saw you on a lesbian show, was clearly evident. I can only say that it is a shame that their stories were not told also.  

The women who dodged the cameras at the Candy bar bring out further questions regarding the terminology of coming out. Not wanting to be ‘outed’ on TV makes it seem as if they choose not to live openly as gay and brings the preconceived conceptions of the unhappy and oppressed closet. But many gay people are selective about who they are open to about their sexuality. For example, someone might tell his or her closest family and friends, but don’t plan on telling co-workers, in order to be protected from potential discrimination or non-acceptance. Does this mean that the person is in the closet? The fluid and varied nature of to whom one is openly gay is too dynamic and varied to be placed in a black and white terminology.      

So the term ‘coming out’ is problematic for several reasons. It is not a onetime thing nor is it as clear-cut as to say that you are ‘in’ (the closet) or ‘out’ (in the open?). It implies that there is a ‘closet’ and welcomes preconceived notions of what the coming out experience might be like. The stigma and prejudice attached to it, and the narrowness of the term, is limiting and creates a very black and white picture.  Although I myself use the term ‘coming out’ a lot, I believe that it is often used carelessly and without much thought. Perhaps it is time we realise the inherent problems of the term and its complexities, as well as discuss, re-evaluate and perhaps even re-formulate the term ‘coming out.’  

Although the thought of having a ‘coming out party,’ might be fun and seem practical at first, I am sure that if I stood there with all my family and friends and Diana Ross playing in the background, I would probably wonder: ‘What am I coming out from? And what am I actually coming out to?’

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