Even though it can mean different things to different people, “coming out” may be defined as a moment of pride and acceptance; when one truly embraces a statement about oneself, removing any pretense or hesitation. It signifies the acceptance of one’s sexuality and the proclamation that one is proud to be one’s real self without having to apologize for it.
For some, “coming out” is when they are no longer in the closet. While for others, they had never been in the closet, to begin with, and that is a matter of privilege.
Only 28 countries have allowed same-sex marriage, while 34 others recognize same-sex couples (BBC). As a suppressed group, it is only natural to seek acknowledgment and approval because “coming out” in this context is related to declaring and being proud of one’s sexual identity. Many, however, are unable to do so due to draconian criminal restrictions, including death sentences enforced on the LGBTQ+ population in various countries. As a result, not having to “come out” is a position of privilege that indicates you are welcomed without having to declare your sexuality. When was the last time you saw a cisgender heterosexual person “coming out?” Almost certainly, never. I realize it sounds crazy. How can being your true self without having to defend yourself to anyone be considered a privilege? Sadly, it is.
Globally, we do not have a consistent recognition of the community, which we occasionally overlook. Several studies have found that individualistic cultures are more inclusive and welcoming of the LGBTQ+ group. Despite growing worldwide support, collectivistic (eastern) societies are sluggish to adapt. But one thing we can all agree on is that the taboo aspect towards the group has clearly decreased significantly.
But why is it necessary for people to “come out?” The fact that a person’s sexual orientation must be declared in order to be valid illustrates the level to which internalized prejudices still exist. It’s time to normalize and welcome differences without imposing the act of approval. Media has extolled “coming out” culture to the extent where it is portrayed as a desire for acceptance rather than a need for understanding and compassion. This implies that queerness is inherently a deception that must be revealed in order to be legitimate. As freeing as it might be for someone to finally come out about their sexualities and embrace their real selves, adjectives like “tolerance” and “acceptance” inevitably imply superiority over the other person. As a result, the LGBTQ+ community may unwittingly accept external validation as their own reality.
Coming out is always a personal experience. However, it has a variety of perspectives, both positive and negative. It’s liberating to be out and proud. It is not just set for societal approval but also for self-acknowledgment. “I am, in fact, gay!” To the people you care about, a declaration. They should appreciate the person you were yesterday, today, and forever. Coming out involves feelings of satisfaction after weeks, months, and years of worry and concern, relief from long-awaited self-awareness, and from not feeding a massive secret.
But also under strain. Exasperation at not being able to speak about it at your own pace as a result of the external pressure. Frustration at not being given a chance to speak about it at your own pace. Unjust for not expressing it when you were ready, to the individuals you really wanted to open yourself to. Wronged, since you’re probably being blackmailed for being the way you are, and you do not even have an opportunity to express your feelings.
Do we put pressure on members of the community to reveal their sexual orientations when they choose to stay private? Coming out has become so celebrated that people are expected to “come out” if they are members of the LGBTQ+ community. Maybe, it’s not even their decision.
In 2006, actor Neil Patrick Harris was forced to “come out” through his statement to People magazine saying, “Rather than ignore those who choose to publish their opinions without actually talking to me, I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest and feel most fortunate to be working with wonderful people in the business I love.” This happened when blogger Perez Hilton ruthlessly revealed Harris’s sexual identity without his knowledge, pressuring Harris to give an answer.
Although the LGBTQ+ community has received a lot of support compared to a few decades ago, it is still important to address the prejudices that exist. We need to normalize the fact that a person does not need to seek approval to live their lives the way they wish to. Hence, a person does not need to come out to anyone unless it’s their choice.
Coming to the trendy aspect of this phenomenon, it is a two-sided coin. The ‘privileged’ might identify as members of the suppressed and minority for attention or sympathy. But on the other hand, they could also associate themselves as members for showing their support towards the society.
But why is it trendy? Probably because it is less stigmatized. No one wants to be labeled as ‘uncool’ or ‘old school.’
This urge for ‘coolness’ has actually led to some great developments. The open conversation on the LGBTQ community by celebrities and activists has compelled fans and volunteers to read and know more about them. To some extent, in order to not be termed as homophobic, people are genuinely trying to broaden their minds from the conventional teachings they’ve had. The problem is when this goes out of hand. Diverting attention towards themselves is disrespectful to all of us as a society. Intolerance towards the LGBTQ group is an issue we have been tackling for centuries. When people ‘come out’ just for the heck of it, for superficial reasons such as attention and popularity, it undermines the bigger picture. So, with the information we are provided with, we have a certain responsibility to respect it and put in that extra effort to differentiate between right and wrong, ignorant and sensitive.
Change is unavoidable, and we see growth with each passing generation as each fresh thread is weaved into a tapestry of new ideas. And there is hope, if not for an imminent transformation. And, in order to do so, we must ensure that preconceptions and insecurities do not germinate in young minds, for which we will be held accountable in the future.
Written by: Samiksha