Advertising Me: Social Expectations for Coming Out of the Closet
Pride month 2019 brought many hopeful queers out of the closet; communities of all kinds were coming together to celebrate identity. Large corporations altered their advertising with rainbow colored palettes, queer-accepting slogans, and PRIDE themed merchandise. Amidst this public celebration of acceptance, there were those who couldn’t celebrate—or who could only celebrate within the closet. While today—especially in the West—the public is widely accepting, there are many communities where this is not the reality for LGBTQ people. Some queer folk are lucky to have accepting parents, friends, and extended family, but there are others who are not so lucky.
While the world is still divided about the queer community, there remains a clear expectation of coming out—the expectation that the world is entitled to know and understand the intricacies of your sexuality whether you like it or not. Once again, it’s the queers against the heteronormative framework of our society. Rather than focusing on how sexuality influences, drives, and shapes who a person is, there is a public expectation to explain your difference in order to validate it. Sexuality becomes less of celebration, and more of a label to further marginalize the LGBTQ community. Fear of acceptance is the most common hindrance to coming out of the closet, and when what feels like a dirty secret is finally out the fight isn’t over. Some dream of the day they can finally share their sexuality; some just want it out without all the attention and questions. The questions which box in, and separate communities.
On June 30th, I came out of the closet as a bisexual after struggling for a long time with whether or not I felt it was necessary to even share that information with the world. My few friends who knew always reminded me that I would be loved and accepted by those around me, encouraging me to show my true colors. Unbeknownst to them acceptance wasn’t even the issue. As someone who prefers to avoid labels, I was more concerned with whether it felt necessary to me to announce it formally. Since I’ve come out of the closet, I’ve received a variation of responses—all mainly positive. I was lucky to not fear rejection, but I resented the idea of people inevitably prying into my personal life.
I was reluctant to come out, and my over-arching fear of doing so came from the need to constantly present myself as if my sexuality isn’t normal. You never stop having to come out—regardless of how extravagantly you do so in person or online. Many closeted individuals come out online before coming out to those around them. This social buffer allows them to distance themselves from the inevitable stigmas. The expectation to create a spectacle of my sexuality seemed against my nature. My issue was that it feels like a requirement to make a big deal out of it. Sexuality should be celebrated, loved, and accepted regardless of whether the person decides it’s important to share publicly.
If only it would be so easy as posting one photoset, stating your chosen sexual label, and moving on as if everyone knows. The reality is that you constantly are coming out to those around you because—unless you strictly say so and are able to convince them—you’re an assumed heterosexual. What’s worse is the fact that your family—who have assumed your sexuality your entire life—has to cope with the idea they were wrong. So you keep coming out. You come out to your friends, family, maybe your colleagues if you have to. All this to avoid the blanket statements. When will you get a nice boyfriend and settle down? And the various homophobic microaggressions which impose fear on your own sexuality.
Perhaps, beyond my personal preference for privacy, the reason I resisted coming out is because it reinforces the “otherness” of LGBTQ people. Because our community is dominated by heteronormative rules, deviance is reinforced through the need for us to explain ourselves. Therefore, questions such as: why are you gay? have you been with a woman? when did you know? flood the ears of a newly outed gay. While important in the process of coming out, these questions further convince us that the queer community is ever mysterious, deviant, and questionable. By making a spectacle of sharing out sexuality, the queer community resembles those who are outsiders as opposed to normal, loving, accepted people. The spectacle and the questions require that one present evidence of their sexuality rather than share it as a part of who they are.
The truth is that you can’t control people’s reactions to your coming out. The reality is that you can’t control other people’s desire to come out to everyone. I still haven’t come out to my grandparents. I’m fortunate enough to know they would eventually come around; however, I also have the right to say I’m not ready yet, or that I don’t want to. My sexuality is my business and I have the right to share it if I want to. I have this right, and others equally have the right to advertise it as much as they want to. I am lucky to have accepting friends and family—albeit there are some who don’t approve—but that doesn’t mean I have to share with everyone.
Sexuality—no matter how publicly celebrated—is a private thing which people share with those they feel necessary. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with choosing a public display of one’s sexuality. Sharing your experience with others can be extremely helpful in educating queer and nonqueer communities. For example, I came out to my mom, but I haven’t had a proper discussion with her about it yet. So maybe I still have half my foot in the closet, but that doesn’t mean I’m suffering. We will have that discussion when I’m ready to share, and she welcomes it openly.
Ultimately, coming out isn’t about other people, although that is what it can appear to be. Yes, I’m a proud bisexual woman, but that’s really none of your business. I don’t have to present my sexual history to be verified; however, I do have to say something in order to be recognized. The vicious cycle continues. The need to be validated, and the desire to have privacy contradict each other daily. Recognition requires release; In order to be recognized as a bi woman I have to release that information to the world. When recognized, I feel validated and accepted, but each individual is at their own liberty to disclose no more than the bare minimum.
So what is the bare minimum, then? Find those who you love and share yourself with them. While writing this article, in the lobby of a Woods Coffee, a stranger asked what I was working on. I told him. He asked if I was a member of the community, and I said yes. That was enough for him to see me, I was recognized. And it felt good because I said what I felt like saying and that was that. I walk around with a bisexual flag pin on my jean jacket and people who care to look see me, and it feels good. What matters is that you are comfortable, safe, and accepted. You can have one foot, a limb, or your whole body in the closet until you feel ready. Your sexuality is just that, your sexuality.
About the author: Brooke Dawson is an undergraduate student at Seattle Pacific University studying English literature and certifying in Secondary Education English. Brooke plans to continue helping others learn alongside her own journey of learning. Outside of her studies, she enjoys talking to her plants, petting cats, and listening to Kpop.