Coming out is still a big deal

12 Comments

 

You might've noticed more coming out stories and LGBT+ content on your social media feeds than usual. It's because, though pride events are celebrated throughout the year, June is pride month in the US and many countries throughout the world, commemorating the Stonewall riots.

Nick Robinson in Love, SimonFor me personally, it's an interesting time to reflect, since I took the step of coming out to my parents in June two years ago.

When I see people come out online, there's obviously congratulations and support, but one reaction I tend to see are comments like 'It's [insert year here], nobody cares if you're LGBT+' or 'people wouldn't care if gay people just kept to themselves, why make a big deal out of it?' I've also heard this repeated in person, directed at me and people I know.

These types of comments not only dismiss the many places it's unsafe to come out, but imply that coming out is unnecessary. I get why people could think that — there is generally more acceptance for LGBT+ people than ever before. But it implies that we live in a world where discrimination against LGBT+ people isn't a reality.

We don't live in that world. We live in a world where the default is straight and cisgender. Where children are abused for seeming gay and LGBT+ people are at a higher risk of homelessness, bullying and violence. Where trans people have an unemployment rate of 9.1 per cent and 90 per cent experience discrimination in the workplace. It's evident that many people do still care if you're LGBT+.

In my own timeline of questioning my sexuality to coming out, I spent about seven years in the closet. Straight cisgender people often talk about being closeted as a kind of negative space, but the closet is not a neutral zone.

Seven years of nodding along to comments about the inevitable husband or boyfriend I would have. Seven years of taking the time to unlearn the ideas I had internalised like 'bisexuality isn't real' and trying to find role models by watching an endless stream of coming out videos on YouTube. Seven years where I felt guilty about fearing the worst from my family and friends, remembering every unthinking homophobic comment and wondering, what if?

 

"It doesn't change everything, but it's a signal to others and, more importantly, to ourselves, that we aren't ashamed of who we are."

 

The comments also dismiss how terrifying coming out the closet can be. No one who is LGBT+ can be entirely certain how someone else is going to react to the news. When I came out, I felt like I was risking my relationships. The internal conflict started to wear me down. Whenever someone who didn't know about my sexuality told me they loved or cared for me, I mentally added a 'but' to the end of their sentence. But that might not be true after I tell you.

Then there was the other voice in my head that worried that not telling them stemmed from shame about my identity. I'm grateful that the people in my life support me, but I wasn't certain of that at the time. When a cousin of mine came out, I watched my parents closely to see how they reacted. Again, people do care about others coming out.  

There's an exchange in the movie Love, Simon that deals with this idea of 'nobody cares anymore' directly. The character who outs Simon to their school says he 'didn't think it was going to be a big thing'. Simon replies that he doesn't get to decide that; it was 'his thing' and it had been taken away from him.

The scene highlights that when people reiterate these attitudes about someone else's coming out, especially when they have outed them, they take ownership of something that is deeply personal for the other person and make it about them.

There are definitely LGBT+ people who feel like coming out was not particularly noteworthy. Everyone's story is different. I think that many LGBT+ people hope for the day when we don't have to come out. We all should be working towards a world that isn't heteronormative.

But for so many LGBT+ people, including myself, coming out is an important moment. It doesn't change everything, but it's a signal to others and, more importantly, to ourselves, that we aren't ashamed of who we are.

So if someone in your life comes out to you this June or maybe this October, international coming out month, take your cue from the person coming out. Never just assume you know what coming out means for someone. Unless someone tells you it isn't a big deal to them, it probably is.

 

 

Neve MahoneyNeve Mahoney is a student at RMIT university. She has also contributed to Australian Catholics and The Big Issue.

Main image: Nick Robinson in Love, Simon

Topic tags: Neve Mahoney, LGBTI, coming out

 

 

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Existing comments

I agree - there are too many people saying coming out is no big deal, and that no-one will mind one way or the other. I am lucky in having come out in the 1970s, when being gay was almost fashionable, and have not experienced any obvious discrimination, let alone insulting remarks. However, even in the most accepting social groups there is often silence around the subject of homosexuality. During the same-sex marriage debate it certainly came up, as a social issue, but normally people seem to find it a bit embarrassing and can't wait to change the subject. I certainly don't want to thrust it down people's throats, but it would be nice to mention aspects of it, either as a general or personal issue, without feeling I have dropped a clanger. Perhaps I am still asking 'So now I've come out - now what?'
Rodney Wetherell | 14 June 2018


Why don't heterosexuals feel the need to come out?
curious | 14 June 2018


Why don't heterosexuals feel the need to come out? Because we are a heteronormative species, whether by evolution or by socialisation.
Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 15 June 2018


Curious: “Why don't heterosexuals feel the need to come out?” Because to ‘come out’ is to allude to one’s sex life, unnecessary for heterosexuals. In any case, as one’s sex life (like the size of one’s bank account) isn’t a staple of conversation in Australian and probably most cultures, the topic isn’t declared unless the person feels some need to declare it. However, there is a rare form of heterosexual ‘coming out’ in the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity for Women Living in the World, officiated by a Mass, which makes the event, one supposes, as a declaration of identity, a ‘coming out’.
Roy Chen Yee | 15 June 2018


Should be clear so as to avoid mis-interpretation: This does not mean for a second that we do not embrace those who cannot, do not, will not fit into our species' hetero-normative reality. 'Non-normatives' are and have always been part of humanity. They often played a religious role in past cultures so, perhaps the many gay clergy of today could start by coming out en masse and showing how their role in society as LGBTIQ people is playing a vital part in stretching our norms and questioning at least social hetero-normativity. Evolutionary hetero-normativity cannot be changed - it is vital to the continuation of the species. This is one reason perhaps, why homosexuality was outlawed; perhaps based on some instinctual need for species survival, along with intelligence, compassion and learning from history. Elements such as race and religion are not necessary for survival but being able to reproduce AND get along with each other is. But yes, speaking from experiences those who come out to you/us need to be totally respected, understood, accepted and supported (if they want or need it) as individuals with their own particular backgrounds, and not as belonging to a collective only. Neve, your story explains this admirably.
Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 15 June 2018


In relation to bullying and violence against homosexual people. At a social work seminar in Sydney that I attended, a social worker serving in Australia's largest gay community reported that 83 percent of homosexuals attending the major emergency department in the area following violent assault claimed that the assault was perpetrated by their partner.
curious | 15 June 2018


Curious, I find it hard to believe your question is genuine and that you've decided to ask an obvious question in a deliberate attempt to show disrespect and a lack of empathy for what "coming out" actually means. But just in case you seriously don't know,,,,,, 'coming out' means "coming out of the closet", implying that LGBTI people still hide their sexual orientation for fear of rejection because there are still some societal institutions that regard homosexuality as "instrinsically disordered".
AURELIUS | 17 June 2018


Until the Church, Catholic or otherwise can remove any teaching regarding the unacceptance and exclusion of LGBTIQ+ people from full membership of the Church, this issue of acceptance even in secular society will continue. For the Catholic Church, this, along with compulsory celibacy for diocesan priests and bishops, the Church’s teaching regarding divorced and remarried persons regarding Holy Communion, and the refusal to ordain women, among other issues, are all injustices on the part of the institutional Church which are holding us back from being able to operate in the 21st century. None of these issues have any theological barriers preventing us from moving on. The Second Vatican Council opened up plenty of opportunity for sorting all this out, but alas, I’m beginning to think it has all be left too late.
Thomas Amory | 18 June 2018


Curious, once again, I question your motives rather than your exposition of facts. What's your point of pointing out the appalling domestic abuse statistics in LGBTI relationships in the context of this article? It's already highly accepted that 11% of society (those regarded as LGBTI) rated highly on ALL the negative social indices. That doesn't mean we have to keep bashing them over the head and pointing out their intrinsic disorder. Maybe it's time to lower them from the cross and accept that their brokenness is not self-inflicted, but something society is also responsible for. And at the moment secular society is doing a better job at this than religious organisations.
AURELIUS | 18 June 2018


And Roy - sexuality orientation is not as black and white as you seem to present. This is 2018. Educate yourself and drag yourself out of the dualistic dark ages. There are emotions and attachments involved in this too, We'r e not savages!
AURELIUS | 18 June 2018


Thomas, "None of these issues have any theological barriers . . . " - Not marriage, which is a sacrament? Not Christ's selection of "The Twelve"?
John | 19 June 2018


Neve, a wonderful article about 'coming out'. It took me fifty years to do so and I lost many of my so-called friends and relatives. So much for the unconditional love that they proclaimed! I'm sorry too that the bulk of those commenting here have at best two-bob each way or are otherwise miserably enslaved by fundamentalist readings of scripture and sacramentology that have no dialogue with contemporary cultural reality. This attitude portrays the Church as a sectarian museum rather than the field-hospital that ministers to the lives and hopes of all people, as Pope Francis exhorts. Missing too in some of these comments is any understanding of the privilege exercised by heteronormatives, which explains why their overbearing influence exerts a hegemonic stranglehold on the culture with the kind of vice-like grip that Foucault illuminatingly dissembles in his critique of power and control. This oppressive phenomenon is tellingly exemplified in Roy Chen-Yee's post: flippant, pouring scorn on the discussion and ultimately perverse, its the kind of thing that reprises the writing of Evelyn Waugh at his best: tortured, scathing and wrestling no doubt with his own contradictions. A shame to admit that the bulk of these comments come from Catholics!
Dr Michael Furtado | 21 June 2018


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