LGBT Pride month is upon us again, and each year I like to kick it off here with a diary about coming out. There's a first step in any process, and in the process of living your life as an open and proud member of the LGBT community, that first step is called "coming out".
Now, not everyone is comfortable with coming out, but it has had its proponents for a lot longer than many people realize. I quick look at teh Wiki reveals this historical information:
In 1869, one hundred years before the Stonewall Riots, the German homosexual rights advocate Karl Heinrich Ulrichs introduced the idea of self-disclosure as a means of emancipation. Claiming that invisibility was a major obstacle toward changing public opinion, he urged homosexual people to reveal their same-sex attractions. In his 1906 work, Das Sexualleben unserer Zeit in seinen Beziehungen zur modernen Kultur (The Sexual Life of Our Time in its Relation to Modern Civilization), Iwan Bloch, a German-Jewish physician, entreated elderly homosexuals to self-disclose to their family members and acquaintances. Years later, Magnus Hirschfeld revisited the topic in his major work The Homosexuality of Men and Women (1914), discussing the social and legal potentials of several thousand homosexual men and women of rank revealing their sexual orientation to the police in order to influence legislators and public opinion. (Bolding mine.)As to the origins of the term "coming out" or more fully, "coming out of the closet", there's this interesting tidbit:
The present-day expression "coming out" is understood to have originated in the early 20th century from an analogy that likens homosexuals’ introduction into gay subculture to a débutante’s coming-out party. This is a celebration for a young upper-class woman who is making her début – her formal presentation to society – because she has reached adult age or has become eligible for marriage. As historian George Chauncey points out:There's plenty more history where that came from in many, many other sources and queer historians, but we're here tonight to tell our stories and make old Dr. Ulrichs proud--because his theory was correct. The more visible we are, the easier it becomes in the struggle for our dignity and human rights.
"Gay people in the pre-war years [pre-WWI]... did not speak of coming out of what we call the gay closet but rather of coming out into what they called homosexual society or the gay world, a world neither so small, nor so isolated, nor... so hidden as closet implies"
In fact, as Elizabeth Kennedy observes, "using the term 'closet' to refer to" previous times such as "the 1920s and 1930s might be anachronistic."
An article on coming out in the online encyclopedia glbtq.com states that sexologist Dr. Evelyn Hooker’s observations introduced the use of "coming out" to the academic community in the 1950s. The article continues by echoing Chauncey's observation that a subsequent shift in connotation occurred later on. The pre-1950s focus was on entrance into "a new world of hope and communal solidarity" whereas the post-Stonewall Riots overtone was an exit from the oppression of the closet. This change in focus suggests that "coming out of the closet" is a mixed metaphor that joins "coming out" with the closet metaphor: an evolution of "skeleton in the closet" specifically referring to living a life of denial and secrecy by concealing one’s homosexual or bisexual orientation. The closet metaphor, in turn, is extended to the forces and pressures of heterosexist society and its institutions.
Now this diary is not just for members of the LGBTQ community. Not at all. It's also for our straight allies. I invite queer and transgendered folks to share their coming out stories in the comments, and I invite our straight allies to share their stories of having family, friends, and loved ones come out to them. Don't you think it will be interesting to see this from both sides of the coin? I do.
So, queer friends and allies, let's jump over the little orange doohickle and share some stories. I'll start with my own.
I've told my story here about coming out to my parents so many times it has become pretty rote. The reason for that is that it is totally uneventful and completely devoid of any drama whatsoever. That being said, I was nervous.
Now, before I came out to my parents, I came out to my best friend (who it turned out was also gay) and later to a friend at my HS who shortly afterwards became my boyfriend, a relationship which lasted several years after High School. It's with my HS boyfriend where this all begins in terms of coming out to the 'rents.
The story is long, but the abridged version is that through a confluence of events, it came to pass that my boyfriend ended up living at our house. My father was being transferred from Houston to Chicago (HUGE promotion in his job) and my parents invited my boyfriend Steve to go with us. I later found out, of course, that they already knew. Well, Steve did come with us. At the same time, my parents were in the middle of a divorce (though I didn't know it at the time we moved). I know this arrangement sounds strange, but my father's parents invited my mother to live with them before my parents were married to get my mother out of a somewhat similar situation we got my boyfriend out of, so it wasn't exactly an unusual thing for my folks to do for Steve.
Steve and I decided that we should finally tell them the nature of our relationship, come out to them. One Sunday morning, we were in the kitchen. Ma was going to fix some breakfast. I don't remember where my brother was, probably still asleep. Dad was away on business. We were both nervous as hell, but we told Ma. This is where the punchline come in: her response was
Thanks for your honesty, boys. Now, tell me something I don't already know: would you like your eggs scrambled or poached?Yep. The Most Anticlimactic Coming Out Story Evah.
The whole family was totally OK with it, and while Steve and I are no longer together, he is still considered part of the family and we keep in touch from time to time.
So that's my story. What's yours? Don't forget, I'd love to hear stories from the aspect of our straight allies, too. We're not about tolerance, friends, we're about inclusiveness and community!
The disco floor is yours, friends.