Coming out is a profoundly personal act. The very first coming out experience is to yourself. When you choose to come out to the world, it is empowering – you are saying “This is who I am, and if you have a problem with that, it’s your problem, not mine.” A lot of people, whether for reasons of physical or psychological safety, never find themselves able to make that leap to leading a public life where they open themselves up to scrutiny, possible criticism, and potential real injury.
If you’re nodding your head because you are still in the closet, in general, to most, or even to a select few, rest assured that I am not going to attack you for that. I will, however, present some arguments in favor of coming out. These are the experiences of a man who stayed mostly in the closet for close to 30 years, has supportive personal relationships, and lives in an area where there are community resources available, and I get that my experience isn’t universal.
My biggest argument for coming out was simply the psychological pressure of hiding who I was. It was feeling like I could trust no one not to attack me in some way if I let them behind the mask of “straight guy”. It was incredibly isolating and led me to feel as if the whole world was my enemy. This feeling exaggerated the feelings of threat that kept me in the closet – a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy.
The second factor was this: even though my judgment of threat was unrealistically high, the actual threat level of my everyday life was heightened. Not only did I have to worry about what people might do to me for being queer, but I also had the continual worry of being found out. And the people who attack teh queer don’t need verification from you – they simply need to decide for themselves that you are worthy of being attacked. You can be deep in the closet and still be a victim of homophobia – although it seems to me that authentic biphobia does require you to be out. More on that another day.
I never felt like I could come out to my adoptive parents. I’ve written about that before. Hindsight is 20/20, though, and looking back I wonder if I could have broken the toxic hold that my adoptive mother had over me for so many years by having the confrontation. I’ll never know, because it’s untestable – but if the 5% chance that she would have accepted me for who I am had indeed come about, it would have altered our relationship in very positive ways. Unfortunately, my need to not risk being abandoned trumped my need to live honestly. I’m working on that.
I was raised smack-dab in the heart of individualist American society – nuclear family in the suburbs, comfortably middle class, white, male-oriented culture, where it was obvious that people with less (freedoms, material wealth, whatever) had less due to their own faults. Poor people just didn’t work hard enough, racial minorities were unintelligent or immoral, and the Plague was something f*****s had coming due to their perverted behavior. I include this in order to give you some context for why I stayed in the closet for so long – to show you the cultural matrix I was raised in.
So there’s the personal side. Self-knowledge, self-honesty, self-actualization.
Wait. There’s something more. Community.
Coming Out isn’t just coming out. It’s Coming In. Coming in from the cold.
Coming In means joining the community that’s been waiting for you, the community that will be larger and stronger once you are openly a part of it. It means finding the support that you felt you were denied while you were still closeted. It means warming your soul.
I’ve written before about the two-doored nature of coming out as bisexual, and about how it sometimes seems like you’re being rejected by the community. But those initial feelings of being an outcast among your own kind don’t have to be true – you don’t need to stay isolated. There are lots of LGBT people out there who get it, and they are busy educating the ones who don’t.
I was incredibly lucky to land in an accepting community in both the real and virtual worlds. If you are in the closet right now, and you’re reading this, you can be equally lucky. If you’re bi in the United States, check out BiNET USA or Boston’s BRC. There you’ll find warm and genuine people who will help you enter the community that needs you.
Because we do need you, profoundly. Being in the closet may be a necessity for your personal safety – I get that. I felt that way myself for many, many years. In my case, I was overestimating the immediate danger, knock wood. I can’t guarantee that it will be that way forever – I’m rather loud and obnoxious sometimes and as an activist, there’s a certain element of “If you never piss anyone off, you’re not trying hard enough”. I’m at a stage in my life where the potential rewards are greater than the risk, and the very real damage to myself from staying in the closet one more day was a greater danger than anything I would face out of it.
I won’t tell you you have a duty to come out. I will say, however, that if everyone came out today, tomorrow would look very different, and if every bisexual came out, the queer movement would also look very different – and I think it would look better.
So make your own choice. It is truly only yours to make. I hope, though, that this will count as an argument in favor of flinging that damned door wide and saying “Hello World, now get out of my way!”