Coming out

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"Coming out of the closet" (very often shortened to "coming out" in winking reference to the public introduction of debutantes) describes the voluntary public announcement of one's sexual orientation, sexual attractions, gender identity, or (less commonly) paraphilia.

Being "out" means not concealing one's sexual orientation, sexual attractions, or gender identity. Being "outed" refers to having one's sexual orientation, sexual attractions, or gender identity made public typically against one's wishes or without one's consent. "Outing" is the process of deliberately disclosing the sexual orientation, sexual attractions, or gender identity of another who wants to keep this information private.


LGB usage

Some people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, (LGB) or queer, or who might prefer same-sex sexual activities or relationships, have engaged in heterosexual activities or have had long-term heterosexual relationships. Such "heterosexual" behavior by people who would otherwise consider themselves gay or lesbian has often been part of being "in the closet" to create an illusion for acceptance by heterosexuals (but should not be confused with out bisexuals who are in long term relationships with someone of the other gender).

Others who are "in the closet" have no heterosexual contact and simply want to protect themselves from discrimination or rejection by not revealing their sexual orientation, sexual attractions, or gender identity (see pronoun game). This practice may be becoming less common as acceptance of homosexuality increases (see situational sexual behaviour). Thus, some believe that "coming out" would disappear with complete acceptance of gayness and gay people, in that it would be unnecessary or impossible.

Transgender and transsexual usage

Whilst most people try to live according to the gender assigned to them, many transgender or transsexual people eventually decide to live according to the gender role with which they more closely identify, and therefore choose to annouce their gender identity and their intention of changing their gender role if they wish to transition. Unlike an LGB coming-out, obviously coming out if one wishes to transition from one gender role to another is not optional. However, many transgender and especially transsexual people wish to hide their past once they have transitioned, therefore a transsexual or transgender person can come out twice, once before the initial transition, and once after the transition to those who only knew them in their new gender role as transgender or transsexual.

The coming out process

Coming out has an etiquette of its own, developed through the experiences of people who did it in a way they later decided was inappropriate and more stressful than it had to be. It is generally suggested to avoid coming out during holidays and at other stressful times, such as during an argument.

Coming out is a process, and often a gradual one. It is common to come out first to a trusted friend or family member, and wait to come out to others. Some people are out at work but not to their families, or vice-versa. A person might say "I'm out at work, but I'm not out to my family". Still, one does not "come out" and magically stay there, one must continue to out oneself with every new acquaintance and in most new situations.

It is also common to hear the phrase coming out to oneself, meaning to admit to oneself that one is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or into "kink", or transgender. This is the very first step in the coming-out process; it often involves soul-searching or a personal epiphany of some sort. Many gay, lesbian and transgender people go through a period prior to coming out when they believe their sexual orientation or behavior, or their cross-gender feelings, to be "a phase", to be malleable, or when they reject their own feelings for religious or moral reasons. Coming out to oneself ends that period of ambiguity and begins the process of self-acceptance.

Not surprisingly, some studies have found that the degree to which a person can be out in a large number of life situations seems to strongly correlate with lack of stress and freedom from neurosis.


The practice of announcing a closeted person's orientation against his or her own wishes is known as outing them. Outing someone can be very traumatic and embarrassing for the victim, and as such is often used to purposely hurt a person or damage their reputation. Sometimes it is used to prove a political point, or unmask a divergence between private lifestyle and public stance.

As such outing may be found libel by a court of law (for example, in 1957 the closeted Liberace successfully sued the Daily Mirror for merely insinuating that he was gay).

Outing, according to gay or queer practitioners, is only justified when the person to be outed is a public or powerful figure actively involved in oppressing or denying equality to the very group they belong in. In cases such as the "violence" done by outing may be justified by the greater violence thus prevented. During the Eulenburg Affair, Brand, the founder of the first homosexual periodical, Der Eigene, printed a pamphlet which described how Bernhard Prince von Blow, imperial chancellor, had been blackmailed for his sexuality and had kissed and embraced Scheefer at male gatherings hosted by Eulenburg, and thus was, being gay, morally obligated to publically oppose Paragraph 175, which persecuted gay people.

Current viewpoints

Today, more gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are out than ever before, and many believe that being in the closet is unhealthy for the individual. A common saying is, "Closets are for clothes". One major gay magazine is titled Out Magazine. Coming out is often seen within gay and lesbian communities as politically healthy, even a queer duty or necessity - the more out gay people there are, the harder it will be for bigots to misrepresent and oppress. Others believe that coming out in the traditional, overt manner is not always individually or culturally appropriate. An alternative offered is "coming home", the process of introducing one's same-sex partner to family and friends as a close friend, leaving the queer sexual identity more unspoken. In the end, the individual has to decide which option they feel most comfortable with.

Judith Butler (1991) critizes the in/out metaphor as creating a binary opposition which pretends that the closet is dark, marginal, and false and that being out in the "light of illumination" reveals a true (or essential) identity. Diana Fuss (1991) explains, "the problem of course with the inside/outside that such polemics disguise the fact that most of us are both inside and outside at the same time." Further, "To be out, in common gay parlance, is precisely to be no longer out; to be out is to be finally outside of exteriority and all the exclusions and deprivations such outsiderhood imposes. Or, put another way, to be out is really to be in--inside the realm of the visible, the speakable, the culturally intelligible." In other words, coming out constructs the closet it supposedly destroys and the self it supposedly reveals, "the first appearance of the homosexual as a 'species' rather than a 'temporary aberration' also marks the moment of the homosexual's disappearance--into the closet." Lauren Smith (2000) summarizes, "to be 'out of the closet', then, as either gay or straight, according to Fuss and Butler, is always to contain or cover up another closet."

However, Butler is willing to appear at events as a lesbian and maintains that, "it is possible to argue that...there remains a political imperative to use these necessary errors or category rally and represent an oppressed political constituency." Fuss also argues that deconstructing identities is only positive when it also dismantles differences in power, when the identities are consolidated and naturalized. For "women do not necessarily have the same historical relation to identity...and they do not necessarily start from a humanist fantasy of wholeness." Again, Butler: "It is affirm that gay and lesbian identities are not only structured in part by dominant heterosexual frames, but that they are not for that reason determined by them. They are running commentaries on those naturalized positions as well, parodic replays and resignifications of precisely those heterosexual structures that would consign gay life to discursive domains of unreality and unthinkability."

Other uses

It is becoming increasingly common to hear "coming out" used by analogy for disclosures of other private sphere characteristics or behavior, e.g. "coming out as an alcoholic", "coming out as a conservative" [1] (, or "coming out as multiple" [2] ( This is associated with a more general tendency towards taking sexual identity as identity.

References and further reading

  • Dossie Easton, Catherine A. Liszt, When Someone You Love Is Kinky, Greenery Press, 2000. ISBN 1890159239.
  • Fuss, Diana, ed. (1991). Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories. New York: Routledge.
    • Butler, Judith (1991). "Imitation and Gender Insubordination".
  • Thomas, Calvin, ed. (2000). Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252068130.
    • Smith, Lauren (2000). "Queer Theory in the Composition Classroom".

See also

External links

Coming out




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