By Alyssa Crow
Coming out and identifying as a member of the LGBTQ community can be heartbreaking and dangerous.
Coming out is always a tricky subject. Coming out is deeply personal in that the real world consequences can be life altering. From family members’ disownment, to friend abandonment, loss of job and even torture and death.
Why, then, do so many people choose to come out? A lot of conversation in the community is about “living one’s authentic self” and “living one’s truth.” And the reason for this is that often times, the pressures to stay in the closet and live an inauthentic life become so great that many members take their own lives.
Speaking with older members of the LGBTQ community, one finds that coming out in the past had the added difficulties of gay men seen as pedophiles. Members of the community were often viewed as trying to “recruit” others, and a stigma of “guilty by association” were cast upon allies. “Gay” and “q***r” were used with a negative connotation and had not yet been reclaimed with power by the LGBTQ community. Despite just a few of these mentioned obstacles, people were still coming out.
A lot of members of the older generation, who fought for the rights and safeties that the younger generations now have, see not being out as hiding because back then there was no grey zone. One was either out, bullied and accepted, or closeted.
For the newer generation of LGBTQ identified folks, being out has a different set of consequences. Torture, death, and harassment are still the norm for many members. Trans Day of Remembrance is an important day because it allows everyone to remember Trans folks lost to hate. Gabriel Fernandez is the 8 year old boy who was tortured and eventually killed by his mother’s boyfriend because the boyfriend thought he was gay. Thought. Thoughts kill. Hate kills. And the LGBTQ community is still battling such overt hate.
Since such overt displays of hatred and bigotry have slowly been stamped out of polite society and no longer deemed acceptable, a more subtle form of discrimination has taken over.
A lot of younger LGBTQ folks are out, but not out-out. Meaning a lot of people are out to their closest friends, at community functions, and maybe even out to their family members. But this also means a lot are not out to the general public, to work, or any place that people knowing may negatively affect them.
It is becoming increasingly harder and harder to find out who is and actually isn’t a bigot, and since the easiest way, bullying, is no longer deemed acceptable, the task has become much difficult. A lot of folks in the LGBTQ community have accepted that there will be hatred thrown their way for existing and that steps can be taken for this hatred to exist outside their circle and for it to rarely penetrate in.
What is much harder to grapple with is the low-key bigotry and hate that people hide under the surface.
For example, someone does not fit into the stereotypes of what each person of the LGBTQ label looks, sounds, speaks, etc. like and they become friends with someone in class, at work, or in a hiking group. Through casual conversation the LGBTQ person lets it be overtly known that they are part of this community, they weren’t closeted or hiding it, just not shouting it from the rooftops. Their new friend is “uncomfortable” with this knowledge and since bullying is no longer acceptable, decides to stop being friends.
The threat of bullying is not as high as it once was, but the threat of becoming the social outcast is still large and looming, only now it’s not so easy to detect from where or whom it may come from. To feel hatred from an out-group person is different than to feel hate from an in-group person.
That is a friendship lost, many party invitations lost, a lost contact to meet and greet other people from different social groups, a lost opportunity to network. These small acts of micro-aggression add up and people can feel isolated and ostracized from communities that they once had access to. This is the reason why safe-spaces are important. Why campus groups for LGBTQ students are important. Why gay social mixers are important. Why the LGBT Center is important. Support networks are necessary.
Coming out is hard, difficult and scary. Staying closeted is hard, difficult and scary. There is no opinion here, just thoughts tackling an issue that is deeply personal.
The LGBTQ community is not a monolith, not everyone expresses themselves or chooses to live their life in the same way. Coming out is deeply personal, and whatever the choice, it is ultimately up to that person. No shame either way, just acceptance. The choice to come out is okay. The choice to not come out is okay. The choice to partially come out is okay.