I have a confession to make: coming out has been a complicated, messy, constantly-evolving process that exhausts me more than exhilarates me.
Growing up, I always knew that I wasn’t straight, though I didn’t always have the language to explain that. I wanted the security and familiarity that came along with using familiar labels, but when I was in school, it was hard enough trying to navigate respectability politics and figuring out what being a Black girl in a world that upheld white femininity meant. To add queerness to that felt like too much at the time.
Fast forward over six years later, and I still haven’t “officially” come out. I never made an announcement post breaking down exactly how I defined my sexuality; I usually don’t lead introductions to new people with me coming out. Instead, my queerness manifests in smaller, subtler ways—I may mention my partner in conversation or make a queer-focused joke. But coming out, to me, is not always something that I participate in boldly and at the forefront.
I think about this a lot, in how this connects my to the queer community at large. So many of us struggle with validation—we think that if we feel things differently or experience different interpretations of how queerness is understood by others, that we are “bad queers”. That simply isn’t true; the only “wrong” way to experience queerness is to force yourself to express it in a way that is not comfortable for you.
Each year, I think about how we continue to perpetuate the same expectations onto queer folks to participate in things like coming out. But coming out in itself is a highly personal and individualized thing. It’s not fair to expect everyone to do it in the same ways, each time, as others would. This expectation also ignores how identity impacts and reshapes queerness; though there may be two people that identify as queer, these can have different definitions for each of them depending on their race, class, ability level, gender, and other potentially-marginalized identities.
For some people, having formal “coming out” announcements online & IRL works for them. And that’s great. But that’s not for everyone.
— cameron. 💫 (@BlkGirlManifest) October 11, 2017
What does it say when we continue to place pressure on all LGBTQ+ people to come out (and stay out) in every possible way, ignoring the ways that safety and privilege impact this?
I wrote before on how privacy is impacted by coming out, but there’s so much more to this idea that can be explored in just one piece. The idea that coming out is a one-time event or is something that queer folks are obligated to participate in continues to perpetuate the idea of what queerness is. This takes away the power of queerness in itself—that it is the individual freedom to define yourself, for yourself, that draws so many to the label and to the community at large.
If coming out is something that you welcome with open arms, then by no means am I saying that has to change. We need those stories, to add to our history and shape the culture that we exist in. However, we must also be mindful of the space that we allow only one kind of narrative. Queer people who are “closeted”, who have not fully come out or have only come out to a small group of people are still queer, valid, and belong to the community.
I dedicate this piece to any LGBTQ+ who has felt that they aren’t enough simply because their “coming out” story looks different than the ones that get the most visibility. You are brave. You are valid. And you belong, as much as anyone else, in the queer community.