Coming out, coming out, coming out
Cover photo for the first issue of the newspaper "Come out!," original photograph taken by Roslyn Bramms in 1969.
Coming out is a process that continuously necessitates itself; it is necessary for as long as a queer identity is to be affirmed. American scholar Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick once said that the closet reproduces itself, putting up new walls at any given moment. Judith Butler said that gender is performative, sustaining itself through its repetition.
Coming out, the process of disclosing one’s sexual identity, has the twofold effect of describing an existing condition, and sustaining that condition temporarily. In effect, you become gay, lesbian, trans, etc. when you say you are, until that identity must again be reaffirmed.
The traditional narrative for non-straight people goes something like this: from a young age you feel different, maybe others notice your difference as well. As you enter adolescence those differences become more clear to you. They become more specific, easier to articulate. These differences, the supposed “truths” of your being, become undeniable to the point where they must be outwardly expressed. You reach a specific point of self-actualization, the angels sing, and you come out!
What happens next? It gets better. You begin to identify with a larger community, a community which supposedly allows you to integrate within it. You’re out now, and you live happily ever after.
But the idea that once you’re out, you’re out, is painfully simple and simply false.
If it were only so simple! I would be spared the hassle of coming out to every new person I meet who assumes my heterosexuality until informed otherwise.
A singular closet denies the burden experienced by queer people—the need to disclose; the problem of one’s sexual identity. It also does not acknowledge the process by which identities are produced and reproduced.
Coming out is not a single event in someone’s life, not the beginning of a new way of being. It is a multitudinous process, a constant requirement for any non-straight person in this very straight world. The closet isn't some terrible place that I finally gained the courage to escape when I turned 17; the closet is the world I inhabit, a world that continually privileges and expects heterosexuality from all. I am faced with new closets everyday.
So long as I live in this world, so long as these expectations are continually applied to me, so too I must continue to come out, and continue to make myself visible.
Happy National Coming Out Day!