A shift in Perspective: From Coming out to Inviting in
‘Coming out’ is often seen as a singular event that happens at a moment in the life of a young LGBTQI2S person. But the history and lived experiences of ‘coming out’ makes it clear that this belief is simply a misconception.
The process of ‘coming out’ is much more complex than one may think, and these misconceptions are harmful to LGBTQI2S youth.
The History of ‘Coming Out’
In the 1930s, the phrase ‘A friend of Dorothy’ was used as a code for acknowledging one’s sexuality within Queer communities.
After the 1969 Stonewall Riots, we first see references to ‘coming out of the closet.’ The message was that the closet was a place of shame and hiding and that you emerged from it to a place of solidarity and visibility.
In the early 1980s, as the AIDS epidemic devastated the LGBTQI2S community world-wide, coming out was seen as a celebratory act and by the 1990s it could be seen as an unapologetic political statement, spurred by Queer Nation and slogans like, “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”
Rethinking ‘Coming Out’
Today, we know that the process of ‘coming out’ us much more complex than a singular act of proclamation. The common trope of a white cis gay youth coming out to his parents does not tell the whole story.
“I love my family, and know how hard it is for them to accept my identity…It feels like I am coming out again and again…reaffirming who I am can be painful at times”—Shobi, Mental Health Advisor at Friends of Ruby
Here are a couple of challenges to this image:
· It assumes that before you ‘come out’ you are being deceptive, potentially hiding something sinister from your friends, family, or community.
· There is an assumption that coming out only needs to happen once: you come out to your parents, and you are ‘out.’ This ignores the reality that LGBTQI2S youth must decide everyday who they are ‘out’ to: their fellow students, their piano teacher, their volleyball coach, their coworkers, their doctor etc.
· It also assumes that their identity after ‘coming out’ is unchanging. If a youth initially comes out as lesbian, what happens when they later identify as pan-sexual?
· There is an assumption that if the parents reject the youth’s identity, that there is a community ready to embrace him. For many youth, this is simply not the case.
We can challenge these assumptions by changing the narrative from ‘coming out’ to ‘inviting in.’ Coming out implies a confession of deception or omission of truth, something that is owed to the person you are coming out to. The power now rests with them to either accept or reject the youth’s identity.
By inviting someone in, you are creating a safe and affirming community of support. You don’t need to come out to anyone, instead you decide who you want to invite into your world. Now the power rests with the LGBTQI2S youth.
Inviting in, shifts the control of your identity journey back to you.