50.50: Opinion

Why the onus shouldn’t be on LGBTIQ+ people to ‘come out’

OPINION: LGBTIQ+ people are expected to declare who we are. But when we come out, there’s no guarantee of respect

Maysa Pritilata
11 October 2022, 11.17am

Singer Emeli Sandé is among the celebrities who came out in 2022


Deml Ondrej / Alamy Stock Photo

Today is National Coming Out Day. For many people, that might mean feeling truly seen for the first time.

If coming out brings you power, or you think that coming out might bring power to other LGBTIQ+ people – whether open, not open or questioning – then that’s more than enough reason to come out.

But the onus should never be on us to declare that we are not like everyone else.

I’ve always hated the concept of “coming out”. Why is it an obligation for us as LGBTIQ+ people and not for anyone else? Why do I need to – often publicly – announce who I am and then hope people accept it? I’d prefer to just live my life as I see fit, and leave it up to people to decide whether they’re gonna see me for who I am or not. And then eject those who don’t from my life. Or, better yet, into orbit.

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For the most part, that’s what I did. I didn’t go around announcing my gay/queer/transness. I just started dressing and presenting in the ways that felt most comfortable and best reflected who I am. I started going by the name and pronouns that best reflected who I am. But no one expects people to announce their straightness or cisness in the same way.

In the very few cases where I did “come out” to people in the traditional way, there was a mixed response. Some were supportive and would happily follow my lead on what it meant for me, how my friends should change the way they interacted with me, and so on. For others, it was a different story.

On one occasion, a cis guy was lecturing me on transness and gender identity. I tried to correct him, but he insisted on his argument. Eventually, I needed to shut him up. So I just said to him: “I’m trans.” Instead of recognising then that he was wrong, or appreciating what I had just shared, his response was disbelief. He simply repeated back to me: “You’re trans?” Afterwards, he continued to misgender me.

This wasn’t even the worst case.

I had another friend, a queer cis woman, who I told I was trans. Her immediate response was: “You’re trans? Do you wanna go to a gay bar? Do you wanna wear a skirt? Do you wanna wear a skirt and go to a gay bar?” And that was it. It became clear very quickly that she was not planning on listening to me talk more about this aspect of myself in more depth. She didn’t want to know what it meant for me, if I would go by a different name or pronouns, how she could be supportive, or what things I might want to do to express myself. Aside from reducing transfeminity as an experience to wanting to wear a skirt and go to gay bars, and failing to consider whether it would be safe for me to do, she had very little interest in hearing me out. And she continued to misgender me even after I had come out.

(Both these people are now drifting somewhere in space.)

In other words, society expects LGBTIQ+ people to ‘come out’ about who we are, but then might not even believe us or listen to what we’re saying. So what’s the point?

The expectation of ‘coming out’ should not be a social rule that is imposed on us, and we shouldn’t feel compelled to follow it. If anything, it should be a rule for homophobes, biphobes, interphobes and transphobes to come out, so that we know to avoid them.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from coming out. It can be an important moment to a lot of people. But I do want to question the dynamic where an already marginalised section of the population is expected either to hide who they are or to openly declare it.

Just because non-LGBTIQ+ people have a near-monopoly on resources, have declared themselves the “normal” section of the population and created and maintained a world where they’re never made to feel unwelcome or unsafe on the basis of their orientation, sexuality or transness, doesn’t mean we should have to declare to them that we are not members of their cult.

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