This article can also be found at Degree180.
Coming out is painted as a big deal no matter which way you spin it. There’s even a National Coming Out Day for the purpose of encouraging people to do just that. But as social norms and LGBTQ rights progress, should the act of coming out still be encouraged?
The idea of “coming out” has a few different implications we need to talk about in order to answer the above question.
First off, encouraging peers to come out has a bit of a sour implication that non-straight people owe the rest of us a statement of their sexual preferences. Coming out is essentially shouting to the world, “I’m not straight!” It’s completely acceptable to want to do that, but not everyone should feel pressure to slap a big sign on their forehead that determines their sexual preferences. It’s okay to not want people to know.
Secondly, the act of coming out implies that the person doing the actual coming out is confident identifying with one steadfast sexual orientation (ie, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.). What many don’t consider is that in reality there is a broad spectrum of sexual orientations. For example, one might be 90% attracted to women and 10% attracted to men. In such a case said person might not feel comfortable identifying with a single orientation. Guess what? That’s completely okay too.
Coming out is also a bit of a perpetuation of heteronormativity. I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid there was this subconscious assertion by the people around me that I would grow up to be a straight female; the assumption was that I would marry a man someday and I would always identify with the gender I was assigned to at birth. Because of this assumption that started at a very young age, me identifying as anything but straight and female would’ve come as quite the shock to the people around me. Again, the heteronormativity in children presents the need or desire for people to come out later in life.
The solution to this is relatively simple: if you’re someone who has young children or plan to some day, treat all orientations as the norm. Instead of asking your male child if he has a crush on any of the girls in his class, ask instead if he has a crush on any of the students in his class – this implies either gender. This kind of language is simple yet effective for not perpetuating the idea that it’s only normal to be attracted to someone of the opposite gender.
All of this being said, as you may have noticed coming out isn’t the sole problem here; it’s the fact that we treat people who aren’t straight as a novelty when in reality surveys have indicated that around 20% of people are attracted to their own gender to some degree. There is of course a margin of error, as many people are ashamed of their orientation and may not have answered the survey questions truthfully. The point here being that not being heterosexual is by no means out of the ordinary, and we need to start treating it as such.
In order to do this we have to eliminate the perpetuation of heteronormativity in young children and then perhaps they wont feel the need to come out later in life. The people who invented National Coming Out Day certainly had the best of intentions, but it’s time we move past the pressure for people to come out to their peers. I can only hope that one day we will live in a world where people who are not heterosexual can live their lives without feeling the need to announce their sexual orientations.