Widening ideas on the subject of “coming out”
W hen you hear the words “coming out”, what do you think of? Sexuality? The LGBTQ+ community? Pride Marches? Perhaps you visualise rainbow parades and unadulterated self-expression on busy streets. Or perhaps you think of neurodivergent people? Religion. Or living with a mental health issue. Truth is we “come out” every day. Every time we step out of the front door. Every time we express an idea or opinion. Every single time we disclose a new side of ourselves, we are effectively “coming out” as a little bit more of who we are.
By definition, to “come out” is to quite simply make a debut into society. It is to publicly acknowledge an interest, hobby or identification that others may find surprising; whether that be a sexual orientation or a religious belief.
This pretty much means that we’ve been “coming out” from the moment we first expressed personality and will continue to do so for as long as we have one. Expression comes with its own set of problems, it has done since the birth of individuality- where there is a difference, there is fear.
So what happens when we reduce an idea of expression down exclusively to the context of sexuality? We effectively miss an entire opportunity for expression itself- the very thing we aim to combat.
This is in no way a go-ahead to erasure or weighing up experiences against each other but the direct opposite. Moving away from the arguably separatist nature of our current society, these small changes call for the recognition that while experiences differ widely between the different “intersections” of our generation, the individuality and uniqueness in what can cause difficulty for us, is one thing we can all relate on, regardless of which community we belong to.
So why did we draw the line?
As a society, we seem to have whittled down the prospect of “coming out” to topics of sexual orientation and identification when in reality, it’s so much broader than that.
The term was first coined by the queer community regarding sexual orientation in the early 20th century. The phrase was adopted from the early “coming-out parties” of the time; celebrations of young, upper-class women as they make their formal debut into society as an adult eligible for marriage. It was an opportunity for them to publicly present themselves as the epitome of elegance to prospective male counterparts and make a headstart into the dating/courting lifestyle.
At first, the term was only used by gay men, as they adopted both the term and tradition of a public showcase in the form of a ball (i.e. the original drag ball) to present themselves to other homosexual men. Due to the nature of society at the time, drag balls would have been swarming with media journalists and news outlets and so attending one often doubled as an opportunity to publicly join the community and in turn, come out to society as a whole. Historian and professor George Chauncey described it as not so much being the idea of “coming out of what we call the gay closet but rather of coming out into what they called the homosexual society”.
According to data from Centrepoint.org, 38% of youth homelessness is due to parents or guardians’ unwillingness to continue to provide a home for their children and a further 16% accounts for other relatives and friends also being unwilling. It is no surprise that a number of these cases are due to their young person disclosing a belief or orientation foreign to them. It is this ignorance and unwillingness to learn that perpetuates the idea that diversity in thought, belief and opinion is something to be afraid of and/or shy away from. This means that similar to those of the LGBTQ+ community, whether they simply resonate with a different ideology or struggle to voice mental health concerns, thousands of young people face the prospect of losing their homes.
While the two ideas may seem unrelated, the simple premise is that while the actual divergence between the intersections of Gen Z is different, there are clear parallel problems between them, even if their experiences may differ. There is even room for a member of one community to relate to the experiences of someone of a parallel intersection more closely than that of a native one. This is less about language semantics and a lot more about the symbolic shift in mindset that could come with it.
The LGBTQ+ community has seen a great rise in media coverage and many changes in both general public opinion and politics globally in the last decade; the decade in which many members of Gen Z also reach adolescence. This is a generation that is often positioned as the figureheads for activism and inclusion due to their strong political stances and unapologetic opinions. However, it can also be noted that while great change has been made by the pioneers of our generation, there is still more to be done. Many young people have a more conservative idea of what LGBTQ+ is and a theory is that by widening meanings of seemingly small phrases could be the key to changing that.
”As a society, we seem to have whittled down the prospect of “coming out” to topics of sexual orientation and identification when in reality, it’s so much broader than that.
Now, decades later, “coming out” is used all over the media and through word-of-mouth. “Coming out” is recognised as the great milestone and achievement it is, a change that has allowed society to take a significant step in the right direction in terms of inclusivity and becoming a safer space for self-expression.
That being said, what do you think? Should the prospect of “coming out” refer solely to the LGBTQ+ community? Should we universally widen its meaning? The fact remains that the “coming out” of any nature is an undeniably immense feat, especially when we consider the deep external and internal pressures and challenges that come with it. Perhaps widening the term could provide those who have had or feel they will have difficulty growing through it with a community beyond their immediate one.
Perhaps this could be a greatly significant step towards a more inclusive, free and therefore stronger future as we relate through our differences, rather than similarities like we generally tend to.