National Coming Out Day, is an annual observance on October 11th to recognise and celebrate queer identities in order to decrease stigma, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. But Coming Out can be tiring…
I’ve always been a keen advocate for LGBT+ representation and for years I would be the first one to get involved, to make speeches, or fly the rainbow flag. I am mostly comfortable with my sexuality, but it has taken me a number of years to feel this way. Because when you jump out of that metaphorical closet, it doesn’t end there.
Coming Out is a fundamental part of every LGBT+ person’s story. But, unlike many people’s assumptions, it is not an isolated event. I first came out to my mum and sister as Bisexual when I was 20. They were incredibly supportive and I felt very lucky. But it didn’t end there. In the ten years since then, I have had to come out multiple times; to my dad, friends, work colleagues, dentists, doctors and hairdressers. Every single time I still get a little pang of (is this going to be okay?). Sometimes it was not.
And when you’re Bi (or Queer as I now identify), there are multiple assumptions from different groups. For example, if I’m dating a man, people often assume I’m straight or if I’m dating a woman, people often assume I’m gay or a lesbian. When this happens, it’s sometimes difficult not to feel like a part of your identity is lost. It’s also difficult not to overcompensate and justify your identity. So, sometimes, it’s just easier to go along with it, rather than explain.
In an ideal world, the LGBT+ community won’t have to come out. Family, friends and colleagues will automatically ask us if I have a ‘partner’ and doctors won’t make assumptions on who I’m sexually active with. But for now, National Coming Out Day serves as an opportunity for people to acknowledge the barriers the LGBT+ community have faced - and still face – in being open and accepted for who they are. It is an opportunity for those who are uncomfortable with their sexuality or gender identity to hear other people’s stories, to feel represented, heard or reassured.
But this day has also been used for exploitation and problematic PR. It’s important to remember that if someone is openly out in the workplace, it doesn’t mean they are willing to get involved in a campaign. There can be a huge amount of pressure on the LGBT+ community to come out on this day or encouragement to get involved in other LGBT+ events. But it can be anxiety inducing for many and so should always be approached with compassion, empathy and clarity of outcome (will it be internal or external and what support is available?). But more importantly than this, your organisation should ensure that it is safe to do so. Understand that this is a vulnerable and selfless act, so ensuring that person feels supported and protected is key. And remember, Coming Out is a deeply personal experience, so how and when someone does it will always be their decision alone to make.
Emma Jennings, enei Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator
What Is National Coming Out Day? — National Coming Out Day Facts (womansday.com)
National Coming Out Day: Before You Leave the Closet...