Coming out is one of the biggest milestones in an LGBTQIA+ person’s life. It is an act of empowerment and ownership of one’s identity. When someone comes out to another person, it is an invitation into their true life and selves.
It is often central in current media to involve an LGBTQIA+ protagonist, who tries to navigate the hardships of youth while maintaining their secret. Some of the biggest examples include the films “Love, Simon” (2018) and “The Half of It” (2020). Both protagonists do whatever it takes to protect themselves from their small, conservative towns. Yet they always get their gay, happy endings at the end of their story, living as their true selves with their significant others.
As beautiful as coming out may be, it is not as quick and one-dimensional as many think. Coming out is a process, not only through your selected family and friends but to yourself. Realizing one’s sexual orientation, gender orientation or both doesn’t mean one automatically accepts their truth.
Stepping away from questioning and identifying oneself leads to an adjustment period. Personally, I needed a month to accept my previous lesbian identity, but only a couple of weeks to accept my bisexual queerness.
Something I needed to learn was that gender identity and sexuality are not always linear. It can be as fluid as water, constantly flowing in different currents, which is something many are not used to. The narrative was always realizing what your identity is just once, and that’s the end of your coming out journey. But coming out to yourself more than once has become a more common narrative.
This reflects in both the experiences of LGBTQIA+ celebrities and everyday people. Television personality Jonathan Van Ness thought they identified as a cisgender gay male; however, they came out as a gay nonbinary person in 2019, using he/she/they pronouns. Actor Elliot Page, who has always been an icon within the queer community, came out as a queer transgender man earlier this year.
Many everyday queer people share a common experience of never knowing homosexuality existed and growing up to identify as heterosexual. However, they identify as non-heterosexual and/or non-cisgender orientations later in life.
I personally relate to both experiences, having ignored my attractions and confusion to identify as heterosexual only to realize my attraction to women. I believed I was a lesbian, but two years later, I now identify as queer. Bisexual personally feels too divisive between my attraction to both men and women, therefore, queer is what I am.
The amount of anxiety and exhaustion in planning your announcement is understated in the media. The protagonist is stressed throughout the film, but they may choose a random day to tell their loved ones the truth. Their families either accept them gracefully, need time to adjust or decide to disown them.
This was the most stressful stage for me. I accepted my non-heterosexual identity in November 2019, ironically before the holidays and New Year’s. I decided to wait until after those busy, two months, zoning out during Thanksgiving dinner and helping my family host Christmas. I celebrated my nineteenth birthday, hoping to reveal myself early in the year.
But I couldn’t. I was in a strange chokehold combining fear of rejection, uneasiness over saying anything and depression weighing me down. The closet walls closed in and I became claustrophobic.
I wanted to break the door down and finally live my proud life, but I wasn’t ready. I locked myself inside and was emotionally drained until I became empty. I came out a month and a half later, and the heavy weight lifted from my shoulders.
No one needs to go through this if non-heterosexual and non-cisgender identities became the norm and were labeled as morally right. No one would need to come out of the closet if there was more advocacy towards LGBTQIA+ rights and the community was truly represented.
The closet wouldn’t exist if anything except cisgender and heterosexual wasn’t demonized. No one in the community would hide from others or themselves.