What do the words “coming out” mean to you? Perhaps you imagine an explosion of glitter, a dazzling display of rainbows or a vibrant parade down Oxford Street. Maybe you hear the catchy anthem of Diana Ross wanting the ‘world to know’ and telling you to ‘let it show’. But for some coming out is a more reserved affair that involves a tremendous amount of pressure.
“Coming out” is defined by Stonewall as the act of telling someone about your sexual orientation. Whilst we are in 2019 and this shouldn’t be a big deal, the fact is that declaring yourself as LGBTQ+ can still feel uncomfortable and nerve-wracking for many. Whether this stems from a fear of rejection, a pressure to conform to the hetero norm or a previous bad experience, there can be a multitude of reasons why people are hesitant to escape the comfort of the closet.
And that is OK. I am all for celebrating equality when it comes to sexuality and gender. I believe that everyone has a right to date who they want, to show their love loud and proud and to live their lives as their true selves. I hope that one day society will be accepting enough that coming out doesn’t have to be a momentous occasion or indeed necessary at all. However, it must be acknowledged that in today’s world there can still be a stigma attached to sexuality. Therefore, it takes great courage to declare yourself LGBT+ and it’s not an event that should be hijacked by anybody else. Whilst everyone has a right to express their individuality, everyone also has a right to privacy. Encouraging someone to embrace their identity is one thing; actively outing them against their wishes is an entirely different matter.
Just like nobody should be forced into hiding their sexuality or gender identity, nobody should feel compelled to declare it publicly until they are ready. Often coming out is a relief and studies show that the release from the burden of pretending to be someone you’re not makes life a lot lighter. For anybody who is considering taking this step, Stonewall offers plenty of advice on their website as to how to start the process. However, it is you who gets to decide when this happens.
If you know somebody is LGBTQ+ yet they haven’t openly disclosed it, this does not entitle you to spread the news. Coming out is personal. For all you know they could have family reasons for keeping quiet about their sexual identity, religious reservations around revealing their lifestyle, or just be unsure of how to approach the matter. Having somebody else expose one of the most intimate aspects about you is hardly going to help the process.
Whether you come out with a whisper or a shout, whether you confide in a parent or announce it on Facebook and whether you process in a pride parade or not, however, wherever and whenever you come out is fine. Every person is different. Every experience is unique. And everybody has the right to embrace their individuality in their own time.