What is Coming out?
Coming out is the process of recognizing, accepting, and sharing with others one’s sexual identity. The term “coming out” is a shortened version of the phrase “coming out of the closet,” which is a metaphor for revealing one’s sexual orientation. Coming out is not a single event, but a life-long process.
In our society, people generally assume that everyone is heterosexual, so persons who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual must continually decide in what situations and with whom they want to correct that assumption by disclosing their sexual orientation. In every new situation, with every new person they meet, they must decide whether or not to come out.
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There are many stages in the coming out process, and the process is not exactly the same for every person. Generally, the coming out process begins with coming out to oneself: the internal process a lesbian, gay, or bisexual person goes through in recognizing and accepting their sexual orientation. This can be frightening and depressing at first for many people, because they, like almost everyone in our society, have learned negative stereotypes and many myths about homosexuality as they were growing up.
Later stages of coming out involve choosing to disclose one’s sexual orientation to others. Coming out can be a very long and difficult struggle because it involves not only confronting the constant assumption that one is heterosexual, but also confronting homophobic attitudes and discriminatory practices along the way.
Ultimately, however coming out can be a very freeing experience for persons who are LGBT, because it allows them to live a more honest life and develop more genuine relationships with others.
Coming out does not solve all of an individual’s problems; indeed, it may create new ones. Weighing the advantages and disadvantages of coming out is part of the process. There are different levels of being out, ranging from completely closeted (not revealing one’s sexual orientation to anyone) to being publicly out (willing to reveal one’s sexual orientation publicly). An individual may be out to some people and not to others, or out in some situations, but closeted in others. For example, a person might be out to friends, but not to their family. A person might be out at school, but not in their hometown. Someone might be out in his or her church, but not in his or her professional life. The phrases below describe different degrees to which an individual might be in or out of the closet:
• Closeted = “I don’t want you to know”
• Passing = “I assume you don’t know”
• Covering = “I don’t know what you know”
• Implicitly Out = “I’m gay. See it if you can.”
• Explicitly Out = “I’m telling you I am gay.”
• Publicly Out = “See me as gay.”
Val Dumontier, 1993