In an article titled Where did the phrase ‘Come out of the closet’ come from? by Arika Okrent, Editor-At-Large for The Week, Okrent covers the history of this expression. She writes “The phrase was borrowed from the world of debutante balls, where young women ‘came out’ in being officially introduced to society. The phrase ‘coming out’ did not refer to coming out of hiding, but to joining into a society of peers.” http://arika okrent the week
I remember being interviewed for Coming Out Day: in reflecting upon the experience, I now know better than to succumb to notions, as the title implied, that I was “hidden” all these years. Coming Out was a term I used; I did not have a clear understanding during those earlier years until I embarked on a documentary of which for the past four years, included 57 interviews: parents of trans children and trans youth; gender therapists and endocrine specialists, attorneys and educators. I began photographing LGBT people, allies and couples back in 2010. I came to a much more meaningful understanding of the Coming Out term over time. It is a term used in many groups, but not necessarily for the reasons we think.
The term as we know it, implies that we have something to hide out of fear for shame and repercussions. We experience policing of our gender identities. The repercussions result in frequent incoming reports about homicides and suicides. http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/AFSP-Williams-Suicide-Report-Final.pdf. Every Coming Out scenario is an announcement, anticipatory of how the receiver will react: for many it is minus the send off of balloons and parties. It is running the risk that people may do terrible harm to us or anyone privy to our announcement, once we declare something about ourselves that falls outside of societal norms. Our sexual orientations or gender expressions and identities are not regarded by mainstream society as part of growth and development and therefore, a natural part of life. Some societies regard us as ill suitable and of immoral character and we are even condemned to death in certain parts of the world for not adhering to societal rules.
Every human being encounters growth and development right up through end of life. Who we are at age ten is not who we are at age 80.
It is the curiously, intrusive and awkward persons who afford many of us the opportunity to help them develop levels of sensitivities about trans issues and differences in each of us. In turn, their questions tell us much about them – the cisgender people in our world.
The Coming Out process for LGBT people is about our personal journey across our lifespan and isn’t always about our sexual orientation, while for some of us it may start this way: it isn’t all of what makes up our fabric. For others it is about identities or expressions, which define who we are on this journey: a self examining journey, more about introspection and finding our place in the world as transgender people.
Many of us work through a process, unfolding layers that make up who we become over time, as a result of exposure, experience and education. For others it is self discovery, vacillating between two solidified points across a bar of identities and sexual orientations. Sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions – outside of the socially ruled model – determines our struggles ahead.
It isn’t as if we awaken some morning to announce our identities or sexual orientations expecting a celebratory event, while for some, coming out is eased by those who welcome diversities: for others, it results in a neglectful and sometimes harmful set of occurrences, forced under the guise of an invite to a dinner table – shaming us – just as if cornered on the school ground by bullies.
There is something about announcing our Coming Out that is liberating. It is why Coming Out monologues are powerful narratives for the LGBT. It is owning who we are, as people, as we stand in solidarity: a way of coming together on common ground. Our experiences vary; yet, we fit under this one umbrella of many types of sexual orientations, identities and expressions.
We want parents educated and not fall under pressures of stigma that coerce them to rewrite their children’s scripts in the image of a very limited binary world where they grew up. We need more role models outside of the binary ones. We need trans space where those of us who are trans identified can politicize our positions from our experiences and perspectives. We need the support of everyone, including those within our LGBT borders and in turn we must support one another.
Let us celebrate the expansive landscape of those who make up this beautiful and colorful fabric. It is time we transform who we are in how we react to those who Come Out through narratives that should feel celebratory – not shameful for us, our families, friends and communities.
Happy Coming Out Day!