Queer people are more visible than ever. The rise of queer visibility and increasing focus on identity politics within the United States has galvanized many people—queer identifying and their non-LGBTQIA allies—to rally behind the communities and fight for their equal and just rights, like the right to use the bathroom for which gender they, themselves, identify. It’s easy to think that since more than half of today’s younger generation identifies as queer we’re in the beginnings of a “post-coming out” society. If that were true, that would mean we’ve reached a point in our collective culture that tolerates different identities equally.
How very far away from that point are we.
Right now, the Vice President of the United States is someone who has stated his belief in conversion therapy for LGBTQIA people. On behalf of President Trump’s current administration, the United States voted against a United Nations motion condemning the death penalty as punishment for someone caught in a consensual homosexual relationship; though the government pegged their reasoning to the motion’s vague stance on the death penalty itself, the fact remains the current powers that be have little respect for LGBTQIA lives abroad. The lack of lawful protection for transgender people—especially trans women of color—is abhorrent. Twenty-one trans individuals have been murdered this year, 18 of whom were trans women of color. Oh, and the president has banned transgender people from joining the United States’ military. Queer people are still othered on a governmental level, no matter what the marriage laws may say.
Coming out is still very much an act of protest, defiance, and self-assurance. It’s a part of the queer narrative’s foundation. Religion and the dominance of heteronormative history put queer people in the proverbial closet, which makes coming out essential because it challenges the history we’ve come been conditioned to believe as fact. The reality is, we queers have been here forever because we haven’t been allowed to exist publicly.
There is so much talk right now about living your truth and your journey, blah blah blah. But how can one authentically do that if they don’t feel safe? Coming out stories show possibility. They show those still struggling with owning their identity that it is possible to do so; yes, it might be hard, but the struggle is worth it.
Jenn Kennedy, a psychotherapist based in Santa Barbara who specializes in couples, addiction, and LGBTQIA, says we come out over and over again, and no, it’s not always—nor does it have to be—in a formal “Mom? Dad? I’m ___” way. Rather, coming out means no longer suppressing your true identity from yourself and others. It means that denial stage most of us queer-identifying people go through is almost a thing of the past and a new lease on an authentic life is ready for the taking. But like Kennedy says, we come out over and over. Just because someone comes out as gay doesn’t mean they’re done coming out. For me, feeling confident enough to embrace my homosexuality was one thing; it took years of frustration and self-loathing to understand that my identity is more feminine than other cisgendered homosexual men around me. I may not have ever “properly” come out—whatever that means—as a femme, but stepping out in outfits and a manner that is decidedly more femme is, in a way, an inherent coming out, because it’s rooted in self-confidence. And let me tell you, it really does get better once you embrace not only yourself, but even the act of finding who that self even is.
“We need to encourage people to be themselves, to form their own opinions, to dress how they want to dress regardless of what is viewed as ‘popular,’ ‘safe,’ or ‘mainstream,’” L.A.-based photographer and model Michael Freeby says. “We all have a voice. That voice comes from ourselves and no one else.”
Of course, calling for every queer person to come out of the closet is a ridiculous ask, because there are still people for whom that act is dangerous or just not possible at this time. The hope is that, through more coming out stories, those instances will decrease and make it safer for LGBTQIA people to feel empowered to be themselves. It’s never too late to come out, because it’s never too late to live your truth. Coming out isn’t just about disclosing your sexuality, it’s about embracing every fiber of your being. The destination is authenticity, but the journey itself is something to take pride in.