Coming out of the closet is many things: a political act, a personal story, a rite of passage…and a holiday? National Coming Out Day marks the 1987 march on Washington for lesbian and gay rights and the anniversary is observed annually on October 11th. Last Thursday, the USF Queer Alliance marked the occasion with an open mic night where students shared their own coming out stories.
To ‘come out of the closet’ means to accept one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, as well disclosing it to friends and family. So why a closet metaphor? Well, like a prolonged game of hide and seek, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community no longer wants to play. The game’s rules are unfair. At the event many brave Dons swung those doors open!
McKenzie Mullen, political coordinator of the Queer Alliance, sees coming out as an act of solidarity. She said, “It’s important to acknowledge that not everyone has the ability to come out or wants to come out at this point.” Especially given that this is the start of the new school year, Mackenzie knows that USF “has a lot of new queer folk” many of whom “may still be questioning” their identity, so events likes this provide a positive, safe, and supportive way to come out.
Genevieve Stone, a junior, came out as queer at last year’s open mic event. Sitting in the audience this year, she reflected on the experience and said, “it was really wonderful because it is really important to say who you are without any shame.”
Shame is a common theme in coming out stories not because there is something wrong with being LGBT, but because of cultural pressures to conform. Kat Nilsson, a queer-identified person, spoke about a burden she didn’t want her mother to have. “I’m the daughter of a single Latina mother and there are expectations…my mother’s idea of settling down is with a man and my idea of settling down is meeting a nice woman someday.” When Kat came out, her mother “had to mourn the daughter she never had.” In contrast, being out on campus is not an issue, and it’s “liberating.”
There are exceptions to our welcoming campus which merit more events like this. Kaycee, a junior, spoke of an incident in the dorms his freshman year. A roommate got in a verbal argument with another ‘out’ queer roommate that did not approve of a ‘gay lifestyle’ because he felt it was wrong. Kaycee admits though that this student was outnumbered in his views.
There is always potential to be greeted with disapproval when one considers that many LGBT people must come out on a daily basis. Chaz Ashley, a grad student said that he “comes out a lot” because “there is this idea that everyone is straight.” Sometimes in conversation people perceive him to be straight and he has to tell them, “I have a partner and he’s a guy…and that’s how I come out daily.”
Those are the unfair rules of the hide-and-seek game. Because of cultural rules, LGBT people are forced to hide in a metaphorical closet that can be damaging but can also be a source of resilience and pride.
Events like National Coming Out Day bring visibility to this the relationship between LGBT persons and their own closets. Nilsson said, “It’s easy to write-off a group that you don’t see…but it’s different when you attach a name and a story to a face…that’s why it’s important.”