October 11th is National Coming Out Day. This day is recognised worldwide by the LGBTQ+ community, both as a celebration of coming out and as an encouragement to those still finding their identities.
‘Coming out’ is a reference to being ‘in the closet’, a 20th-century slang term for LGBTQ+ people who concealed (or at least were not open about) their identities. ‘Coming out of the closet’ meant revealing, or being open and proud about your identity. Although the 21st century has ushered in a time of relative openness about sexuality, the legacy of the closet has continued. People are still described as closeted, or in terms of whether or not they are out (note: it’s always rude to speculate on someone’s identity like this).
As well as sexuality, coming out has expanded to include gender identity. The 21st century has also brought a much wider understanding of gender and the ways of talking about it, and more people have felt empowered to come out as their true selves. Even now, this can take real bravery.
Artists, musicians, and celebrities celebrating this year include:
- Demi Lovato
The singer and actor has become a voice for non-binary people after coming out as pansexual and changing their pronouns to they/them.
- Carl Nassib
The American football star has made waves in a sport at times characterised by homophobia and a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ mentality. Speaking to Openly, he said he hopes that “soon the whole coming out process will not be necessary”.
- Tommy Dorfman
The 13 Reasons Why actor reflected on her identity, saying that she was ‘never not out’.
There are plenty of coming out storylines in TV and film, and more often than not they centre on young people. In reality, anyone can come out on any day and at any time of life. There is no right or wrong age or time of your life to do it; the only thing that matters is that you are honest with yourself.
Sometimes coming out can happen really young. More often than not children know exactly who they are, and just need the tools to explain it. On the GenderGP podcast we spoke to Dr Paria Hassouri, a paediatrician, about how it felt when her child came out. At first, she said, she was in shock. But then with time she saw her daughter coming into her true self: “In all the years of going to therapy or trying to figure out why she was often depressed when there was really no definite reason for depression. But after she came out and once she transitioned and she got incredibly social and incredibly touchy-feely hugs all the time. I mean, it was just outstanding to watch the transformation in her.”
For other people, finding themselves takes a little longer. We can imagine young people, even children coming out, but it’s harder to see that in the older people in our lives. Joe Oakes wrote for us about coming to terms with a parent coming out as trans, and counsellor Jackie Swarbrick joined our podcast to share her experience of learning her partner is bigender. When a person you know well comes out – sometimes someone you’ve known your whole life – it can be surprising, even shocking. Some people may feel betrayed or deceived at first. But as Joe says, “I thought it was going to be odd. But then I realised that despite looking different, it was always going to be the same person I saw. Now I couldn’t be prouder.”
These stories remind us that, with patience and kindness, our loved ones will accept us for who we are, and that there’s no right or wrong way to come out. Of course, nobody should ever feel pressured to out themselves. But this Coming Out Day, we hope that more people than ever feel empowered to be their true selves and tell their stories.