#NationalComingOutDay is nothing to celebrate when it passes shame onto those who stay in the closet.
“Burst down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up and start to fight.” – Harvey Milk
Those famous words by legendary queer activist Harvey Milk still inspire so many people to this day – and yet those words are wrong. While the doors should be off all conversations around queerness, and there should be no gatekeeping of identities, we must acknowledge that there is no added moral value to being out. Being out as queer does not make you better at being queer.
National Coming Out Days leaves some of the most marginalised people in the community behind. People who are out deserve solidarity but it should never come at the price of respect for those who remain in the closet.
Being out is simply not safe for everyone. Being out isn’t even safe in the queer community. The queer community still polices identities; trans people routinely face hate (particularly trans women by radical feminists), bi people are still mocked and treated as traitors to their own community and asexual and aromantic people are ignored completely. If being out is what the queer community wants then why don’t we make it safe for people to be out?
“If being out is what the queer community wants then why don’t we make it safe for people to be out?”
Sometimes there’s a trace of the lingering idea that those who are out had to fight, and therefore they truly know what it means to be queer. It’s a myth that erases the struggle of those who cannot come out. Living with erasure daily is a struggle. Living in silence can be agony. How many queer people (particularly trans people) commit suicide because they could never come out? How many stories are never told because nobody wanted to listen?
In the UK, around 1 in 4 homeless youths identify as LGBT. It was not safe for many of them to come out. Those who choose to (or must) remain in the closet may do so for their own safety, and they deserve solidarity and not judgement. If National Coming Out Day implies being in the closet is a failure then we are harming queer people.
Ultimately, being out is nobody’s business – not even the queer community’s. We must work to make sure people can come out if they choose to, but we must never tell people to come out. Any reason for being in the closet is valid. It’s tiring to repeatedly come out, family conversations may not feel worth it, or queerness may be so nuanced that people simply don’t see the point. Genderfluid people for instance, may not want to face the prospect of having to repeatedly explain their gender to the same people. If they choose not to reveal their identities, then that does not make them worse at being queer.
Milk was wrong. You don’t need to be out to stand up. People can be activists and fight queerphobia without being out. We don’t owe our identities to anyone. If you do anything this National Coming Out Day then make sure that it’s showing solidarity to those not out. People in the closet deserve respect.