“Coming out” (or “coming out of the closet,” as it used to be known) is a metaphor that describes the moment when LGBTQ+ people openly state their sexuality and/or gender identity, often to their friends and family.
Jason Park is a psychotherapist who specializes in LGBTQ+ issues. He describes coming out as when LGBTQ+ people take ownership and control of their identities.
“You know, it’s often seen as the moment where [LGBTQ+ people] disregard or reject the cis-heteronormative binary that we’ve been given,” he explains. This refers to the assumption that people are straight and the same gender [identity] they were assigned at birth. “[It] really alters the trajectory and expectations from a lot of people around them, too, so it’s a moment … [and] a choice where our lives really take different paths.”
With queer relationships and identities continually left out of school curriculums, representation of what these paths will lead to is lacking. Our society continues to assume that being cisgender and heterosexual is the norm. This means that many LGBTQ+ people don’t just come out once, but it becomes an ongoing process in deciding whether or not to tell new people about who you are.
A study from the Pew Research Center highlighted that close to a third of all LGBTQ+ people believe that society is becoming more progressive and accepting. That might be why the majority of LGBTQ+ people they spoke to (86%) had told at least one of their close friends about their sexual orientation or gender identity, while 54% of respondents said that everyone they consider to be close to them knew.
But, equally, LGBTQ+ people may choose not to come out, for whatever reason. You may decide to tell some people and not others. It’s totally up to you where you draw the line. An article in the journal Frontiers in Sociology highlights that some people decide against it because they don’t think they need to or feel that coming out reinforces the idea that to be LGBTQ+ is “other” and cis and straight is the norm.
It’s important to remember that there is no single way to be LGBTQ+ or to come out, so your path may prioritize different milestones. Below, LGBTQ+ people speak to Flo about coming out.