Browse these 13 reasons why you need to kick down the closet door and take your first fabulous step into a new world.
If you’re in the United States or Europe in October of 2016, it’s time, girl. Coming out was not an option for LGBT people of a certain age in the past, but that time has long since passed. There are 70-year-olds who have been living their authentic selves for the last 50 years. You can too, and it’s a disservice to those in other parts of the world, where coming out is dangerous, not to. Even in this country, there are still pockets of radical faith in which our own are oppressed and silenced. You must come out. Doing so empowers them — and it’s good for you, too. I promise.
ALEXANDER CHEVES is a columnist for The Advocate. Follow his blog, The Beastly Ex-Boyfriend, and his Twitter @BadAlexCheves.
1. Keeping something so important a secret is bad for you.
There is no other way to say it: repressing a vital and beautiful part of your life is bad for your health. The closet will make you sick.
We know that stress takes a hard toll on the body. Anyone who’s spent any amount of time in the closet knows what that stress feels like: a slow burn, day in and day out, in which text messages must be erased, browser history deleted, and one’s own freedom of expression is horribly stunted. Life out of the closet might seem frightening, but there is wellness and health on the other side.
2. Coming out empowers those who can’t.
Let’s face an ugly fact here: some people can’t come out. There are many, many high-school kids out there in religious, homophobic homes who simply aren’t in environments where they can come out without risking being kicked out — or worse. Those kids need us, out-of-the-closet queer people. They need to know we exist. We give them hope and remind them that life gets better.
You may never know how many people you affect when you come out of the closet, but I guarantee that someone in your world, someone you may not know that well, who is struggling in an oppressive situation or dealing with their own confusing and mystifying feelings will see you or hear about you and be reminded that there is a great world waiting for them.
3. In a world filled with antigay leaders pushing for antigay policies, coming out is a political act.
When we stay in the closet, we let them win. The existing freedoms that LGBT people have in the United States are the result of decades-long fights. Politics happen in the arena of the public; every gay and bi man on a TV show and every trace of queer visibility pushes the social consciousness forward by reminding those in power that we are here, we contribute, we vote.
Much of the advances in HIV care happened because gay men held signs in the street and lobbied for change while their friends died. When marriage equality passed last year, it was more than the result of 16 same-sex couples and their children demanding justice. Obergefell v. Hodges would have never happened if queer people had not been coming out over the last 50 years and fighting for equality.
4. Dating gets way easier.
There are gay and bi men who date other gay and bi men in the closet, but it’s hard. I did. I remember eating together at restaurants as “buddies.” As much as we were enjoying ourselves, there was always that fear lingering over our shoulders. Maybe we were smiling too much. Maybe we were looking in each other’s eyes too lovingly. Maybe we were too affectionate at the table. We were afraid of being too happy — a horrible state for anyone to live in.
5. Hooking up gets way easier too.
Maybe you don’t want to date. (You probably won’t when you first come out — heads up.) The world of sex, casual or committed, opens up to you when you come out. Suddenly, it will seem that all this great action is just there, waiting for you — it is. One of the most oppressive parts of the closet is how it stifles your sex drive. Coming out means you will finally be able to flirt and cruise to your heart’s content. Why wait?
6. Coming out respects the hard work done by LGBT activists who came before you.
When you come out of the closet today, you are only able to do so because others who came before you came out of their closets in times when it was riskier and more frightening to do so. Do not let their bravery or their hard work be in vain. Celebrate what activists like Harry Hay, Elizabeth Birch, Cleve Jones, Harvey Milk (pictured above), Larry Kramer, and — for those on the other side of the pond — Ray Gosling have done.
7. Coming out gives you the most honest picture of life.
Before you come out, the gay world will look like one giant circuit party — fun, glamour, sex, and no downsides in sight. This view will change. You’ll learn that a life outside the closet has its downsides, its rough days, its faults — but it is still better than life in it.
Depending on whom you ask, gay men are the meanest people in the world or the most forgiving. We have our bullies, our petty divisions, our absurd labels. We have been punished and marginalized for years, and many of us come from closets, so we often oppress each other in turn, just as bullied kids become bullies.
Your LGBT family is not perfect, but it is your family. Align yourself with them. Support bi people, who often get cruelly erased from the conversation, and trans folk, who have been fighting for us perhaps longer than any other member of the acronym. They need your support now more than ever.
8. Coming out may the hardest thing you ever do in your life. It’s important to measure yourself at least once.
“I read somewhere — and the person who wrote this was not a mountaineer but a sailor — that the sea’s only gifts are harsh blows and, occasionally, the chance to feel strong. Now, I don’t know much about the sea, but I do know that that’s the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once.” — Primo Levi, “Bear Meat,” translated from the Italian by Alessandra Bastagli
Coming out was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Even when I became HIV-positive in college, it paled in comparison to the last two years I lived in my parents’ house. All things considered, it wasn’t so bad, and nothing like the horror stories I’ve heard from my peers: I had a roof over my head, good food, and no one ever laid a hand on me or kicked me out.
But it felt hard. I was 16, and I remember it being incredibly painful. I was scared of myself, scared of my life ahead, scared of my parents, scared of the nightly Bible reading sessions with my dad following my coming out, and scared of the Sunday morning church service, after which our pastor would come shake my hand directly and look at me with his cold, glossy, damning eyes, knowing my truth that my parents had filled him in on in a religious panic. I didn’t even know what kind of sex I wanted to have, but suddenly I was defending myself against adults armed with scripture.
Every time I go back to that house, a wet drop of fear and shame slides down the back of my throat.
My friend, you will get through your coming out, even if it really, really sucks. Afterward, you will measure all struggles against it and tell yourself, “I got through that. I’m strong. I got this.” You may not realize this when you’re in the thick of it and having those hard and revealing talks, but generations of people like you are rooting for you. We are so proud of you.
9. Coming out is the first step to appreciating your cultural inheritance.
Queer culture is fabulous. You probably already know much of the lingo, as it has become popularized — “werk,” “slay,” “fierce,” “queen,” etc. But coming out is the necessary first step to fully appreciating our power terms, our divas, our icons, and all the wonderful films and TV shows and power ballads and references that every gay man I know can drop with the swoosh of a fan but that would leave my parents and straight friends scratching their heads.
You may know that Judy and Bette and Cher are our divas, but until you’ve queened out on a dance floor at a gay bar, and flopped your wrist with the best of us, and dropped your femmephobia, and watched Barbarella, and hit the town with a small group of your best out buddies, you won’t be able to fully love this inheritance or understand why it’s so important, why it empowered gay men of the past, and why we still sing and cry to Whitney Houston’s “I Want To Dance With Somebody.” This culture is one that is passed down to you and is yours for the taking. Embrace it, child.
10. Coming out will reveal your allies.
You will never forget the person you first came out to. Sure, there are horror stories about nasty friends who tell the world your news before you are ready and betray your honesty, but friends who disrespect your truth aren’t friends at all. Coming out reveals who your true friends are.
Your straight friends that support you become your straight allies. Without these people, the LGBT rights movement would have never gotten off the ground. These are the people you want to keep in your life, and you will be closer with them now that you are able to share with them your authentic self.
11. When you come out, fellow LGBTQ people become less terrifying.
The closet creates a barrier between you and others like you. When I was in the closet, being close friends with another gay man was not an option — because I recognized in him something I was trying to hide in myself. He acted as a mirror to me and I didn’t want anyone to see my reflection. This is the cruelest aspect of the closet: it barricades us from the very friendships and relationships we need the most.
If you’re in the closet and the idea of coming out scares you, the best thing you can do is talk to a queer person you can trust. Do not be afraid of them.
12. Coming out means you get to have “your story” — and some of them are hilarious.
When we talk about coming out, we typically paint the whole ordeal as a heavy and painful experience. Yes, many coming-out stories are painful, but many are also very sweet, and very, very funny. There are beautiful coming-out stories and boring coming-out stories, and then there are the people who never really “come out” — they just are, and live authentically and fearlessly from day one. Don’t be bummed if you plan a big, heavy talk with your mom only to hear her say, “I’ve known you were gay since you could walk. Please take out the trash.”
Celebrate the good stories — those are the ones we want.
13. Finally, if you cannot come out, we need you to stay strong.
There are places in the world where coming out is dangerous — countries where homosexuality is punishable by death or imprisonment. To my brothers, sisters, sister-brothers, and fellow queers who live in those places: we need you to stay strong. You are not alone. We are fighting for you, and we believe in you. Every time you kiss in secret or try on the clothes that represent who you really are, we are cheering. Those moments are more powerful and more important than any Pride parade, and they are why we have them — why we gather in the streets and vogue down Santa Monica Boulevard and wave rainbow flags in Palm Springs. Steal those moments where you can, and know that the institutions that oppress us are losing. We are winning. Keep holding on and love yourself more than anyone else.