Coming Out Day on October 11 prompted French lesbian activist Élie Chevillet to reflect on what coming out as LGBT+ really means these days—and what it has to do with privilege.
Although I’m out and proud everywhere, I have mixed feelings about Coming Out Day. Coming out means that you’ve been hiding, and the reason why you’ve been in the closet is most probably fear.
This fear is rooted in cisheteronormativity, which means that you are expected to be straight and cisgender. If you’re not, you might feel that you’re not normal, that you don’t belong, and that you’re unworthy of love. And since you need to belong just like anyone else, you hide in the closet to avoid people’s rejection. In some cases, you might hide in the closet because you have to.
Coming out is a privilege
We often associate coming out with courage. In our queer communities, we tend to value it and empower each other to be visible. But for some of us, coming out means endangering our lives.
I can bring my girlfriend to any family gathering, mention my work for the queer community on my CV, or present myself as a lesbian on my public Instagram account—nobody cares. Being out is a rather safe thing for me.
It’s not the case for my friend Mariam. She’s been hiding from her family ever since she came out as a lesbian because she’s not safe. My friend lives in fear that her family might find out where she lives. And this is happening in Germany.
While celebrating the visibility that coming out creates, we should be aware that being out is a privilege. Let’s never shame people in the closet or push them to come out. Coming out is a personal decision—and it’s okay not to do it.
There is no single coming-out story
In my company, queer people have been invited to share their “coming-out story” on National Coming Out Day, but let’s be clear: there’s no such thing as a single coming-out story. You might be out to your friends but not to your family; to your family but not to your boss.
Each person assuming that you’re straight and cisgender creates another coming-out moment. Their cisheteronormative assumption forces you either to come out, lie, or avoid their question. So coming out is a never-ending story.
When I participated in my company’s National Coming Out Day event, I decided to raise awareness about the fact that people never have a single coming-out moment. I thought back to my first coming-out experiences, almost twenty-five years ago.
Queer visibility matters
The first coming out I ever had was the one to myself—actually called “coming in”—when I was fourteen and allowed myself to have my first girlfriend.
As I prepared for this work event, I remembered coming out to my mum, to my brothers, to my dad. I remembered how uncomfortable it felt to be closeted at work. But instead of sharing my countless coming-out stories, I took the opportunity to explain why queer visibility matters.
It’s a lie that our queer lives are nobody’s business. The intimate is political. Our LGBT+ existences are highly political. And our visibility matters because what is invisible doesn’t exist for others and is therefore silently discriminated against.
Closeted all over again
Today, I’m out and proud everywhere, and I don’t ever want to hide my lesbianism again. My friends are either queer or allies, my family members love my partner, my father says that he can’t picture me with a man.
I am out and proud everywhere, but I’m still pushed back into the closet when people assume that I’m straight. I’m no longer the baby lesbian full of internalized homophobia that I used to be, but I still need to come out each time that a new person closets me. And I’m sick of it.
A world where coming out is not needed
Whether you’re queer or not, be a good ally. Never assume that someone is straight or cisgender. If it’s appropriate, ask about people’s partners instead of about their husbands or wives.
And don’t assume that the person you’re talking to is a man or a woman. Share your pronouns to make them feel safe, and ask them how they want to be addressed.
Stop creating situations where people are forced to come out.
Let’s create a world where coming out is not needed anymore, where nobody is scared to be who they are and to love who they love—and let’s do this now.
Élie Chevillet is a French lesbian writer and activist. You can read her other blog posts for Ylva Publishing here.
Follow Élie on Instagram: @eliechevillet