The Great Debate: Do We Still Need To Come Out?


Yes, we do:

No, we don’t:

When faced with writing about why we don’t need to ‘come out’, it’s nice to imagine ourselves living in a time that the practice is no longer ‘necessary’, with all gender and sexual identities now universally accepted. That is sadly not a reality, nor my reasoning for rejecting the need to ‘come out’.

The notion of announcing your sexual preference or gender is a practice limited only to those of ‘non-normative’ sexual and gender identities; gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, non-conforming – the list goes on. While some see it as personally empowering, what it really represents is your personal dissonance with the established norm of heterosexuality and cisgender identity. Coming out may feel liberating, but its empowerment does not extend beyond the matter of the personal – as Judith Butler recognises, ‘coming out of the closet’ requires a closet to exist in the first instance, which is undoubtedly a place of oppression. The term itself suggests the natural place of queer identities is in hiding.

In this sense, coming out is ironically performative. In principle, proclaiming a non-normative identity in the face of potential ostracism opposes the general order of sexual and gender norms. Yet with only ‘queer’ individuals expected to proclaim their sexuality and gender, the ‘norm’ of heterosexuality and cisgender identity is maintained, as certain groups are expected to address their ‘abnormality’ in the face of traditional norms. It is thus difficult to create a new full inclusive norm of sexual and gender identity if not every group is deemed ‘normal’.

I therefore propose that we boycott coming out. If we want to normalise ‘queer’ identity, we need to undermine and neglect ideas of sexual and gender norms, as ‘coming out’ makes their assumed normality seem somehow true. As we know, they have only become the ‘norm’ from centuries of oppressing individuals who don’t adhere to a sex-prescribed gender binary of male and female, or to male-female relationships. Admittedly, however, not coming out could seem to equate to ‘staying the closet’. But this position ‘in the closet’ is not solely premised on not proclaiming your sexual or gender identity. It is accompanied with hiding the outward expression of that identity; still actively presenting as a gender you no longer identity with, not dating the person you want to because of their gender. To protest oppressive norms, we need to live unapologetically without searching for external validity. Although feeling accepted is such a crucial element to coming out, how can we expect universal acceptance, if obtaining it requires an oppressive practice like ‘coming out’? I ask then: If we acknowledge that coming out is not as empowering as we assume, what is gained from it, besides the potential relief that you won’t be ostracised by those closest to you?

If we want a new norm of unequivocal acceptance, let’s protest the outdated expectation of coming out. It is not the opening of the closet door that is empowering but rejecting the closet’s legitimacy in the first place.

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