Tuesday, Oct. 11 markes National Coming Out Day, which the Rainbow Center recognized through an installment in their weekly Out to Lunch Gender, Sexuality and Community lecture series. Rainbow Center Program Coordinator, Julia Anderson, led the discussion entitled, “Complicating ‘Coming Out.’” The lecture strove to highlight misconceptions associated with “coming out” and the variety of experiences LGBTQIA+ community members may face.
Anderson established the overarching theme that coming out really can’t be summed up by a single person’s experience, which is why sweeping generalizations aren’t typically accurate.
To this point, she discussed how different identities and parts of an individual’s life can influence their coming out experience. Religion, the beliefs of family and friends, the social and political climate where a person lives, cultural beliefs, social groups, autonomy over the process, the process of self-exploration and to whom a person is coming out can all influence the way a conversation goes.
“People’s individual lives are so different from one another that there’s no definitive best way to come out,” Anderson said. “That’s a reality of human beings, we all have different lives.”
When all these different things are thrown into the mix it makes sense that coming out can’t be generalized, which is why there are so many misconceptions Anderson broke down in her lecture. This included statements like, “Coming out is an important/essential part of an LGBTQIA+ person’s life,” “We live in a more accepting society today than we ever have before, so coming out is easier,” “Coming out is a one-time event,” “It’s best to come out at this specific age/time” and “Coming out is finally telling the truth about who you are.”
Anderson explained these kinds of statements play into heteronormativity and cisnormativity—which assume that being heterosexual and identifying gender assigned at birth are default settings—or else they ignore the safety concerns that accompany coming out, simplify what can be a complicated process or invalidate experiences and feelings that don’t align with others’. While some may think coming out is vital to their well-being, others may not.
“You shouldn’t have to feel inauthentic for not telling people you’re identity,” Anderson said. “You really don’t owe that to anyone.”
Some of the history surrounding National Coming Out Day also prescribes to some of these stereotypes, according to Anderson. Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary founded National Coming Out Day in 1988, a year after the 1987 National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights. They believed “coming out is a radical form of activism and liberation.”
However, as Anderson pointed out, “some people don’t have access to coming out.” Anderson described being able to come out as a privilege for individuals who have a support system and live in safe environments.
This doesn’t invalidate the holiday, and the audience still discussed how the Human Rights Campaign has been sharing stories of celebrity coming out stories and the new Facebook feature allowing individuals to add coming out as a life event on their timeline, although this prescribes to the idea that coming out is a one-time event, which was listed as a misconception.
“This is my fifth National Coming Out Day at UConn,” eighth-semester animal science major Sophia Tramuta said. “I think it’s a time to think about accepting people coming into the community. Acceptance of wherever someone is, however they come out . . . some people do it flashy, some people do it slowly.”
Anderson did try to keep the lecture very discussion-based, in part because the event served as the Rainbow Center’s contribution to the Oneday Against Hate campaign on campus. During the month of October, different groups at the University of Connecticut have been hosting events intended to inspire dialogue to combat hate as a part of this international movement.
Overall, the lecture discussed many different facets of what “coming out” means, from how “letting one’s hair down” used to be the common term for coming out, to how one should respond to a friend or family member coming out. What Anderson stressed over anything else is that there is no right way to come out and all experiences are valid.
Alex Houdeshell is a campus correspondent/staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.