Approximately a year ago, I anxiously scrolled through the myriad of coming out posts on social media from people I knew. I wrestled with the decision of whether or not to write my own the entire day. However, in the end I didn’t publicly come out — despite experiencing the pressure to do so.
Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day. In the words of Human Rights Campaign, we celebrate it “as a reminder that one of our most basic tools is the power of coming out.” LGBT identities are constantly under- and misrepresented in media, legislature and representative government. Coming out helps to combat this by bringing visibility to the LGBT community. This year, the University of Minnesota is celebrating National Coming Out Week with a series of events put on by the Queer Student Cultural Center and an art exhibit on the Washington Avenue Bridge that displays the coming out (or not coming out) stories of students, staff and faculty at the University.
Coming out is a process that should be celebrated both for the significance it can hold to the individual coming out and the visibility that it brings to the community. However, it is by far the dominant narrative in LGBT stories, reinforcing the idea that coming out is the single most important queer experience. This, in addition to the existence of events such as National Coming Out Day, can put pressure on queer individuals to come out even if they don’t feel comfortable doing so. For me, coming out is something that is extremely personal and always ongoing. However, during National Coming Out Day last year, it felt like more of an external obligation rather than something that I had control over. I remember feeling outside of the community — as if, for me, being queer was predicated upon coming out.
This isn’t everyone’s experience, and I’m certainly not advocating for us to stop celebrating National Coming Out Day. However, I think we should shift the way we conceive it to be an opportunity rather than an obligation. We should use the day to celebrate the pride that we take in our identities in whatever shape that takes for each of us. And to those still in the closet — take your time. Don’t feel pressured to do something that you’re not ready for or don’t feel safe to do. Your coming out process is your own and you don’t owe anything to your community, your family or your friends. Trust me: waiting until you feel ready is the wisest decision to make.
By not coming out when I wasn’t ready, I was able to do things at my own pace and in my own way. In the end, I came out to my parents by baking them a cake with the words “I’m bi” spelled out in M&Ms. This National Coming Out Day, I’m planning on loudly and proudly celebrating my identity as a bisexual woman and bringing visibility to the bi+ community.
To those who are comfortable, I urge you to treat National Coming Out Day as an opportunity to take pride in and bring visibility to your identity. But no matter where you are in the coming out process, know that you have a community at the University — and around the world — ready and willing to support you along the way.