As far as many straight and cis people are concerned, coming out seems to be, like, the pinnacle of the LGBTQIA+ experience.
It tends to be the first style of question on their lips when they find out someone’s in the LGBTQIA+ community: How did you know? When did you start to tell people? What’s your coming out story?
I myself know very well the times I’ve come out, both in a sexual orientation sense and a gender identity sense.
And you know what? They’ve rarely made me feel good. If anything, I’ve been known to feel worse.
I grappled with this for a long, long time. Why in the world would I feel like shit when – sometimes – cis and straight people actually responded positively? What kind of ingrate was I, Mr. Fussy Pants over here?
And then I figured it out.
It was because coming out meant I was, at least in some way, trying to assimilate into the straight and cis worlds. I was asking for permission to be me, to feel validated as a human being.
I was doing all the leg work for a world that was too self-intended to do any of it themselves. (Because, after all, it was no skin off their noses if any changes were made, right?)
I finally put together the basic nature of the coming out curiosity for cis and straight people:
“When did you come out?” = “At what point did you ask for our acceptance of you?”
Because here’s the thing: Coming out is neither essential nor singular. We are who we are regardless of how many mainstream people know or approve or throw poorly-researched Bible verses upon us.
And it’s not a singular act, but rather a constant one. It’s a process of every day in every public hour. Each new person you meet, every new hand you shake, on comes the coming-out stressor again.
You don’t state your gender identity and/or sexual orientation once and—bam—you’re good to go. You’re doing it for the rest of your life.
And why’s that?
Because despite LGBTQIA+ people struggling to be visible, mainstream culture continues to reject that visibility. They have yet to willingly shift culture to accurately represent all people.
If coming out in and of itself actually validated the uniqueness of the LGBTQIA+ existence, we wouldn’t still be coming out. Not singularly, not repeatedly, not ever.
Coming out doesn’t work on its own.
It’s a false prophet that the mainstream loves to embrace because it dumps all of their homophobic, transphobic, cissexist, and heterosexist responsibility on the shoulders of the people they’re keeping down.
We’ve been coming out for about 40 years on record, folks. That should’ve been enough time for the mainstream community to get on board. But they haven’t. Which means coming out isn’t enough.
So I think it’s time for the wave of inviting in, which is an alternate approach to coming out first presented by Darnell Moore in The Feminist Wire in 2012.
If coming out is the act of LGBTQIA+ people making themselves known to the mainstream, then inviting in is the act of the mainstream welcoming LGBTQIA+ people before they even have the chance to open their mouths.
LGBTQIA+ visibility becomes not a begrudging, person-by-person scenario of acceptance, but rather a complete and all-encompassing support structure of LGBTQIA+ people at large.
Basically, inviting in makes coming out refreshingly obsolete.
After all, there’s no need to stop at the door of the country club if everybody is allowed in.
1. Inviting In Puts More Responsibility on Oppressors
The only reason coming out is even a thing is because people made it their business to label LGBTQIA+ existences as inauthentic, unnatural, and/or lacking in normalcy.
Normalcy is a tough thing to navigate. It’s a murky, micromanaged list of ever-shifting criteria that ultimately defines itself by the eye of the beholder. (That’s a lot of eyes.) And, quite frankly, just as many people don’t want to be normal as people that do.
So there’s no winning the normalcy debate from any perspective.
But my stance on inviting in isn’t an expression of making LGBTQIA+ existences come off as the new norm, but rather take off the negativity of Othering. (More on that in the next point.)
Oppressive people are at the foundation of oppression – go figure – and it’s therefore their responsibility to undo the damage they’ve caused. But do they do it? Pfft. No. They’re oppressors.
Hence the plethora of people since the 70s who have been pushing through and yelling, “For the love of fucking God, I exist!”
But that’s kind of a hard statement to solidify in the mainstream if nobody’s going to pay attention to you.
So here’s what we all have to do, especially the allies: start working toward opening up dialogues without provocation from an outing or a death or a hate crime.
Don’t wait to have LGBTQIA+ issues thrust in your line of focus. Put LGBTQIA+ issues in your line of focus now. Make the world safer for oppressed identities to be themselves not because someone you know died, but because you should already have it in your head that LGBTQIA+ oppression is wrong.
(And yes, I’m aware of the irony of an LGBTQIA+ person telling you to stop waiting to hear from LGBTQIA+ people to do something about LGBTQIA+ oppression. *cough*)
2. Coming Out Is Othering
The whole process of coming out is to recognize that you’re different from the rest of the world – and different in such a way that may not favor well to the people who cut your checks, legalize your romantic partnerships, or provide you a family home to return to on holidays.
Coming out is a confusing balance of validating your originality without concluding that you’re a cultural failure.
Step one is to recognize this non-mainstream identity in yourself, struggle with what it means to you, and then – hopefully – accept that you’re awesome and wouldn’t change a thing. Step two is to convince the rest of the world that.
The problem with step two is that you’re talking to the very society that made you think that you’re impossibly different to begin with. In their eyes, you have declared that you’re a freak – and are now begging for acceptance despite this fact.
This is a primary reason homonormativity exists, as well as arguments that homosexuality (and, presumably anything else on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum) is genetic.
The subtext is, “Sorry about being weird! I can’t help it! Let me be as much like you as possible so you can feel more comfortable about your bigotry that started this whole mess!”
3. Inviting In Encourages (Enthusiastic) Acceptance
Coming out is to inviting in is as #nomeansno is to #yesmeansyes.
No Means No is essentially the campaign fighting against rape and assault, stating quite appropriately that if somebody says no, they mean no. So you should stop what you’re doing or, much more preferably, never begin it.
Scary to think that there are still people in this world that can’t put that together, but there you have it.
On the contrary, Yes Means Yes came about because assholes tried to turn No Means No in their favor. For example, it can be hard for a person to say no if they’re drunk or drugged or so freaking terrified of you that they’re not fighting back. And so some people seem to think that equals consent, that convenient lack of a direct, audible “no.”
So because of those Wile E. Coyotes, feminists went back to the drawing board. Hence the idea of Yes Means Yes. In short, sexual canoodling is now considered nonconsensual unless all parties give direct, enthusiastic consent.
And the only people that should bother are the ones that have been doing it wrong this whole time. Suffice it to say that I’m not empathizing with them.
In the coming out sense, inviting in puts a new spin on things.
Instead of making LGBTQIA+ people stay active in protecting themselves like they have shooting targets on their backs, take off some of the load of their oppression by letting them know they don’t need to fight to be accepted by you.
You’re happy to give it to them risk-free. In fact, you accept them even when they’re not even looking.
A word about the use of “enthusiastic”: I’m not talking about the mainstream community jumping up and down with rainbow pom-poms trying to get us all to identify ourselves (though that would be kind of awesome).
No. Rather, “enthusiastic” here means to be direct, positive, and welcoming.
Some of the Unitarian churches I’ve seen around here in Boston have the right idea. They don’t mind sparkly lambs in their flock, and so they make sure everyone knows.
I’ve seen many of these churches hanging rainbow flags above their main doors, advertising that they have Pride pancake suppers, or just plain advertising on their block-letter sermon thingies outside: “LGBTQIA+ People Welcome!”
And you know what? As wary as I’ve become of organized religion over the years, I’ve been incredibly tempted to walk right on into one of these churches. Because they said I could.
Because I know, with that kind of welcome, there’s absolutely no need or reason or pressure to come out.
4. Coming Out Implies an Identity Isn’t Real Until It’s Made Public
Since the mainstream is, in fact, the mainstream, you’re considered part of the group until proven otherwise. (Or as I like to term is, you’re innocent until proven guilty.) As such, your LGBTQIA+-ness isn’t considered real until the mainstream says it’s so.
Take a look at the whole trans debate.
Somebody comes out as trans, and then cis people have a feeding frenzy deciding for that person whether or not that person is a man, a woman, genderqueer, or however else they just told you they identify as. Why y’all trying to move the couch again when that person just did all the heavy lifting? You’re tuckering yourselves out for no reason.
And now there’s the whole “trans enough” debate. Now some people won’t even consider us trans people trans in and of itself? FFS. This is why we can’t have nice things.
But let’s say you make it past the preliminaries. You’re still in hot water. Because even if you’ve been concluded to be LGBTQIA+, you must now make up for it. You must now do what you can to appropriate yourself to the mainstream by talking certain ways, acting certain ways, dressing certain ways, and sometimes even cutting up and remolding your happy bits like Play-Doh even when you don’t really want to.
You can’t be you until you come out – and then you’re at risk of not being you anymore. Because after your so-called confession, you’re expected to prove to everyone that you’re human.
In other words, assimilate or die.
So instead of waiting for someone to try and argue to you that they’re real, go ahead and beat them to the punch. Let them know by LGBTQIA+ association that you already know they’re real. And awesome just the way they are. No need for them to bring out the flow chart.
And I don’t mean that in these sense of walking up to someone and saying, “I know you’re a lesbian and want you to know I’m totally cool with that.” Talk about invasive.
Instead, simply build it into your repertoire to willingly accept and be judgement-free of LGBTQIA+ people.
Treat us like humans. Because seriously. That’s all any of us wants.
So when you hear about someone you know being somewhere on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, resist the urge to ask them about their “coming out” story. If you suspect someone is on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, but isn’t saying anything, leave them alone.
In both scenarios, the person will tell you if/when they feel like telling you. And that’s something you’ll have to respect.
All in all, you don’t need to have someone specific in mind that you want to “come out” to you in order to start inviting LGBTQIA+ people into your life. Just do it for the sake of doing it. The more of us that puts the responsibility of oppression onto oppressors to stop oppressing, the better off we’ll be.
James St. James is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. He works as a transcriber for super-duper secret projects, tends to keep to himself, and is currently pitching a novel that scares agents. He uses his experiences as a way to reach out to others, usually by way of not keeping his mouth shut. When he’s not busy making cis gender people uncomfortable with his trans gender agenda, he likes to play vintage video games and eat candy. You can praise him on Twitter @JamesStJamesVI. Read his articles here.