October 11 is National Coming Out Day


National Coming Out Day is a holiday which was created in 1988 by Robert Eichberg and Jean O’leary. Wikipedia tells us the two did not want to respond negative to anti-LGBTQ actions of the day and so created NCOD which was positive and celebratory.

Most people think they don't know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact, everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.

– Robert Eichberg

Both Eichberg and O’leary were LGBTQ Activists in their day. Eichberg was a psychologist and gay rights activist and author of the book “Coming Out: An Act of Love.” Eivhberg died at the age of 50 from complications of AIDS. O’leary was an American lesbian and gay rights activist, founder of Lesbian Feminist Liberation and author of the book “Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence.” O’Leary died at the age of 57 from lung cancer.

This year National Coming out Day celebrates it’s 31st anniversary. Many will celebrate the day as a time to acknowledge gay pride and the gay community. And many others will use this as the day on which they come out to family and friends.

Coming out of the closet, often shortened to coming out, is a metaphor for LGBT people's self-disclosure of their sexual orientation or of their gender identity. Wikipedia

The idea of ‘coming out’ in pre 1960s was one that imitated a débutant’s coming out into society - a kind of self-disclosure or emancipation. But after the Stonewall Riots, the term took on the overtones of exiting from oppression. Wikipedia suggests the term ‘coming out of the closet’ is a mixed metaphor that combines ‘coming out’ and ‘skeleton in the closet’ - a life of secrecy and/or denial.

Tom Joudrey, in an article published on Slate, argues:

…. the metaphorical structure of the closet has the opposite effect. It conditions us to plant a rainbow flag in a social category—lesbian, pansexual, skoliosexual—and believe that our sexual truth has now been revealed, taxonomized, and finalized. Been there, done that—nothing more to see here! Paradoxically, then, what seems a great liberation insidiously tames and paralyzes, shoehorning unruly desires into a neat box. In stepping across the egress of the closet, the fluidity of queerness is at risk of getting stomped on and stamped out.

And American gender theorist Judith Butler also argues the idea of coming out in an article she wrote in 1990 - Imitation and Gender Insubordination. She argues that the process of "coming out" does not free gay people from oppression. They may feel free to act themselves, but being out in the open invites judgement about their identity. Butler goes on to question what the person is coming out into - is it another room, another confined space, outdoors? She suggests that idealistic expectations of that new space are never fulfilled and also notes that being out can only make sense if there’s an accompanying ‘in.’ In this way, the closet itself needs to be reproduced again and again.

The question we ask ourselves in 2019 is this: does coming out of the closet and the celebration of coming out actually perpetuate the closet itself?

Maybe it’s time to dismantle the closet. This National Coming Out Day, I’m going to re-frame the idea of coming out - think of it as ‘standing up’ or better, ‘rising up’ day - National Rising Up Day. Today is the day you will rise up and embrace your own true and creative self.

However you choose to word things, let’s celebrate and embrace our queerness on this day. Happy National Rising Up Day! And Welcome!

Here are some links that will help you celebrate:

Come Out Canada! https://egale.ca/come-out-canada/

National Coming Out Day - https://nationaltoday.com/national-coming-out-day/

Human Rights Campaign - https://www.hrc.org/resources/national-coming-out-day

And please visit our Queer Resources section if you are looking for local help on your journey.

Photo by Adrian Moise on Unsplash

MagazineJude Goodwin