This Pride Month, We’re Breaking the Narrative of Coming Out Through Your Unique Stories
When people ask me the cliche question of When did you come out?, or even worse, How did you come out?, the only way I know how to answer is with a nervous giggle and the usual response: “I don’t… know?? It’s complicated???” Which, in all honesty, is the best way to encapsulate my experiences. Sometimes, I’ll respond with the way I officially came out to my mom, which was through a text that went like this:
“sooo I've been wanting to tell you this in person but I've been too afraid lol and you might already know this BUT with nyc pride coming up on Sunday I just wanted to tell you that I like girls and only girls.”
But that’s one person in my life; what about the rest of the people I had to come out to? Did I have to come out to them in a traditional sense, too?
These weren’t my own internal struggles; these are the assumptions of others that are only perpetuated by the media’s, and on a broader scale, society’s, coming out narrative that assumes everyone who identifies as non-straight or non-cisgender must have a specific coming out moment, and that it’ll happen with everyone in that queer person’s life. Just like the movies! It’ll go something like this:
A high school girl, around age 16, has been questioning her sexuality for only a few months. Instantly, she realizes she’s a lesbian. Only weeks after this realization, she decides to sit her entire family down on her living room couch, and proclaims after a long, heartfelt speech that she is, in fact, a lesbian. Their reactions would be more than successful! Hugs would be shared, happy tears would be shed. Days later, she’ll do the same with her tight-knit friend group, where they’ll probably respond by saying something like: “We’ve known all along!” Pretty soon, the entire school would know her as the out and proud lesbian, and maybe she’ll get a few insulting remarks from peers, but for the most part, she’ll be celebrated for her courage.
There may be some variations in the above story: maybe her parents won’t fully accept her, but never to the point of being kicked out of her house; maybe she’ll meet the love of her life moments after the school is notified of her new identity and she’ll be introduced to the one other queer girl at her school. Yet, these narratives always follow the same linear path that usually peaks at the moment that queer person finally decides to do the thing and come out of the closet, as if being stuck back there is worse than the fiery pits of Hell.
In reality, coming out does not look like this. Coming out may never happen! The perceived dichotomy of pre- and post-coming out instills at times harmful ideologies for queer people first coming to terms with their identities; sometimes, coming out (whatever that may mean) doesn’t make life easier for that said individual. Sometimes it doesn’t release all the pent-up tension of being secretive about one’s hidden identity; sometimes it makes a situation worse for LGBTQ+ youth, as they have a 120% higher risk of being homeless than their straight and cisgender counterparts. Or other times, people just don’t want to come out. Not to say that they are stuck in the closet forever; rather, they were never in the closet to begin with, and instead, they wish to live their queer lives without having a coming out moment, or they wish to not identify as anything. Which is okay!
Or, people’s identities will shift, resulting in coming out several times as different identities, or choosing to not come out again simply because it’s downright exhausting. Having to validate your identity just for another’s acceptance is already hard enough, and doing this twice (or more!) can result in a lot of confusion or, on a more unfortunate note, an entire loss of acceptance that was previously earned.
Or! People often come out on a daily basis, especially for femme lesbians and bisexual people who don’t have the privilege of visibility that is not always granted to them when they do decide to come out for the first time. The concept of “coming out” can at times remind some of us of those scary moments of coming out to straight male strangers at bars who insist on getting our numbers, and disclosing our sexual preferences is the only way for them to stop (shouldn’t “I’m not interested” be enough?). And sometimes, coming out doesn’t stop them—they might not believe us, they might harass us, they might ask invasive questions that made that decision to come out to them not worth it.
Mainstream iterations of pride that are represented through this month typically follow the narrative of celebrating one’s outness—historically, it’s a riot and a celebration of bringing our once private identities into public spaces. Yet, what if the journey of getting to this moment is complicated, making pride mean something entirely different to those who don’t fit the mold of that picturesque coming out moment popular culture knows (and loves) so well?
Rather, we can find pride in our own nuanced stories and moments that celebrate our own journeys and identities, especially for us who find it difficult to match that mainstream narrative and who maybe feel less queer due to this disconnect. The concept of “coming out” and “the closet” only exist due to being Othered by heteronormativity in our society; if there was no norm of being straight (thanks to the introduction of normative heterosexuality in the 20th century), there would be no need to disclose our queer identities just to live fulfilling lives. Yet, there’s no point in entirely eradicating this notion; rather, it’s more productive to instead shift mainstream ideologies about it and put queer stories front and center. It’s time to break the narrative!
So, here’s what I would now say if someone were to truly be interested in my coming out story:
It’s not pretty, it’s not linear, and it’s really difficult to put into coherent sentences. Yet, here’s the TLDR: I had my first crushes on girls in middle school but didn’t realize they were crushes until my senior year of high school, where I blocked them out with pseudo crushes on boys for the next four years. I had the feeling I was bisexual when I turned 17, so I told my parents about this a year later. They didn’t take it seriously. I joined college with this identity, feeling more liberated than ever in DC than in the scary conservative gates of my Southern suburban town. I realized I liked girls a lot more than boys but still wanted to hold on to my “heterosexual tendencies” because I was terrified of only liking women. A few experiences and one Intro to Women’s Studies course my second semester of college later, I realized that “lesbian” maybe wasn’t such a bad word. Maybe it was me! I never had the moment of telling all my friends I was a lesbian; rather, they simply figured it out through my evolution into gay culture. That summer, the text that began this piece was sent to my mom. I even posted a picture on Instagram, revealing my queer identity to all my followers at 2017’s New York Pride (but of course, without using the word “lesbian”). I didn’t disclose my queerness in my own writing until ten long months later when I wrote about queer womxn musicians on my personal blog and I called myself a lesbian for the first time to the entirety of the Internet, where I now am unable to stray away from writing on queer topics, no matter how hard I try. Two months later, for the first time, I told the world that I loved being a lesbian (which is an extremely radical statement!) through another Instagram post from last summer’s DC Pride. But today, am I “fully out,” whatever that means? I don’t know. I do know that I talk about lesbian culture like it’s my job and that I laugh when people don’t realize I’m gay within moments of meeting me. But I find the private moments even more empowering than that awkward text I sent my mom two years ago: when I get those first time butterflies for a girl without feeling shame; when I’m surrounded by other queers who live both shared and unique experiences with me; when I take the time to self-reflect and remember how much I love being a lesbian.
What about you? We at Camp Thirlby want to continue to break the narrative and highlight stories by queer voices, not by straight corporations who take the notion of the closet to an extreme. Do you have a coming out story that is important to you, even if it feels disconnected from the mainstream? Do you have a hard time putting this moment into words or have funky feelings on the heteronormative structure? What about the small moments that make you proud of your queerness, even if it feels too miniscule to call a “coming out story”? Are you not out, and wish to share more on why?
Call us at the Camp Thirlby Hotline at 240-397-6457 and leave a voicemail to share your story. We’ll publish your stories anonymously, along with other personal memoirs on the nuances of queerness, throughout Pride Month and beyond—because pride doesn’t end with the end of June.
About the Author
Natalie Geisel is in her third year at The George Washington University studying women’s, gender, and sexuality studies with a minor in communication. Her love of writing sprouted from starting her fashion blog in high school, and her current written work spans from topics such as style, LGBTQ+ content, and music. She is interested in intersecting gender and sexuality into the world of wellness, hoping to add a queer voice to its editorial side. When she’s not writing, she spends her spare time at dance rehearsal, attending local indie shows in the DC area, or finding the best cafes that serve oat milk. She’s passionate about inclusive sex education and sustainable fashion and thinks everyone should be, too.