One Foot Still in the Closet

This National Coming Out Day, let’s take a minute to bear in mind all the people who are still unable to openly express who they are, writes Luke McWilliams.

Today is National Coming Out Day, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. In the spirit of the day’s founders, Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary, I am going to take The Big Step out of the proverbial closet, and begin living life as an out gay man.

Of course, I actually first came out to some close friends in my third year at school, and since them I have come out to plenty of others. Last November was when I met my boyfriend, so soon after that I came out to my parents too. They took it well, like just about everyone that I have willingly come out to, so I guess you could say that I’m one of the lucky ones, that I can hold myself up as living proof of ‘it gets better’, that you won’t always feel like you have to hide away a huge part of who you are.

But, if this is indeed the case, that everyone is so accepting, then why do I still get nervous about the simple fact of holding my boyfriend’s hand in public?

The reality is that for LGBT people, coming out is still a cause of massive anxiety, even in societies which are apparently accepting. Let’s take a look at Scotland in particular. We are a country with some of the most progressive LGBT rights in the world, like the right to marry or legally change your gender. We are also, however, a country where, in reports published by organisations like Stonewall Scotland in 2012, over half of LGBT youth say they have experienced phobic taunts and bullying, and just under half don’t feel like they are achieving their best at school.

For these people, the thought of coming out can be a terrifying prospect – and trust me, I know this from experience. When you get so used to hiding such a big part of your identity from most of the world, you can’t ever envision that changing. You become convinced that your life will be a lonely one, that you will be living a lie for years and years, that you will never be able to fully express yourself. You might be able to be open around people you can trust, but most of the time you will stay firmly hidden away, one foot still deep inside the closet.

This is why a day like National Coming Out Day can be so important to a lot of people because it is a day that gives them the chance – the lifeline – to open up to others about their identity. They may decide to tell their friends, they may decide to tell their parents, or they may even (like me) decide to make a Facebook post. This day is a day for celebration, for pride in who we are, for taking that first step to leading happier, healthier, more positive lives outside of the closet, without feeling like we need to hide who we are.

However, National Coming Out Day is also a double-edged sword because it reminds us of the hard truth of coming out – that once you do it, you can never go back into the closet ever again. Your life instead becomes a constant process of coming out, to every new person you meet, in every new situation you’re in, and to say that that can be daunting is a gross understatement.

Even for people who are out and open, there may still be situations where they feel like they have to hide who they are. This could be because their new boss is homophobic, or because they can’t stay with their partner in the same room in a foreign hotel. It could even be because there are still so many countries in the world that will jail them because of who they are, because of something they have no control over.

Ultimately, I think that is the point of National Coming Out Day, to not only offer people a chance to come out, but to call attention to the fact that many of these people will still have to stay ‘in’ in many areas of their lives society still has a long way to go. While we should definitely encourage people to come out, we should also bear in mind why they might not want to – more importantly, why they might feel like they can’t. That is why I ask that, if you know anyone who is struggling with who they are, then be there for them, today of all days. Support them, talk to them, and listen to them, because when you’re alone, and I know this all too well, having that friendly shoulder to cry on can make all the difference in the world.

[Luke McWilliams – @luxxybee]

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