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The Personal Is Political: Why Coming Out Matters

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Question:

Dear Dr. Darcy:



Why does there have to be a "coming out" at all? Straight people don't have to go through the same ritual [to] "come out" as straight. I don't understand why it's so important for there to be a public declaration of coming out. It isn't as if we see straight people yelling for all to see, "I sleep with the opposite sex!" Why isn't it more equal? Why is it anyone's business who people decide they love?

Answer:

Although your question initially set my teeth on edge, I felt it imperative to answer in the hope of educating people who might find themselves pondering the same issue.

We live in a heteronormative society that assumes that if you don't come out, you're straight. So if you want your identity to be recognized, coming out is necessary. It's not about declaring whom you're sleeping with or whom you're madly in love with; rather, it's about having your identity acknowledged and validated so that you aren't forced to live in a world of secrecy. And living with any level of secrecy is paradoxical to having self-worth or self-regard.

Heterosexual people declare whom they're in relationships with in every aspect of society, from holding hands in public to filing joint tax returns. The vast majority of women change their name when they get married, and virtually all begin using the prefix "Mrs." These are federal rights that gay people are precluded from having.

And straight people begin coming out in childhood. Little girls begin fantasizing about their weddings virtually from birth. Teenagers look forward to prom from the day they start high school. Parents in our society do not raise children to explore their sexual orientation; they raise children with the expectation that they will be heterosexual.

The problem with your question is that it indicates a complete lack of awareness of the fact that our world is a heteronormative one. Your confusion perfectly demonstrates why it's imperative for gay people to come out. And here's one final reason to come out:

Let's just say that, for example, you're some mutant human who does not require the acceptance or validation of other humans in order to be emotionally and spiritually healthy. We'll presume that you're quiet cozy in the closet. But there are youths who are killing themselves because they don't see enough gay role models in this world. You do not live in isolation from the world. You have a fundamental obligation (as we all do) to make this world a safer place for the youth of our planet. Your personal choice to come out has a larger implication: It's a political statement. So if you can't find the strength to do it for yourself, do it for the kid in Tennessee who sees no "normal" role model of gay life because, like you, so many people value "privacy" above social obligation. Your personal choice has political implications, and I'm sorry that you don't seem to understand that innately.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-866-488-7386 for the Trevor Lifeline, or call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Submit you question to Dr. Darcy at Questions@AskDrDarcy.com.

A version of this blog post originally appeared on AskDrDarcy.com.