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Coming Out – What is it?

PFLAG's Answer

What does “coming out” mean? To start with, it is a shortened form of “coming out of the closet,” likening people who hide or deny their homosexuality to living in a closet – behind a closed door. As for what the expression means, it can mean any of several things depending on how it is used.

Usually the term refers to a person making their homosexuality known to others. But one can also come out to oneself. In that case, it means acknowledging one’s own sexual orientation when previously it was unrecognized, or, more likely, denied. This can happen quickly, as in a flash of recognition, or it can be a slow realization over time, an understanding of oneself that comes into focus gradually. For some it continues throughout their life.

It is also said that parents of a gay child come out when they make known to others the fact of their child’s sexuality. In contrast, some parents feel shame about it and hide it. Do you remember old jokes about hiding an embarrassing relative in the attic? Or a skeleton in the closet?

Some people are forced out of the closet, their sexuality revealed by another who lacks their consent to do so. In slang terms, this is often called “outing.” Usually it is a hostile act taken for a punitive reason.

For the most part, coming out is voluntary, though it can be difficult to do. Rarely, however, does it involve anything resembling a general announcement. Most people understand that in our society adverse opinions about homosexuality are widely held and making one’s homosexuality known entails risks of various sorts. Thus, at least at first, most people come out to those whom they know well and trust.

Some gay people are “totally out,” but even they may continue to decide when or whether to walk down the street hand-in-hand with their partner.

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