National Coming Out Day isn't always a celebration


In fact, it can do more harm than good for many closeted teens

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Image by Prague Pride

By Lucy Cooper

About a month ago, the LGBT+ community celebrated the 32nd National Coming Out Day – a day honouring the act of telling people you’re gay.

At first glance, it seems to be a great day to celebrate being unashamedly yourself. A chance to reflect on your journey and inspire others to do the same. However, for many confused and closeted people, it is just another day to panic about labels and identity.

For as long as I can remember, I have spent the day yearning to be further along in my coming out journey. I have a photo saved to my Snapchat memories of me using the ‘Coming Out Day’ filter in 2016, as I nervously look to the side of the camera.

I never sent it to anyone.

At the time, I remember wishing that I had the confidence to be like all the others I saw online, proudly sharing their coming out stories. There were even people my age, using this as a chance to finally let everyone know their truth.

Instead, for me, this was just a day of highlighting the confusion I felt, and the lack of progress it seemed like I was making. Year after year, the day would roll around and I’d realise that I still hadn’t told many people in my life something so integral to me. It felt like a regular reminder that I hadn’t moved any further, and I was still as confused as my 14-year-old self.

Of course, in hindsight I realise these were formative years and I was developing and becoming more sure of who I was. It was just, using the parameters of National Coming Out Day and the fact I hadn’t felt ‘brave’ enough to let more people know, it seemed like I was still at square one.

This seems to be such a problem with the concept of celebrating the act of coming out. Even if you haven’t come out to people, this doesn’t mean you aren’t working on the most important part – accepting yourself.

But even once you have done the daunting act and let people know, this is by no means the end. Coming out is a continuous process, and it can foster fake expectations when nervous, closeted youths are seeing people ‘come out’ using a filter on a specific day. Even celebrities posting have probably already come out to the people close to them – their Instagram snap is just another step on their coming out journey.

It makes the act of coming out seem permanent – here I am, this is what I am, and that’s all there is to it. It fails to recognise the fluidity and development of sexuality. How you come out in 2016 might well not be how you identify now.

I remember panicking and trying to decide whether I should just say “YOLO” and come out, even if this wasn’t the perfect time for me. I’d spend the whole day questioning myself, even if I would never have considered doing it the day before. Even more recently as a more open member of the community (although still fairly under the radar – hi to all the random people who don’t follow my private and didn’t know, lol), I still struggle to see the celebratory stories, as I continue to work myself out and slowly but surely let more people know that I’m not straight.

But the problems with the closet don’t just stop after National Coming Out Day. Increasingly, particularly on TikTok – where there is an intimate relationship between the viewer and the creator – there always seems to be a stream of comments forcing people to come out, under the guise of being accepting. In fact, many of the commenters tend to be part of the LGBT+ community themselves, excitedly asking whether the creator “listens to girl in red????”. There are some videos where the comment section is jammed full of similar messages, many not even asking the question, instead just announcing that there are “wlw vibes”.

Although this might seem harmless, the impact this could have on people who have yet to feel comfortable to let the online world know, should not be downplayed. Speaking to several TikTokers, I can see how they often feel pressured to come out due to the constant barrage of comments, even if it’s not something they even want to address. And let’s not even get into the problems of assuming someone’s sexuality based on the way they look on the internet…

It is clear that intentions are in the right place for all of these aspects – whether it be Instagram pages sharing National Coming Out Day posts or excited TikTok viewers hoping it’s a “win for the girls”. But we need to remember those who might not yet feel ready to come out yet, and are not comfortable using their voice to let people know it’s negatively affecting them.

For some in the community, these might be issues you have never even thought of, having known who you are for as long as you can remember. But for those struggling to work out their sexuality, it can be more harming than we might realise.

Coming out is a deeply personal experience, and should depend on when you feel comfortable. Don’t let a day make you feel nervous. Ultimately, National Coming Out Day is about celebrating yourself, and you don’t need to wait until 11 October to do that.