Coming out. It’s one of the most nerve-wracking experiences any member of the LGBTQ+ community will go through, and it’s a big deal - people toy with when and how for days, months or even years. But, unfortunately, no-one gets to come out just once. And honestly? It. Never. Stops. Not only is it tedious, but it’s downright frustrating. No, I don’t have a boyfriend. No, I don’t mean a girl who’s a friend. No, I will not discuss how lesbians have sex. And repeat, for eternity.
Everyone in the queer community experiences it (side note: I’m talking about sexuality here, not gender, which is a whole other kettle of fish that I don’t have the life experience to comment on); the somewhat innocent questions, the probing inquiries into sex lives and the inevitable, “so when did you come out?”. Well, when I was 15, but also three seconds ago to you, last week at the doctor’s, three months ago when I started a new job and on average, a couple of times a week since I was 15.
But why? Why should we have to either put up with a barrage of questions into the intricacies of our big queer lives or feel awkward about brushing off these questions when we just really don’t feel like talking about it? Some people don’t mind coming out of a million closets; some people are loud and proud, some people think it’s nobody’s business, and some of us are just sick of having to comfort straight people through the process of discovering we’re gay.
Amy, 26, lesbian, says, “when I’m faced with the “do you have a boyfriend?” question from someone I’ve just met, I feel like I have two options: lie, which makes me feel guilty for erasing my girlfriend’s importance to me, or say I’m gay and open myself up to an onslaught of questions, which wouldn’t be asked of a straight person. Regardless, it’s uncomfortable.”
Sam, 29, gay, echoes this sentiment, “With each new job or friendship, the mention of whether you're in a relationship will inevitably come up. Having to constantly answer with, "I'm actually gay" can become quite tiresome...and I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked my preferences in bed.”
Difficulty coming out can put a strain on mental health, social networks and exacerbate drug and alcohol problems. A 2003 study found it was one of the most stressful experiences for young LGBTQ+ people. Though this study was based on young people’s first (read: big) coming out experience, the point still stands: coming out is stressful, and though it might get slightly less so each time we do it, it’s still unpleasant.
There’s always that niggling feeling that whoever you’re about to reveal yourself to isn’t going to be accepting. I’ve been lucky enough not to experience harassment in my 10+ years of coming out to people on the reg, but maybe that’s because I’ve developed a kind of coming out-dar, a little voice in my brain that pipes up and says ‘hun, I think you should leave this one’. While this shouldn’t be a thing we have to go through on an almost-daily basis, it is.
So, I guess this leaves us with three options:
1. Opt the hell out. This will either turn you into some kind of mysterious, possibly-gay enigma or completely shut you off from the world in a way that LGBTQ+ people have fought so hard not to be. But if you’d rather no one knows, then more power to you.
2. Stand on the fence. Most LGBTQ+ people operate a kind of half-in-half-out policy. You come out to people you think you might have a relationship with, people you’re becoming friends with, and decide not to tell anyone else, because frankly, it’s none of their business.
3. Shout it from the rooftops. Take the power out of coming out by bringing it up ASAP. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work, especially for anyone who might be in an unsafe environment.
So actually, here’s the solution:
Firstly, let’s stop asking people about their sex lives. Gay men don’t want to be asked whether they’re a top or a bottom, lesbians don’t want to be asked whether scissoring is actually a thing (it’s not) and bi people don’t want you to ruminate on which gender they prefer. It’s 100% none of your business, so act like it.
Secondly, stop forcing people to come out by asking direct, gendered questions. Instead of “have you got a boyfriend?” try “have you got a partner”; this gender-neutral terminology 1) lets the person out themselves only if they want to and 2) lets them know that you’re not assuming their sexuality and therefore you’re probably woke AF. People should only have to come out if they want to, and, if you let this happen, you’ll foster a certain level of integrity and honesty in your friendships.
Finally (and this is the big one), let's create a world where being LGBTQ+ is as normal as being heterosexual and where everyone just gets along, stops judging each other and lets people be who they want to be without forcing them to talk about it every five seconds.