Coming out describes the voluntary public announcement of one's sexual orientation and gender identity. Being "out" means not concealing one's sexual orientation, usually an LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) orientation. This contrasts with being closeted, which means concealing one's orientation and identity. Being "outed" refers to having this information revealed, often without consent. Outing is the process of deliberately disclosing the sexuality of another who wants to keep this information private.



19th century homosexual rights advocate Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

The idea of coming out was introduced in 1869 by the German homosexual rights advocate Karl Heinrich Ulrichs as a means of emancipation. Claiming that invisibility was a major obstacle toward changing public opinion, he urged homosexuals themselves to come out.

In his 1906 work Das Sexualleben unserer Zeit in seinen Beziehungen zur modernen Kultur (The Sexual Life of Our Time in its Relation to Modern Civilization)[1], Iwan Bloch, a German-Jewish physician, besought elderly homosexuals to come out to their heterosexual family members and acquaintances.

Magnus Hirschfeld revisited the topic in his major work, The Homosexuality of Men and Women (1914), discussing the social and legal potentials of several thousand men and women of rank coming out to the police in order to influence legislators and public opinion.[2]

The first important American to come out was the poet Robert Duncan. In 1944, using his own name in the anarchist magazine Politics, he claimed that homosexuals were an oppressed minority.

In 1951, Donald Webster Cory[3][4] published his landmark The Homosexual in America, exclaiming, "Society has handed me a mask to wear...Everywhere I go, at all times and before all sections of society, I pretend." Cory was a pseudonym, but his frank and openly subjective descriptions served as a stimulus to the emerging homosexual self-consciousness and the nascent homophile movement.

The decidedly clandestine Mattachine Society, founded by Harry Hay and other veterans of the Wallace for President campaign in Los Angeles in 1950, also moved into the public eye with many gays emerging from the closet after Hal Call took over the group in San Francisco in 1953.

In the 1960s, Frank Kameny came to the forefront of the struggle. Having been fired from his job as an astronomer for the Army Map service for homosexual behavior, Kameny refused to go quietly. He openly fought his dismissal, eventually appealing it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. As a vocal leader of the growing movement, Kameny argued for unapologetic public actions. The cornerstone of his conviction was that, "we must instill in the homosexual community a sense of worth to the individual homosexual," which could only be achieved through campaigns openly led by homosexuals themselves. His motto was "Gay is good."


A coming out originally referred to them being formally present in LGBTQ groups or events, such as those in New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Baltimore, and other cities. The phrase "coming out" did not refer to coming out of hiding, but to joining into a society of peers. The phrase was borrowed from debutante balls, where young women "came out", being officially introduced to society. There were other metaphors for the act of revealing or hiding one's sexual orientation, such as "wearing a mask" and "taking off the mask", and "wearing their hair up" and "letting their hair down".

Transgender and transsexual usage

Sometimes Transgendered, transsexual, and intersexed people decide to live according to the gender role with which they more closely identify, and therefore choose to announce their gender identity and their intention of changing their sex if they wish to transition. For example, unlike sexual orientation, coming out as female-identified rather than male-identified is not optional if one wishes to transition from one sex to another.

However, many transgender and especially transsexual people wish to hide their birth sex once they have transitioned. This is often referred to as going stealth. Thus a transsexual or transgender person can come out twice: once before the initial transition, and once afterward to those unfamiliar with their birth sex.


File:Montclair Graffiti.JPG

Graffiti as a means of expressing sexual orientation.

Several models have been created to describe the coming out process (i.e.: Dank, 1971; Cass, 1984; Coleman, 1989; Troiden, 1989; Clayton Snyder, 2004) Of these models, the most widely accepted has been the one established by Vivienne Cass commonly known as Cass identity model. This model outlines six discrete stages that individuals who successfully come out go through. These are identity confusion, identity comparison, identity tolerance, identity acceptance, identity pride, and identity synthesis.

Coming out is a gradual process and a journey[5]. It is common to come out first to a trusted friend or family member, and wait to come out to others. Some people are out at work but not to their families, or vice-versa. Still, one does not typically "come out" and have it done with; they must continue to make the choice to out themselves upon making every new acquaintance and in most new situations.

It is also common to hear the phrase, "coming out to oneself," meaning to acknowledge to oneself that one is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. This is the very first step in the coming-out process; it often involves soul-searching or a personal epiphany [6] of some sort. Many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people go through a period prior to coming out when they believe their sexual orientation or behavior, or their cross-gender feelings to be "a phase", to be malleable, or when they reject their own feelings for religious or moral reasons. Coming out to oneself is one way to end that period of ambiguity and thus begin the process of self-acceptance.



Internet blogger "Perez Hilton" has been criticized for attempts at outing celebrities

Main article: Outing

The act of revealing a closeted person's orientation against his or her wishes is known as outing them. Sometimes it is used to prove a political point, or demonstrate a contradiction between private lifestyle and public stance. Outing may be found to be libel by a court of law (for example, in 1957 the closeted Liberace successfully sued the Daily Mirror for merely insinuating that he was gay). Note, however, that the Daily Mirror's defense was that the words complained of, in a column written by `Cassandra', did not imply that Liberace was gay. They did not attempt to prove the accusation was true justification: they attempted to prove that they had not made an accusation.

Current viewpoints

File:Rufus Wainwright Sundance.jpg

Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright is one of the 18 openly LGBT musicians to take part in "Being Out Rocks!", the 2002 National Coming Out Day campaign.

Today, more gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are out than ever before, and many believe that being in the closet is unhealthy for the individual. A common saying is, "Closets are for clothes". One major gay magazine is titled Out Magazine. Coming out is often seen within gay and lesbian communities as politically healthy, even a duty or necessity, arguing that the more out gay people there are, the harder it will be for opponents to misrepresent, marginalize, and oppress. Others believe that coming out in the traditional, overt manner is not always individually or culturally appropriate. An alternative offered is "coming home", the process of introducing one's same-sex partner to family and friends as a close friend, leaving the actual sexual relationship perhaps implied, but unspoken. "Coming home" has not worked its way into the public lexicon in the way that "coming out" has, because of a concern that homophobic family members may blame the partner for turning their relative gay.

Judith Butler (1991) criticizes the in/out metaphor as creating a binary opposition which pretends that the closet is dark, marginal, and false and that being out in the "light of illumination" reveals a true (or essential) identity. Diana Fuss (1991) explains, "the problem of course with the inside/outside that such polemics disguise the fact that most of us are both inside and outside at the same time." Further, "To be out, in common gay parlance, is precisely to be no longer out; to be out is to be finally outside of exteriority and all the exclusions and deprivations such outsiderhood imposes. Or, put another way, to be out is really to be in--inside the realm of the visible, the speakable, the culturally intelligible." In other words, coming out constructs the closet it supposedly destroys and the self it supposedly reveals, "the first appearance of the homosexual as a 'species' rather than a 'temporary aberration' also marks the moment of the homosexual's disappearance--into the closet." Lauren Smith (2000) summarizes, "to be 'out of the closet', then, as either gay or straight, according to Fuss and Butler, is always to contain or cover up another closet."

However, Butler is willing to appear at events as a lesbian and maintains that, "it is possible to argue that...there remains a political imperative to use these necessary errors or category rally and represent an oppressed political constituency." Fuss also argues that deconstructing identities is positive only when it also dismantles differences in power, when the identities are consolidated and naturalized. For "women do not necessarily have the same historical relation to identity...and they do not necessarily start from a humanist fantasy of wholeness." Again, Butler: "It is affirm that gay and lesbian identities are not only structured in part by dominant heterosexual frames, but that they are not for that reason determined by them. They are running commentaries on those naturalized positions as well, parodic replays and resignifications of precisely those heterosexual structures that would consign gay life to discursive domains of unreality and unthinkability."

Mainstream media

In the entertainment world, one of the most famous recent depictions of someone coming out occurred on a 1997 episode of the sitcom Ellen entitled "The Puppy Episode" when the character played by Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet, to coincide with the actress' real-life coming out.

In 2005, the Oscar-nominated film Brokeback Mountain depicted the consequences of two gay men living in the closet, while in 1996 the acclaimed British film Beautiful Thing had a more positive take in its depiction of two teenage boys coming to terms with their sexual identity. Coming out has been featured in comedy films as well, such as the French comedy Le Placard (The Closet), where a heterosexual man is falsely outed, or in the 1997 comedy In & Out where Kevin Kline stars as a small-town teacher who gets outed on national television, and is then forced to come to terms with his own unrecognized homosexuality.

An episode of a popular Quebec television series L'Amour avec un Grand A called Lise, Pierre et Marcel focuses on the life of a homosexual man who is married and confesses to his wife and kids that he is attracted to another man. In the Emmy Award-nominated episode "Gay Witch Hunt" of The Office, Michael inadvertently outs Oscar to the whole office.

LGBT media

In 1999, Russell T Davies's Queer as Folk, a popular TV series shown on Channel 4 (UK) debuted and focused primarily on the lives of young gay men; in particular on a 15-year-old going through the processes of revealing his sexuality to those around him. This storyline was also featured prominently in the U.S. version of Queer As Folk, which debuted in 2000.

The television show The L Word, which debuted in 2004, focuses on the lives of a group of lesbian and bisexual women, and the theme of coming out has been prominently featured in the storylines of multiple characters.

Other uses

Apart from sexual identity, it is becoming increasingly common to hear "coming out" used by analogy for disclosures of other private sphere characteristics, behavior or hobby, e.g. "coming out as an alcoholic", "coming out as a liberal", "coming out as a gang member",[7], "coming out as multiple" [8] or even "coming out of the broom closet" (as a witch) [9] This is associated with a more general tendency towards equalizing sexual identity and other forms of identity.

"Coming out" was once used to refer to debutantes.

See also





  1. Bloch, Ivan. Das Sexualleben unserer Zeit in seinen Beziehungen zur modernen Kultur, 1906. English translation: The Sexual Life of Our Time in Its Relations to Modern Civilization, 1910.
  2. Johansson&Percy, p.24
  3. Donald Webster Cory on
  4. Sagarin bio
  5. Coming Out: A Journey
  6. [[1]]
  8. COMPD - Introduction
  9. Coming Out of the Broom Closet

Further reading

  • Dossie Easton, Catherine A. Liszt, When Someone You Love Is Kinky, Greenery Press, 2000. ISBN 1-890159-23-9.
  • Fuss, Diana, ed. (1991). Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories. New York: Routledge.
  • Butler, Judith (1991). "Imitation and Gender Insubordination".
  • Thomas, Calvin, ed. (2000). Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-06813-0.
  • Smith, Lauren (2000). "Queer Theory in the Composition Classroom".

External links

Coming out