It’s National Coming Out Day! This day commemorates the October 11, 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which had half a million participants. The momentum from the march inspired National Coming Out Day, a day to demonstrate that LGBTQ people are everywhere, and to encourage more people to come out—especially celebrities and other prominent public figures.
Having out queer role models is hugely important to forming one’s own LGBTQ identity. The coming out process requires 3 things:
- To know about the existence of different identities: You can’t name yourself when you don’t have the vocabulary.
- To do the self-reflection to be able to know your own truth.
- To have the safety and security to be able to share this aspect of yourself with others.
Knowing out people can both give you the vocabulary and understanding to come to terms with your identity, and also show you that being out is a possibility and is safe.
Unfortunately, that third requirement is not always met. Not everyone lives in an environment where being honest about their identity is possible without being met with danger. LGBTQ youth are still much more likely to experience homelessness than their cisgender, heterosexual peers. Transgender people, especially trans women, especially trans women of color, face much higher rates of violence, including with the police. As much as being out may be ideal, we shouldn’t push people to come out who can’t do so safely.
We still need National Coming Out Day, because “coming out” is still a thing. The term is accompanied with a kind of held-breath nervousness. We shouldn’t have to come out. We shouldn’t have friends, family, and strangers all making their own assumptions about who we are, what names we go by, who we fall in love with, what pronouns we use. And when we do share these things, they should be met with the same kind of interested, but unfazed demeanor as when you learn about someone’s hobbies or favorite TV shows. Imagine, a society where being queer didn’t come parceled together with shame and fear. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to come out, because the world wouldn’t keep slamming the door in our faces.
Book Riot includes some amazing LGBTQ voices, and today we’ve chosen to spotlight them. My name is Danika Ellis, and I am the guest editor for today. I hope you check out some of the amazing posts that my fellow contributors posted today, which range from the academic to the absurd. It’s such a comfort to hear so many queer voices in a society that so often silences them. We will continue to post queer content at all points in the year, of course, but today they deserve a little more attention. We also have two guest posts from fantastic LGBTQ authors: Meredith Russo and Jacqueline Koyanagi!
I am so grateful that I have a strong queer community, both in my everyday life and my online life. I know that not everyone has that luxury. And that is why queer content is so important. It can be incredibly isolating to feel like the only queer person in your community (or in the world). In those moments, books can feel like a lifeline thrown from a better existence. Books with queer characters show that you exist, that you’re valid, that there are possibilities for you.
In the 1950s, gay and lesbian pulp (written primarily by straight men and for straight men) became widely distributed. Despite the homophobia and titillation of most of the content, they were a godsend to queer people who read these books and realized People like me exist. It gave people names, and even landmarks: some readers made pilgrimages to Greenwich Village, which these books promised would be packed with gay people. Even these terribly written books helped readers survive and find themselves.
Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from pulp. We’re finally getting to see nuanced depictions of LGBTQ people—and yes, more than just the first two letters in that acronym! We have a long way to go, in the book world and beyond. We need more stories about every queer identity, in every genre. We especially need more depictions of people with intersecting identities, who demonstrate that human beings do not start as a “neutral” straight, white, abled, cisgender man that only get deviated from when absolutely necessary. The diversity of people and identities in the real world is incredible, and our stories need to reflect that.
As we stand, we still need Coming Out Day because we still need to come out. I hope that we are moving towards a world where it is safe for everyone to come out, and then—maybe one day—to a world where we’re never pushed into closets at all.