COLUMN: You don’t need someone’s whole story to respect their identity

No matter how close two people may seem, no one is owed an explanation of someone’s sexuality or gender identity.

Abigail Ruhman is a sophomore journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for The Maneater.

This column is part six of Abigail Ruhman’s “Twelve Gays of Christmas: The Sequel” series. Twelve Gays of Christmas is a 12-column series about a variety of LGBTQ topics. During the holidays, members of the LGBTQ community are more likely to experience depression. By informing readers of the issues facing the LGBTQ community, these columns are meant to support the community this holiday season. This year is the second year of this series and shows that even though it can seem like things are fine, there is still a lot of discrimination and challenges facing the LGTBQ community.

The history behind the phrase “coming out” makes the process seem more glamorous than it actually is. Before World War II, the phrase wasn’t so much about coming out to straight friends and family members. It referred to a gay man “coming out” to the gay community at drag balls, which were modeled off of the debutante balls where rich women would be unveiled to rich bachelors.

When people think about coming out, they need to stop thinking about it as a necessary part of being queer or gender-nonconforming. You don’t need to hear someone’s entire life story just to respect their pronouns or the gender of their partner. Coming out should be a sign of trust rather than a requirement for anyone who is queer or gender-nonconforming.

Coming out was about announcing yourself to the community, but it has slowly transformed into something done for those outside of the queer and gender-nonconforming community. Something that used to be a celebration has slowly transformed into something done for the sake of those outside of the community.

I can’t even begin to count the number of times I explained that I was queer and was met with questions of why I didn’t say anything sooner. Coming out is no longer an experience owned by the queer or gender-nonconforming community. The comfort of coming out has been taken away and it’s turned into something that is traumatizing to some people. There is no longer a coming-out ball because in the modern context, people have to come out every day or risk the possibility of being “outed” in a situation you can’t control.

Depending on who you talk to, coming out may be the best decision of their life or something they regret because of the consequences. Coming out is no longer an event though — it’s a process. You are never truly done coming out. The heteronormativity that exists in today’s world makes coming out a decision you make based on the situation.

The problem with attaching coming out with other people knowing is that it creates this assumption that it all happens at once. Queer and gender-nonconforming individuals may choose to come out to just friends, family, coworkers or some mix of the three. Some may decide it is safer to only come out to a select group of people while others come out to everyone they meet.

The thing that people tend to forget about coming out is that even coming out in the smallest way can still be terrifying. Each instance introduces the possibility of someone rejecting them or even the possibility of violence. No one can be absolutely certain that coming out is perfectly safe. Something that used to be personal and fun has turned into a process that is not about the individual being themselves; it has become about everyone knowing about the individual’s personal information.

Stop thinking about other people’s coming out stories like they’re something you deserve to know. That isn’t fair to the person who has to go through coming out every time they meet a new person. Coming out is complicated, risky, scary and a thousand different emotions for thousands of different people.

Coming out shouldn’t be accommodation for straight people. There is no reason that someone owes someone else an explanation. If the story isn’t yours, then you have no say on if it is shared or not. Coming out is already hard enough for a lot of people, and it’s time people started to recognize that everyone has the power to make it easier. Everyone can start looking at someone else coming out to them as a privilege rather than a right.

Edited by Bryce Kolk | bkolk@themaneater.com

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