Coming out—both the action and the word—differs depending on where you live. It seems it has always been easier to come out in coastal California and in the Northeast than in the South and the middle parts of the country. It has been easier in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other big cities, and it can be really difficult in small towns around the country. It also differs by your age. A man born before the Second World War would have been an adult for ten years before Stonewall changed everything, but a guy born in the early fifties might experience the sudden changes of Stonewall as if these things have always been this way. A guy born in 1990 might see Stonewall and all it meant as ancient history. Yet we all end up in the same Gay Pride Marches.
What’s interesting is that in the same hundred-thousand-person crowd, someone may say, “When I came out,” and mean something very different by it than the man walking next to him. Or, a person may say, “I never came out,” and be standing next to a man who has never come out either, but for reasons diametrically opposed to the first person. He never had to.
I don’t think I ever came out—or else the process was so long and done so gradually that there was never a moment when I was able to say, and after that I was out. But the man standing next to me in the parade, who has just graduated from college, can legitimately say, “I never came out, either,” because he grew up in an upscale family outside of Boston, and about the time he was discovering the idea of sex, he was discovering that it was all happening because he liked boys, and he talked to his dad about it.
I suspect that there will be larger and larger percentages of people who say they never came out. I suspect that the phrase come out is going to have a mainly historical interest. Even more, the word closet is going to be less and less useful for gay people. It will be applied to a smaller and smaller period in one’s life—finally not even to the few month period between a boy’s discovering what his dick can do and his realization that it’s boys and this is not going to change. The whole point of the word will be lost.
I suspect that the admonition Come out! is going to be useful mainly for people in the movement for gay liberation to those not in it and finally is going to have only an historical meaning. Instead of being a statement of what all gay and lesbian people have to do, it is going to be useful only for certain people during a certain period of our history. And all those not interested in our past will forget about it.