Yesterday was National Coming Out Day, and I would join in the fun but I’m out and everybody I know (who’s in that situation) is out, and the coming out is now for other people. Cheers for them, it’s a big moment.

But a comment. Every time coming out comes up—and it comes up all the time because there are so many gay folk, and most of us understand that a person doesn’t just come out once, he or she comes out again and again and again as their lives progress—then we have to talk about coming out again and demonstrate that our culture hasn’t really gotten a good grip on what it is, or why it is what it is, and what it means. What we do is simplify a complicated situation. We act as if it’s a public event when really it’s deeply private, the most important parts of which are shielded from the public eye.

Coming Out Day is an annual event celebrated since 1988 “to promote a safe world for LGBT individuals to live truthfully and openly.” This quotation, from Bill in Portland, on Daily Kos Friday, a Democratic, leftist blog I read all the time and have linked to occasionally, gets at the heart of our societal confusion about coming out. The essential problem with what Bill in Portland has said is that he assumes that in some way the person who has not come out yet is not living truthfully. The way this is usually put is that the person who has not come out is not being honest with himself. That is absolutely not true. In almost every case, the person who has not come out knows that he or she is gay. That person is not coming out for any of several reasons, the most frequent being that the world is unsafe and the person is protecting himself. And that’s OK.

Coming out has several parts. There is my consciousness of myself (“I am a fifteen year old boy”), my consciousness of my sexual desires (“I think I want the boy in the locker room who is two years older than I am”), my awareness of my culture (“Will they beat me up?”), my ignorance of what these desires mean to me (“Am I a bad person?”). I do not need to be told, in the midst of all this, that gay people think I am being dishonest. I know exactly who I am and what my desires are.

What the gay community is really doing when it starts laying this on the fifteen-year-old kid, is this: The community wants the fifteen-year-old to be open to the community. For its own political reasons, it wants the fifteen-year-old to be public so as to increase the power of the community.
Now, to be clear. No kid owes me anything. Let me say that again. No kid owes me anything. If the gay person who has not come out finds his situation tolerable, then he should not be hounded by us with charges of dishonesty. A person’s sexuality is that person’s alone. He does not owe information about that sexuality to any other soul on this planet. This is what freedom means.