I wasn't going to write anything about National Coming Out Day, because I've always found myself fairly ambivalent about the whole thing. Then I read this post over at Black Girl Dangerous, which is a really fabulous tumblr filled with radical politics, particularly the kind that's of interest to queer and trans* people of colour. I often find the writing there challenging and inspiring and difficult and brilliant, and this piece is no different.
As I read it, I found myself getting a little defensive. Really? We're going to divert attention from coming out as queer* so we can come out as other things? Isn't that a little, I don't know, appropriative? But I've misread the piece. Quite apart from its lighthearted tone, Mia clearly states that these are things that one could come out as "along with coming out queer and/or trans*." She also suggests that these are ideas for older people or people who have been out for a long time. She's not suggesting that non-queer people muscle in on National Coming Out Day to come out as feminist or pro-fat, which is what my first hasty reading had lead me to believe.
Having said that, it could be kind of a great idea, coming out as something 'non-standard'. I'm not sure about appropriating the term itself - I get a little bit rage-y when I hear someone announce that they're coming out of the closet as, for example, a Downton Abbey fan.** It can sound pretty insulting, and I think it's something that non-queer people want to be careful with. But I do think that perhaps it's worth considering, this dilution of the whole coming out process. As has been documented, coming out is rarely a one-day event: it's something that echoes over and over in our lives, requiring attention as often as every day, depending on your situation. Although the first time can be an incredibly powerful, liberating and joyful experience, perhaps it's time to take the pressure off that occasion and acknowledge the ongoing nature of coming out. In that spirit, maybe it's not such a bad idea to start adding things to the list. When one comes out as gay, one could come out as pro-choice or anti-racist as well. Perhaps next time I tell someone I'm trans, I'll explain my views on rape jokes. I'm not being flip: I genuinely think it might help deflect attention from LOOK AT ME I'M DIFFERENT to remind people that there are other ways that people are different from each other, too, and that they're all ok.
That's one of the reasons I'm ambivalent about National Coming Out Day: I'm not sure we should be cementing this idea of coming out as a duty, as something that we owe ourselves or our families or friends. Coming out can be hard and painful and scary. I struggle with it sometimes, because I hate the feeling of drawing attention to myself. I'd often rather suffer the wrong pronouns than say to someone "actually, I prefer [pronouns]", because I know that saying that will provoke questions and confusion and people will expect me to explain myself and justify my choices, and if I don't I will feel mean. When coming out is something that one has to do every day, I can't help but feel it might be a little easier if it can be diluted with some more non-standard revelations at the same time.
Perhaps, for now, it's best to stick to additions rather than substitutions. I'd still rather straight and cis people weren't 'coming out' as anything; not while we're still in the place we're in. Perhaps in a few years (decades? centuries?), when the pressure has lifted, and one isn't assumed to be straight and male/female until told otherwise, everyone can start playing around with the idea of disclosure, and making it fun. For now, though, I think coming out should be retained by queer people, and we can slowly stretch it and mould it and reshape it until it resembles something we can truly own - and maybe even enjoy.
*used as a blanket term here and throughout the piece for the sake of convenience, although I know it's inaccurate for many people.
**isn't it interesting that people so often come out of the closet as fans of something a little bit 'girly'? I've heard this said about Glee, Strictly Come Dancing, X-Factor and Downton Abbey, but never about The Avengers or Wipe Out or Never Mind the Buzzcocks. Could it be because there's something a little bit shameful about liking 'girly' things? Nah, surely not.