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Coming out or outing oneself (a common short form of the expression "coming out of the closet") describes the self-disclosure of one's sexuality (also known as sexual orientation) or gender identity to one person, to a group of people, or to the public at large. It is usually used in an LGBT context, a process that is at once personal and social and often political.
Coming out is not a one-off event, and is described and experienced variously as a psychological process or journey; decision-making or risk-taking; a strategy or plan; a mass or public event; a speech act and a matter of personal identity; a rite of passage; liberation or emancipation from oppression; an ordeal; a means toward feeling pride and a move away from social stigma.
LGBT people who have already revealed or no longer conceal their sexual orientation and/or gender identity are out, i.e. openly LGBT. Oppositely, LGBT people who have yet to come out or have opted not to do so are labelled as closeted or being in the closet. Outing is the deliberate or accidental disclosure of an LGBT person's sexual orientation or gender identity without their consent. Glass closet means the open secret of when public figures' being LGBT is considered a widely accepted fact even though they have not "officially" come out.
The term is believed to be of early twentieth-century origin. In 1869, the German gay rights advocate Karl Heinrich Ulrichs introduced the idea of self-disclosure as a means of emancipation. Claiming that invisibility was a major obstacle toward changing public opinion, he urged homosexual people to reveal their same-sex attractions. In his 1906 work, The Sexual Life of Our Time in its Relation to Modern Civilization, Iwan Bloch, a German physician, entreated elderly homosexuals to self-disclose to their family members and acquaintances. Years later, Magnus Hirschfeld revisited the topic in his major work The Homosexuality of Men and Women, discussing the social and legal potentials of several thousand homosexual men and women of rank revealing their sexual orientation to the police in order to influence legislators and public opinion. By the 1970s, coming out of the closet referred to coming out of loneliness and isolation that heterosexual society had imposed on gay and lesbian people.
Anarchist and Communist involvement
The first prominent American to reveal his homosexuality was the poet Robert Duncan. In 1944, using his own name in the anarchist magazine Politics, he claimed that homosexuals were an oppressed minority.
The decidedly clandestine Mattachine Society, founded by Harry Hay (CPUSA member) and other veterans of the Wallace for President campaign in Los Angeles in 1950, moved into the public eye after Hal Call took over the group in San Francisco in 1953, with many gays emerging from the closet.
To come out or not to come out?
Within the LGBT community, this is an area of contention. Many feel that one's sexual orientation is a large part of their personal identity.
Coming to terms with confusion about sexual identity can have both positive and negative effects on many aspects of a person's life, including social relationships, school or work, and self-esteem. Coming out can be a difficult time; many LGBT people fear negative reactions, rejection and upsetting people they are close to. In many parts of the world strong cultural attitudes and discriminatory laws make coming out even harder.
Effects of not coming out have been the subject of studies. For example, it has been found that same-sex couples who have not come out are not as satisfied in their relationships as same-sex couples who have. Findings from another study indicate that the fewer people know about a lesbian's sexual orientation, the more anxiety, less positive affectivity, and lower self-esteem she has. Further, Gay.com states that closeted individuals are reported to be at increased risk for suicide.
Many people believe that the closet narrative sets up an implicit dualism between being "in" or being "out" wherein those who are "in" are often stigmatized as living false, unhappy lives, and that being "out" as LGBT is not a simple dichotomy. For example, coming out by posting one's real name on a message board is not the same as coming out by publicly announcing one's sexual orientation on a national television broadcast.
Most agree that in an ideal society, one should not have to hide a harmless and innate personal attribute about oneself.
"Coming out" applied to non-LGBT contexts
In political, casual, or even humorous contexts, "coming out" means by extension the self-disclosure of a person's secret behaviors, beliefs, affiliations, tastes, identities, and interests that may cause astonishment or bring shame. Some examples include: "coming out as an alcoholic", "coming out as asexual", "coming out as a BDSM participant", "coming out of the broom closet" (for Wiccans), "coming out as disabled", "coming out as intersex", "coming out as multiple", "coming out as polyamorous",, "coming out as a sex worker" or "coming out as a paedophile".
With its associated metaphors, the figure of speech has also been extended to atheism, e.g., "coming out as an atheist." A public awareness initiative for freethought and atheism, entitled the "Out Campaign", makes ample use of the "out" metaphor. This campaign is endorsed by prominent atheist Richard Dawkins, who states "there is a big closet population of atheists who need to 'come out.'"
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