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“Coming out,” or “coming out of the closet,” refers to disclosing one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity to other people. Coming out is understood as a process, not necessarily one moment — for instance, people may tell a close friend, or group of friends, but not their coworkers.
Coming out can be dangerous for queer people who lack familial and social support or who have safety concerns due to homophobia or transphobia. It’s important to consider the range of reasons someone may not come out. Coming out is a byproduct of a heteronormative society that assumes people are straight until told otherwise.
If someone is “out of the closet”, they can be called “out” or “openly [insert identifier].” Since 1988, October 11 has been celebrated as National Coming Out Day in the US and around the world, with the aim of raising awareness and support of LGBTQ+ communities. (October 11, 1987, was the date of the second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.)
To out (v.) someone or to be outed is to disclose someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity before they do so themselves and without their consent. The practice is a severe violation of the outed individual’s privacy, and could put their life and safety at risk. To avoid unintentionally outing someone, it’s important to confirm with a source that they are comfortable with their identity appearing in a story, and to only include it when relevant and necessary. Keep in mind that a person can be closeted with some people and in some spaces, and “out” with others.
As of 2020, Gallup polling found that around 16 percent of Gen Z adults in the US identified as queer, a significantly higher percentage than millennials (9.1 percent), Gen X (3.8 percent), or baby boomers (2 percent).
A related term is “on the down low,” or “on the DL,” a slang term often though not exclusively used among Black communities typically to connote men who identify or present as straight and have sex with men. Critics of the term point to the persistent myth beginning in the early aughts that Black men “on the down low” were contributing to high rates of HIV among Black women, and say the term can reinforce racist and classist stereotypes and the stigmatization or exoticization of Black bodies and sexuality.
- What Does Coming Out Mean? (Planned Parenthood)
- “It feels like someone’s taken your identity away” — Why it’s never OK to ‘out’ someone as LGBTQ+ (Cosmopolitan)
Coming out is short for coming out of the closet, a metaphorical term for the self-disclosure of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. It’s important to confirm with a source that they are comfortable with the details of their sexual orientation or gender identity appearing in a story, and to only include it when relevant and necessary.