an ally’s guide to national coming out day

Disclaimer:  I will be using the word “Queer” as a blanket term throughout this (as does Queer Voices as a whole), since the LGBTQIA+ community is so diverse, and there are so many ways to experience gender, sexuality, and “Queerness” overall; sometimes terms can be clunky, and I’m hoping to make this an accessible guide, and don’t want to clutter it. 

Do not pressure anyone to come out.

Just don’t, this should go without saying.

National Coming Out Day provides an opportunity for Queer individuals to come out to family, friends, church congregations, employers, teachers, and the like while also experiencing a sense of solidarity and unity—both feelings that may be argued to be vital to individuals of an oppressed demographic/gender or sexual minority seizing the courage to (openly or otherwise) be who they are. Feelings of isolation and ‘aloneness,’ that one is in some way ‘incorrect,’ unwell, strange, etc. are often a reason queer individuals hesitate in coming out. Recognize that these are contributing factors to why someone may not want to come out. Pressuring someone to come out could mirror societal pressure already place upon them

Keeping this in mind, pressuring a Queer friend to come out today could mirror pressure already placed upon them by society at large, again, albeit intentions behind it may be goodhearted (i.e. the ally feels that it would be easier on their friend if they came out for them so that individual did not have to go through the potential trauma of doing so themselves)—the line between pressure and encouragement is very thin and we all walk it at one point in time or another, so we all must be mindful of when encouragement becomes something more like coercion. The one being pressure to be “normal,” making us feel like we are in the wrong for being “abnormal”; the other being a reversal of sorts of the same concept. It creates the illusion that no matter what we do we are in the wrong somehow, someway.

Never out someone who you know is Queer.

Firstly, it can endanger the safety of Queer individuals who are not out of the closet. The safety endangered can be physical safety, emotional safety, mental safety, financial safety, or all of the above and others. Homophobic (“Queerphobic”) family members and friends are often a main factor as to why young Queer people remain closeted; if the person whom an ally took it upon themselves to out without that persons knowledge and explicit permission—again, even if the intent was to be helpful—is under the age of eighteen, they are at risk of homelessness. With the introduction of social media as a main way of interaction, coming out over social media has become a convenient way to do so, as it is public and can be made to many people in one’s life at once, saving the emotional turmoil it takes to build up courage to come out to many different people in many different areas of one’s life at many different times.

Please do not “come out” as things unrelated to LGBTQIA+ (i.e. an ally, a republican, a sci-fi nerd, etc.)

(Inter)National Coming Out Day is a day for the LGBTQIA+ community. By “coming out” as something that is not LGBTQIA+ related is not participation and is not encouragement or encouraging. What it is, is a perpetuation of erasure and invalidation. Please, don’t “come out” as an ally—a good ally has a concept of what Queer erasure is and what it does to individuals and the community at large. A good ally understands how and why doing exactly that is invalidation.

For the people who are choosing to come out as LGBTQIA+ today, it is a huge and life changing decision, probably a difficult one that took a lot of thought and even more courage. Allies, please be hyper-mindful of all these factors today (and always). Coming out is not just as simple as typing a Facebook status.

Respect others decisions to (1) come out, and (2) to not come out

Respecting and supporting LGBTQIA+ issues and allyship to the community and to the individual means respecting and supporting them whether or not they have made the decision to come out—today, or any day. One may believe that this is the perfect time to come out, and for some people it is. Many others are not ready to do so, so it isn’t by any means a perfect time to come out. Some people may never feel comfortable or safe coming out.

Support your friends, the people you are allies to, who come out today, but do not ever let your friends, the people you are allies to, who do not come out today fall to the wayside of your support because they are making the conscious choice not to do so. Never shame anyone, or many anyone feel less-than, or cowardly, etc. for remaining in the closet—it should be a huge part of today, lending support both ways (and any day for that matter).

The “A” in LGBTQIA+ does not stand for “ally”

The plus sign in LGBTQIA+ marks a continuation of the Queer “alphabet:” lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual. A common mistake and a common source of hurt ally feelings is that the “A” in LGBTQIA+ stands for “ally”—it does not. “Ally” does not have a letter in the LGBTQIA+ alphabet. “A is for Ally” convolutions can end up in parading how good of an ally they are. It’s not always seeking out “ally cookies,” and so it shouldn’t always be treated as the given individual seeking out “ally cookies.” What makes a good ally is vital to the movement and can bring up important, necessary dialogue around and about supporting LGBTQIA+ movements. Support is an ongoing discussion, an ongoing exchange between all involved.  (Inter)National Coming Out Day is not either the time or the place for this. It is a day for Queer individuals—to stand together in solidarity, to provide an opportunity to come out if one wishes to do so, to celebrate our identities openly or otherwise.  On this day, the position of an ally—like many other times—is in the background. The position of an ally today is to do just that: be an ally. To educate, and to support—not to flaunt the fact that one is an ally, not to flaunt the fact that one is an exceptional ally.

Flaunting perfect allyship leads to erasure of the Queer voices that allies need to be raising up. And, in addition, the fact that “A” does not stand for “Ally” doesn’t mean you, as an ally, aren’t important. You are! That’s something you need to remember too.

Recognize and understand that LGBTQIA+ does not just refer to monosexual gay/lesbian. 

Allies need to remember that there is no homogenous Queer identity. Society at large attempting to homogenize Queer identities, people, and groups, is wildly oppressive; it is a form of assimilation into dominant culture, and assimilationist ideals speak volumes of what dominant culture thinks of individuals who deviate from it—it tells us that “unless you become like us, homogenize yourself and your movements, you will not be respected, accepted, or viewed as full human beings.” (Inter)National Coming Out Day is a great day for allies to point towards, and shout out, identities that are lesser known. Asexuality is still virtually invisible; intersex bodies are often erased. The public often recognizes the LGB part of LGBTQIA+ because it is more comfortable for them, easier to wrap their head around. Allies, don’t let our vast diversity be erased, don’t be complicit in our multitudes of identities on an awesome rainbow spectrum fall to the wayside just because some are better known than others. (Inter)National Coming Out Day, since mass amounts of people will be on social media discussing these topics, coming out, and there will be a general greater focus on LGBTQIA+ identities than other days, is a time to listen and amplify.

We hear about “Gay” marriage (which is actually same-sex marriage, as not all gay relationships are same-sex and not all same-sex relationships are gay), hear about “Gay” rights (which is actually LGBTQIA+ rights), but underrepresentation remains rampant, and some identities are more invisible than others. Bisexuality, for example, is recognized but stigmatized as indecisive or selfish and a heavy focus on hypersexuality is forced upon bisexual identities; amplify that this is not the truth, point towards bisexual voices. Asexuality is discredited as a sexual identity because asexual people do not feel sexual attraction and the assumption is that everybody feels sexual attraction, and the people who do not just “haven’t found the right person”; amplify that this is not the truth, point towards asexual voices. The “I” in our alphabet soup stands for Intersex, an identity that has some visibility but that visibility is often incorrect–visibility for Intersex people is often under the term “hermaphrodite,” an awful slur. Just as gender is a spectrum as opposed to a binary, sex is a spectrum and not a binary; there’s multiple ways for bodies to manifest, multiple combinations of chromosomes, reproductive organs, reproductive systems, secondary sex characteristics, and levels of estrogen/testosterone. These bodies are not strange, incorrect, wrong, or anything else Queer people are often assumed to be in the mind of dominant culture; amplify the truth, point towards intersex voices.  Allies need to work towards exposing identities, genders, and bodies, that are less visible, making room for them in conversations and validating these identities.

And, please, check your privilege at the door.

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Jenna-Nichole, more commonly known as JayJay, is a Poet (with a capital P!) currently experiencing life in and around Massachusetts. When they’re not reading books, they’re reading more books.