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The Closet: Psychological Issues of Being In and Coming Out
In the jargon of contemporary homosexual culture, those who hide their sexual identities are referred to as either closeted or said to be in the closet. Revealing one’s homosexuality is referred to as coming out. Clinical experience with gay patients reveals hiding and revealing behaviors to be psychologically complex.
In the developmental histories of gay men and women, periods of difficulty in acknowledging their homosexuality, either to themselves or to others, are often reported. Children who grow up to be gay rarely receive family support in dealing with antihomosexual prejudices. On the contrary, beginning in childhood–and distinguishing them from racial and ethnic minorities–gay people are often subjected to the antihomosexual attitudes of their own families and communities (Drescher et al., 2004). Antihomosexual attitudes include homophobia (Weinberg, 1972), heterosexism (Herek, 1984), moral condemnations of homosexuality (Drescher, 1998) and antigay violence (Herek and Berrill, 1992). Hiding activities learned in childhood often persist into young adulthood, middle age and even senescence, leading many gay people to conceal important aspects of themselves.
Closeted individuals frequently cannot acknowledge to themselves, let alone to others, their homoerotic feelings, attractions and fantasies. Their homosexuality is so unacceptable that it must be kept out of conscious awareness and cannot be integrated into their public persona. Consequently, these feelings must be dissociated from the self and hidden from others.
If and when same-sex feelings and attractions can no longer be kept out of consciousness, the individual becomes homosexually self-aware. Individuals to whom this happens can acknowledge some aspect of their homosexuality to themselves. While homosexually self-aware people might consider accepting and integrating these feelings into their public persona, acceptance is not a pre-determined outcome. For example, a religious, homosexually self-aware man may choose a celibate life to avoid what, for him, would be the problematic integration of his religious and sexual identities.
Individuals who are either consciously prepared to act on their homoerotic feelings or to reveal a homosexual identity to others usually define themselves as gay or lesbian. To be gay, in contrast to being homosexually self-aware, is to claim a normative identity. In other words, defining oneself as gay usually requires some measure of self-acceptance. A gay person may choose to come out to family or intimate acquaintances. Others may come out to people they have met in the gay community while keeping their gay identity separate from the rest of their lives.
Another homosexual identity is the non-gay-identified individual. These people have experienced homosexual self-awareness, may have acted on their feelings, and may have even once identified as gay or lesbian. However, such individuals find it difficult, if not impossible, to naturalize their same-sex feelings and attractions. While recognizing their homosexual feelings, these individuals reject the feelings and, despite the low odds of success, may even seek to change their sexual orientation (Shidlo et al., 2001).
The above classification of homosexual identities privileges the role of self-definition. These identities are not mutually exclusive; there is often overlap between and differing motivations within them. They are shaped by individual and cultural factors. Consequently, when individuals become homosexually self-aware, there is a wide range of psychosocially constructed attitudes and responses they may develop toward their own homosexuality. For example, a homosexually self-aware man may initially identify himself as gay but then regret that decision and return to his earlier practices of hiding. Another may choose a non-gay identity, attempt a „sexual conversion“ therapy, but then later decide to accept his homosexual feelings and come out.
What psychological mechanisms facilitate separating one’s sexual identity from the rest of one’s persona? Sullivan’s (1956) concept of dissociation may be illuminating, particularly its most common aspect: selective inattention. A ubiquitous, nonpathological process, selective inattention makes life more manageable, like tuning out the background noise on a busy street. However, through dissociation of anxiety-provoking knowledge about the self, a whole double life can be lived and yet, in some ways, not be known. Clinical presentations of closeted gay people may lie somewhere in severity between selective inattention–most commonly seen in the case of homosexually self-aware patients thinking about „the possibility“ that they might be gay–to more severe dissociation–in which any hint of same-sex feelings resides totally out of conscious awareness. More severe forms of dissociation are commonly observed in married men who are homosexually self-aware but cannot permit the thought of themselves as gay (Roughton, 2002).
Some closeted gay people can reflexively speak without revealing the gender of the person being discussed or without providing any gendered details of their personal lives. Sedgwick (1990) called „‚Closetedness‘ … a performance initiated as such by the speech act of a silence–not a particular silence, but a silence that accrues particularity by fits and starts, in relation to the discourse that surrounds and differentially constitutes it.“ Toward that end, a gay person might avoid references to gender altogether: „I went out last night with someone I’ve been dating for the last few weeks. We went to a movie in their neighborhood. We talked about the possibility of going to the beach next weekend.“ A heterosexual listening to these words might automatically assume a heterosexual relationship was being discussed.
It can be painful to keep significant aspects of the self hidden or to vigilantly separate aspects of the self from each other. Constant hiding creates difficulties in accurately assessing other people’s perceptions of oneself, as well as recognizing one’s own strengths. Dissociation’s impact on self-esteem can also make it difficult to feel one’s actual accomplishments as reflections of one’s own abilities. Transparency, invisibility, losing one’s voice, and being stuck behind walls or other barriers are some of the terms used to describe the subjective experience of dissociative detachment (Drescher, 1998).
For some gay men, „Hiding and passing as heterosexual becomes a lifelong moral hatred of the self; a maze of corruptions, petty lies, and half truths that spoil social relations in family and friendship“ (Herdt and Boxer, 1993). There are many gay men who, before they came out, were either „gay-baiters“ or „gay-bashers“ themselves.
Attacking those perceived to be gay serves several functions. One penile plethysmography study indicated that men with strong antihomosexual beliefs actually had significant homosexual arousal patterns (Adams et al., 1996). Strong antihomosexual feelings may represent an effort to control perceptions of a gay-basher’s own sexual identity. This might translate as, „If I attack gay people, no one will think I am gay.“ Psychoanalysts call this defense „identification with the aggressor“ (Freud, 1966). It may represent intrapsychic efforts to maintain a psychological distance from one’s own homoerotic feelings. In other words, it is an effort to strengthen dissociative tendencies.
Coming out may be the most commonly shared cultural experience that defines the modern gay identity. Historically, the term was an ironic reference to debutantes „coming out into society“ (Chauncey, 1994). In contemporary usage, „coming out of the closet“ means telling another person that one is gay.
Years spent in the closet can make the prospect of revealing oneself an emotionally charged experience. However, the process is not just about revealing oneself to others–in coming out, gay people integrate, as best they can, dissociated aspects of the self. Herdt and Boxer (1993) classified coming out as a ritual process of passage that requires a gay person to 1) unlearn the principles of natural or essentialist heterosexuality; 2) unlearn the stereotypes of homosexuality; and 3) learn the ways of the lesbian and gay culture they are entering. Finally, as gay people must decide on a daily basis whether to reveal and to whom they will reveal themselves, coming out is a process that never ends.
Coming out to oneself is a subjective experience of inner recognition. It is a moment that is sometimes charged with excitement and at other times with trepidation. It is a realization that previously unacceptable feelings or desires are part of one’s self. It is, in part, a verbal process–putting into words previously inarticulated feelings and ideas. It is a recapturing of disavowed experiences.
Coming out to oneself may precede any sexual contact. Sometimes, the moment of coming out to oneself is sexually exciting. Some gay people describe it as a switch being turned on. „Coming home“ or „discovering who I really was“ are how gay people frequently describe coming out to themselves. In the language of Winnicott (1965), it can be experienced as a moment in which they make contact with their true selves.
Coming out to oneself may be followed by coming out to others. Such revelations are not always greeted with enthusiasm, and fear of rejection often plays a significant role in a gay person’s decision about who to tell or whether to come out. For those who cannot come out in their hometown, moving to another city offers opportunities to come out among strangers. It can be exhilarating to come out in new and faraway places where one is not known to either family or friends. After making such a move, gay people may completely (and perhaps dissociatively) sever relationships with their past lives.
A therapist’s recognition and respect for individual differences allows multiple possibilities in the coming out process. There is no single way to come out, a fact sometimes overlooked by well-intentioned therapists trying to affirm a patient’s homosexuality. Every coming out situation may be associated with anxiety, relief or both.
As previously stated, being gay, in contrast to being homosexually self-aware, is to claim a normative identity. From this perspective, coming out to oneself is integrative and often serves to affirm a patient’s sense of worth. It is a prerequisite of this work that therapists be able to accept their patients‘ homosexuality as a normal variation of human sexuality, and that they value and respect same-sex feelings and behaviors as well (Drescher, 1998).
A therapist fluent in the meanings of coming out can point out both obstacles to and inhibitions of the process. However, patients may hear therapist fluency as tacit encouragement to „hurry up and come out,“ even rebuking a therapist for perceived efforts to force movement in that direction. Therapists need to be aware they can be heard this way and treat it as grist for the psychotherapeutic mill.
Therapists should recognize gay patients‘ struggles to define themselves as the important therapeutic focus–and that this is not a typical struggle for those who claim a heterosexual identity. Gay patients face a whole set of decisions unlike anything heterosexuals face. Hiding from oneself depends upon dissociative defenses, while coming out to oneself holds the possibility of psychological integration. An implicit value of psychotherapy is that integration is more psychologically meaningful than dissociation. Consequently, therapists cannot be neutral about coming out to the self.
Coming out to others can be fraught with danger. A need to hide may be based on reasonable concerns, as in the case of gay men and women serving in the military. A therapist would be unwise to advise a patient to come out without knowing the attitudes and opinions of the intended object of the patient’s revelation. A therapist cannot fully predict the consequences of such a revelation on the relationship of those two people. Again, coming out to others needs to be addressed in a way that recognizes individual differences.
Internalized, antihomosexual attitudes are often rigid and disdainful of compromise or „relativism.“ A patient’s dogmatic belief system may not recognize the concept of respectful disagreement. Nevertheless, exploration of such internalized, moral absolutes, and the identifications from which they stem, requires therapeutic tact. Some patients may try to resolve inner conflicts about being gay by selectively attending to their antihomosexual identifications. Unable to tolerate conflicting feelings about homosexuality, these patients rather unconvincingly tell themselves, „It is OK to be gay.“ This approach reverses the feelings and identifications of a closeted identity. In the subjectivity of the latter, heterosexuality is idealized and homosexuality dissociated. After coming out, being gay is idealized, while disapproving feelings are denied. Therapeutic holding entails being able to contain both sides (Winnicott, 1986).
When gay patients understand their own antihomosexual attitudes–and the defenses against them–they have a wider view of themselves. As patients feel more comfortable with themselves, they may begin to feel more comfortable with others. Not only does this encourage self-awareness, increase self-esteem and enhance the quality of relationships, it helps a patient more accurately assess the implications of coming out. If a patient chooses to come out, the decision needs to be carefully explored. Conversely, the same is true if a patient decides not to come out.
Given the social stigma, the severity of antihomosexual attitudes in the culture and the difficulties associated with revealing one’s sexual identity, why would a gay person come out at all? „Most frequently coming out involves choices about how to handle moments of ordinary, daily conversation“ (Magee and Miller, 1995). Furthermore, coming out offers gay people the possibility of integrating a wider range of previously split-off affects, not just their sexual feelings (Drescher et al., 2003). Greater ease in expressing themselves, both to themselves and to others, can lead to an enormous enrichment of their work and relationships. To many, such activities constitute a reasonable definition of mental health.
Coming out is probably the single hardest thing LGBT youths have to go through. PRIDE can help make the process easier, with tips and stories that will inspire you to live the open, proud life you’ve always wanted.
„Maybe you’re the first gay Bachelor and we don’t even know?!“ the comedian told the reality TV star back in 2019.
The reality TV personality and singer opened up about their gender identity in an emotional Instagram post.
The YouTube star says TikTok helped them learn more about their gender identity.
The Olympic skier and the Bachelor star are reportedly set to collaborate in an upcoming reality series.
„I’ve ran from myself for a long time,“ the reality TV star told Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts.
The 50 best gay songs to celebrate World Pride
Get ready to celebrate with these 50 gay songs and anthems to stir the heart and move the hips. Happy Pride, everyone!
The arrival of June means another Gay Pride month! What better way to celebrate than to crank up a playlist of the best gay songs? Recent years have seen nearly 40,000 people taking to the streets for the Gay Pride march in NYC, so you can expect the weekend’s best parties to be just as raucous. There will be all the classics—yup, „Y.M.C.A.”—as well as newer cuts, all about fighting back and being yourself. This playlist represents all those different eras and genres—from the best techno songs to indie diddies from the best ’90s bands. So hit play, and let your rainbow flag fly.
Gay Coming Out Movies That Everyone Will Love:Gay, Straight or Unicorn! ?
That’s probably why there are so many films that cover the subject: from high school movies to tales of discovery in later life, from passion to awkwardness.
Here we’ve gathered together some of the best gay coming out movies to suit any mood; ones we know everyone will love, no matter their experience.
Gay Coming Out Movies That Everyone Will Love: Gay, Straight or Unicorn! ?
Gay Coming Out Movies That Everyone Will Love: Gay, Straight or Unicorn! ? Desert Hearts (1986) In and Out (1997) Edge of Seventeen (1998) Get Real (1998) Loving Annabelle (2006) Pariah (2011) G.B.F. (2013) Love, Simon (2018)
How to Come Out As a Gay or Lesbian Teen
This article was co-authored by Jin S. Kim, MA. Jin Kim is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based out of Los Angeles, California. Jin specializes in working with LGBTQ individuals, people of color, and those that may have challenges related to reconciling multiple and intersectional identities. Jin received his Masters in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University Los Angeles, with a specialization in LGBT-Affirming Psychology, in 2015. There are 16 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 89% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 485,231 times.
Your sexual orientation is an important part of who you are. If you’re ready to share that with others, that’s great! Coming out can feel scary and really emotional, but that’s normal. It can also make you feel more confident and help strengthen your relationships. Spend some time thinking about why you want to come out and planning who you want to tell. Then, write down what you want to say so that you can feel prepared and have a constructive conversation. It’s also a great idea to find a support system before you come out at school.
Budweiser “Coming Home“ Video: Gay Military Theme?
THAT???? What’s gay about that? The fact that he calls his friend to tell him he’s coming home and the friend throws a homecoming party for him?
The soldier is too ugly. The people are too redneck. The beer is too shitty. No way.
One has to be blind NOT to see the girlfriend/wife figure towards the end.
If that woman is a „girlfriend/wife“, why does he call the guy and hug the guy first before touching or looking at her?
Yeah but the girlfriend is gonna confront him soon with, „You didn’t go over there to kill I-rackies!“
I think it’s deliberately ambiguous. Crypto-gay. Straights see him as his best friend; gays read them as lovers. No one gets pissed off at Budweiser. Win-win.
Because the male friend walks to him first in the party, that means there „has to“ be something between the two?
We may not get pissed at Budwiser but all that Bud turns to piss soon enough.
When I saw the commercial I was sure that there was a gay subtext. I thought it was a pretty brave commercial.
What guy comes back from Iraq, then doesn’t *kiss* his girlfriend/wife hello? He hugged the guy a lot longer.%0D %0D This was meant to be a „one size fits all“ commercial. The only reason he didn’t kiss the boyfriend is they are in the closet, either to somebody in the commercial (he is a soldier), or to the average Bud-swilling, TV commercial watching, straight customer.%0D %0D This level of coyness is so extreme, even gay-hating people are probably watching this commercial and saying, why doesn’t he just kiss the guy and get it over with? %0D %0D It’s kind of like how Kurt and Blaine had at least 10,000 opportunities to kiss before they did, but they milked it for all it was worth for the ratings. Bud probably figured the free publicity from people speculating was worth a lot.
A brave commercial? Some of you really are brainwashed idiots.
Brave because if the macho military types will start thinking of Budweiser as gay, they will not drink it. It’s a risky venture for Budweiser and brave of them to take it on.
Oh, please Anheuser-Busch is one of the largest and most profitable multinational corporations in the world. To put out this milquetoast and heavily codified commercial is not brave. It’s business as usual. Anything to make a buck off of anybody they can.
I don’t know if the soldier is gay or not, but if the woman in the video were his wife or girlfriend, he wouldn’t have hugged the guy first.
The soldier has gay face. I’m surprised no one else mentioned that yet.
That article fits into that weird sort of pro-gay homophobia where straight people like to act like they’re sensitive to orientation, but they just end up making straight guys even more hung up on being able to show a little man love. This kind of stuff drives me nuts. Men should be encouraged to love on each other more without us always tittering and pointing out some homosexual subtext.
The more I think about it, maybe we do it with heterosexual people too and like joking whenever you can imply people are banging in secret. Prudish view of sex? American immaturity? Maybe I’m just being annoying on this one.
When I saw this commercial the other day (before seeing this article)I assumed the guy was the soldier’s brother. At the end the first woman who hugs him is his mother (as seen earlier in the commercial when the older couple, presumably his parents, get the call). The second woman looks too old to be his girlfriend.%0D %0D I guess it could be taken any way you’d want to, but I think Budweiser is too conservative to put out a blatently gay commercial.
Another theory is that the open interpretation is just meant to draw more people into the sentimentality of the commercial, which makes it a better marketing peace to a wider audience. People with brothers in the military can imagine brothers. People with best friends can imagine best friends. People with lovers can imagine lovers. It might not be subtext, just a narrative technique to expand commonality.
This ad has now been tagged by Youtube as „inappropriate for some users“ !!!%0D %0D How does this happen and how can it be unblocked?%0D %0D
r16, could have been a play on the saying „save the best for last“ which is sometimes used in big drama farewell (and arriving) scenes in movies and TV shows.
I agree it’s very ambiguous and by focussing on the male friendship could be considered gay friendly and downright homoerotic (with their phone conversation at the beginning) and his friend being sleepy or lying in a bed in the dark which does seem very intimate.
[quote]The soldier is too ugly. The people are too redneck. The beer is too shitty. No way.%0D %0D Right. Thanks for the reminder that all gays are ravishingly handsome urban sophisticates, and oenophile snobs.
The soldier has asexual baby-face, zero sex appeal and looks too young to be drinking. I guess you could see it either way, but it wouldn’t have occured to me that it was „gay“ if I hadn’t read all this before seeing it.
Wha? He looks about 33. The ad was a bit too „Philadelphia“ IMO.
The past week has been very busy and I am exhausted after my whirlwind trip last weekend to see my kids. I went back home to Panama City, FL. My Kids and Mom were very excited that I was Coming Home. Going back home is something I rarely do except for that annual pilgrimage to make the family happy, that was until my kids moved back. There are many reasons why I don’t like going back home. It represents a log of things but the biggest thing it represents is stagnation. It is as if the town has just stopped in time. Many of the folks in the old home circle have not changed much and are just living the same old lives that they have always lived. It lacks the fire and passion of progress and I have come to embrace being progressive and moving forward. The best way to describe it is that I have just out grown my child hood hometown.
I actually surprised the kids by coming in a day earlier than I had originally planned. They were very excited and it was such joy to see their faces light up with glee. It was great to see the kids and have the opportunity to see their school. It was a very fast paced weekend and just hearing the schedule alone is enough to wear one out, but I forged on and had a great weekend visit with the kids. We actually celebrated my sons 13th birthday, his first soccer game of the season and his first soccer game in six years.
My son wanted a sleep over and due to his Mom living with her boyfriend in a small trailer in a trailer park and most his friends live in affluent neighborhoods, I rented a room at the local Holiday Inn for the sleepover. Yes, there I was with five twelve and thirteen year old boys in one room of a hotel. The hotel did have an indoor pool and my son brought his X-Box 360 Connect I gave him for Christmas. The hotel had free wifi, and while the boys played Xbox until the wee hours of the morning I worked vigilantly on my school work as I picked the final weekend of my class to go on a trip.
Sunday morning came early after a late night and I drug the boys and myself to church with my Mom and daughter. This was my home church that I grew up in mostly and in which my Dad grew up in also. My Dad’s parents were founding members some ninety-five years ago. The church is a fundamental southern Pentecostal church with modern worship but holding on to the past as much as they can. We sat in the balcony during the service. It seemed that the church had changed quite a bit since I was there last two years ago, but it seemed as though I had also changed quite a bit. In fact if I lived back home again (which I thank God I don’t) I would be in the same quandary that I currently am over attending church. I have not been to church since January. I want to go to church but the only gay affirming pentecostal church in the area is sort of backwards. I know that sounds a bit persnickety but I am a persnickety kind of fellow and that is just how it is. I hope my Pastor understands but I am quite sure he does not, as I never hear peep-turkey from him.
After church on Sunday we went to my son’s other Grandma’s house for his party. We let all of the boys run wild and have an air soft war. They really had a blast shooting at each other and of course I did not have to worry about entertaining them. It was a win-win for all. My son made out like a bandit when it was time for the gifts. I as usual over did it and gave him a Samsung smart phone and it made all of his friends jealous. One of the highlights of life is doting over my kids. Some may disagree, but none the less it is my thing and I do a swell job at it.
All in all it was a great home-coming. I did not enjoy being back in that two-bit backward town but I did enjoy the time I shared with the kids. Those are the times that are priceless. I will be going back in May for my daughters dance recital and celebration of her 10th birthday, and then again in June for my 25th reunion. Yikes!!!! twenty-five years out of high school? Yes, it is true but I am still young, youthful and it is all in the attitude. Attitude is everything. That is why I keep a good attitude about being away from the kids because I know that no matter what they are always with me because they are in my heart. If they are in my heart then they are home because truly “Home Is Where The Heart Is”.
Going home can be painful for many and for me it does remind me of the painful life I left behind, but because I choose to have the right attitude it also reminds me of how much I have grown. It also reminds me of how blessed I am with the new life I have built and the new home in D.C. that I have made. No longer will I regret going home but instead I will embrace it and no it is not permanent but it is just a short homecoming with old friends and loved ones.
Until next time stay well and be happy because “Home Is Where Your Heart Is”.
About This Article
Coming out as gay or lesbian can be a big step, especially as a teen, but with a little planning, it should go more smoothly. Start by telling your closest friends and family members who you think will be supportive, so you can get used to telling people about your sexuality. For example, say something like, „This might be a surprise to you, but I wanted to let you know that I’m gay. I’ve known for a while, but I’m finally confident enough to come out.“ If you don’t want them to share your news with anyone else, make this clear so you’ll be in control of who knows. Be prepared for a range of reactions, like surprise, confusion, denial, and sadness. Hopefully everyone’s really happy about you coming out, but some people can take a little time to get used to the idea. If you’re worried about your parents kicking you out or getting mad at you, consider waiting until you live alone to tell them. For more advice from our co-author, including how to deal with homophobia at school, read this summary help you?YesNo
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1. “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor
It starts off slowly, shrouded in fear; then the beat kicks in, the song builds in confidence, and by the end, now backed by a string section, it’s a full-bore disco anthem of self-assurance. On its beautiful face, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” is about a woman getting over the guy who done her wrong; but in 1978, as gay liberation was gathering steam in heated nightclubs around the world, it also played like an declaration of hard-won pride (“I used to cry / But now I hold my head up high”) and independence from the hetero norm (“I’m not that chained-up little person still in love with you”). In the 1980s, when AIDS wiped out tens of thousands of those celebrants, the song took on new layers of resonance. Today „I Will Survive“ carries all of that baggage, and lifts it up along with the spirits of anyone who hears its message. Did you think we’d crumble? Did you think we’d lay down and die? Think again. We’re going to dance.—Adam Feldman
3. “Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland
For generations who grew up as “friends of Dorothy,” yearning to escape into a realm of Technicolor urban fantasy, the tacit gay national anthem was Garland’s wistful ballad from 1939’s The Wizard of Oz (with a gorgeous melody by Harold Arlen and touching lyrics by social activist E.Y. “Yip” Harburg). Garland’s later performances of the song on TV and in concert—older, battered by life, but still dreaming of a happier place—had even greater power. But even now that so many closet doors have opened, “Over the Rainbow”—and don’t you dare call it “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” lest someone threaten to revoke your gay card—still inspires pride and reverence. Listening to it feels like saluting the rainbow flag.—Adam Feldman
4. “Vogue” by Madonna
„Look around: Everywhere you turn is heartache.“ That’s not exactly a fluffy opening shot for a dance-pop song—and that’s the point. Recorded at the height of America’s AIDS crisis and inspired by New York’s underground gay ball scene (famously documented in the 1991 film Paris Is Burning), Madonna’s deep-house–inflected 1990 smash commands you to leave the heavy stuff aside—if only for a few minutes—and find salvation on the dance floor. Nearly a quarter century later, this classic track from one of the most gay-beloved artists of all time sounds no less imperative.—Ethan LaCroix
5. “Black Me Out” by Against Me!
Singer Laura Jane Grace has always been a revolutionary—see songs like „Baby I’m an Anarchist“—but nothing rebelled as deeply against the heteropatriarchal terrain of the punk music mainstream than her explorations of coming out as a trans woman on her pivotal album Transgender Dysphoria Blues. This song isn’t a feel-good tune—it’s a glaring middle finger to those that keep you from claiming and presenting your authentic self. Bash back and scream along: „I want to piss on the walls of your house.“
7. “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross
Yes, this song is about that kind of „coming out.“ Chic’s Nile Rodgers was inspired to write this funky 1980 gem for Diana Ross after seeing multiple drag queens dressed as the iconic singer at a gay disco in New York. For her part, Ross was in the process of extracting herself from her long relationship with Motown when „I’m Coming Out“ arrived on the charts, giving the song additional significance for the music legend. Today, Ross still opens her shows with „I’m Coming Out,“ and the song remains a quintessential anthem of liberation—gay or otherwise.—Ethan LaCroix
8. “Y.M.C.A.” by Village People
For any guy who’s ever wanted to be (or sleep with) a cowboy, cop or leather-clad biker, the Village People reign supreme as gay-anthem chart toppers. Songs like „Macho Man,“ „Go West,“ „Cruisin'“ and „In the Navy“ are full of double entendres, and 1978’s „Y.M.C.A.“—which became one of the most popular singles of the 1970s—is no different. In fact, the Young Men’s Christian Association was so appalled at the song’s implications that it threatened to sue, until it noticed that membership had significantly increased in the wake of the tune’s success. Turns out any press is good press—eh, boys?—Kate Wertheimer
Desert Hearts (1986)
Desert Hearts is one of the most iconic lesbian movie titles because it was the first film about a female same-sex relationship that didn’t involve a man or a tragic ending: utterly groundbreaking.
It also breaks the mold for being a coming-out movie that doesn’t focus on the tender teenage years. Set in Reno, Nevada, it follows the blossoming love between a reserved English professor and a young, impulsive sculptor, whose energy and boldness starts to draw her out of her shell. With stunning scenery and complex characterization, this is proof that it’s never too late to learn who you are.
In and Out (1997)
Indiana resident Howard is outed by a former pupil in an Oscar acceptance speech, to the shock of his family, co-workers, fiancée and himself. Through the confusion that follows Howard has to accept his feelings and admit to himself and others that he’s gay, which he does in a quite a remarkable setting (no spoilers!).
Although it was criticized for its somewhat ‘asexual’ portrayal of gayness, it took steps in bringing conversations about being gay into the mainstream (as did Love, Simon 20 years later) and presents an enjoyable mix of humor and acceptance. One to see, for sure.
Edge of Seventeen (1998)
This comedy-drama perfectly captures the turbulence and confusion of being a teenager and coming to terms with your sexuality. Not to mention the fact that there’s an excellent 80s soundtrack going on. No matter what your experience, everyone will love this story of coming out.
Set in Ohio in 1984, it tells the story of Eric, a music-obsessed high school student, and his summer of discovery with a co-worker and at a local gay bar. There is experimenting with clothing, there is a heartbreaking subplot with a female friend; a standout moment is when Eric comes out to his mother. It’s bittersweet and poignant while maintaining a sense of fun.
Get Real (1998)
A great British addition to this list, Get Real is a fresh and youthful story about what it’s like to grow up gay. Stephen is a sensitive and lonely student in conservative Basingstoke who keeps his sexuality hidden out of fear of what could happen to him at school if he didn’t. A chance encounter leads to a romance with high-school hero John.
Their blossoming relationship shows the pain of having to deny who you are; there is a heartbreaking scene where John beats up Stephen to keep his cover. At the same time, there is an important message, unsentimentally told: we are who we are, and the best thing to do is to accept that. A gay coming out movie with value.
Loving Annabelle (2006)
This is a morally ambiguous coming out movie that packs a huge emotional punch. A repressed teacher at a Catholic high school in LA is pursued by one of her pupils who, while a minor, is mature, intelligent and considerably more sexually experienced. Director Katherine Brooks deliberately doesn’t judge, allowing the viewer to feel how they authentically would.
It’s interesting to watch a film flip the usual conventions: here, it’s not the high school student struggling to come out, but the adult character. Aside from that, there’s also great sexual chemistry and a powerful love scene – an important addition to gay cinema at the time.
This authentic film is about a 17-year-old African American living in Brooklyn trying to discover who she is and assert her place in the world. Alike’s family don’t approve of her clothing choices or openly lesbian friend, but her process of coming to terms with her identity takes place with calm determination.
Pariah was awarded the Excellence in Cinematography Award at Sundance for good reason: it looks stunning. The performances are similarly impressive, with Adepero Oduye beautifully conveying Alike’s curiosity and anticipation. It’s a coming out movie with universal emotion.
A fun teen comedy that offers a different slant on your usual gay coming out movies. Here it’s not necessarily the process of coming out that takes the whole focus, but it’s what happens afterwards. Tanner comes out at his New Jersey school, starting a battle between the three most popular girls to make him their Gay Best Friend.
It’s got all the usual teen comedy standards (prom features heavily) but also carries an important message about not being a ‘token’ or a symbol. It’s thoroughly good-natured and a great gay movie for when you don’t want anything too heavy.
Love, Simon (2018)
The thing about Love, Simon is that it’s really just your standard teen rom-com, but with a gay protagonist and a sweet coming-out story. It is the first major Hollywood film to focus on a gay teenage romance, bringing gay characters unashamedly into the mainstream.
Simon is a closeted high school pupil in Atlanta, Georgia. When he discovers that someone else at his high school is also gay, he begins an anonymous email flirtation and takes steps towards finally being able, to be honest about who he is. It contains a lot of the tropes of teen movies – impassioned speeches at football matches, misunderstandings at Halloween parties – while treating its coming-out story with sensitivity and warmth.
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Last year I got a call from an administrator at a Midwestern seminary with a reputation for its “take no prisoners” conservative theology. He had permission to conduct a series of seminars on hot-button issues like abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage. His plan was to bring in a succession of speakers, one to take the pro side of an issue, followed by a second to present the opposing view.
I took a deep breath. I knew what was coming next. “We want you to take the pro side on homosexuality,” he said.
“Yippee,” I thought. “I get to argue for Satan.” So I asked him, “Why me?” Why me indeed…. Several years earlier I had given a reading on the same campus. It was from my novel. But I hadn’t come out as gay then, only as a Baptist. Years before, I made the decision that the only time I should feel obligated to reveal my sexual orientation was when there was something positive in it for me—like a quick way to get rid of a Jehovah’s Witness. I don’t owe anyone that information, especially someone with the scriptural dexterity to bless me in one breath and to condemn me to hell in the next.
“Actually,” the caller said, “I had heard you were gay before you showed up.” He told me that when the dean found out I was coming, he had done his best to cancel my reading. I had not known at the time that my gay presence was sufficient to cause a scandal. What would happen if I were to actually talk about it?
The administrator pleaded his case. “I want you to come here not only because you’re gay, but because you’re religious. You’ve obviously held on to your spiritual beliefs.”
I didn’t tell him I’d been able to retain my faith by steering clear of the hateful fundamentalists that universities like his turned out. Instead, I lied and told him I’d think about it.
“Well, I can’t blame you if you say ‘no,’” he added. “In fact, I might lose my job over asking you. But I think it’s worth it.”
“Great,” I thought. “He’ll get fired and I’ll get crucified. Who could refuse an offer like that?” I saw absolutely nothing redemptive in it for me. I’ve been involved in public debates about gay rights and gay marriage in which I actually got the better of my opponent. But once the exchange was over, I came to realize few minds had been changed, and that some hearts had actually hardened. Besides, the people at this particular school were the same religious fanatics I had fled in Mississippi as a young man. I knew already how sessions like these could turn out: each side using every trick in its holy book to destroy the spiritual legitimacy of the other side. And this guy was asking me to step once again into that lion’s den?
Still, the administrator’s request tugged at me. Maybe if I tried one more time, things would turn out differently. Thomas Wolfe famously wrote, “You can’t go home again.” Well, perhaps Wolfe was only half right. You can never go home again, but you can never leave completely, either. I suspect the unfinished stories of home will haunt us all until the day we die, creating a never-ending succession of possibilities to get it right. To say “to hell with you!” and slam the door isn’t healthy closure, but that’s how I had exited my Christian community in Mississippi.
I decided I would say no to the request, but I couldn’t tell my contact that I was really declining his invitation because I was terrified of being rejected. After all, I was apparently the only homosexual he had come across who actually believed in God, so I had to keep up the image for what to him must be a very select group of gays. So I did what I usually do when I need to make a purely emotional decision appear rational: I turned to Google. I entered the name of the school and the word “homosexuality” into the search engine. My aim was to find a way to blame these fundamentalist Christians for being so hopeless that I wasn’t going to waste my time on them.
The first hit was an anonymous letter, written by one of the seminary’s own students to a gay support group, pleading for help. He wrote about being a Christian, a closeted gay, and suicidal. “From the outside, I appear much like any other student on campus,” he wrote. “I am a Christian, dedicated to my family, my friends, and my academic career. I am also gay. I came close to committing suicide several times, but God had been looking out for me. He had given me one friend on this campus with whom I could be totally honest. I believe that were it not for him, I would not be here today. One day, I hope that we can be seen for who we truly are, as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.”
This student’s poignant testimony of desperation and isolation, his love for a church that rejects him, these brought me back to my own youth. As a boy, I too was desperate for some adult to say, “I know just how you feel. I was afraid, too. But look at me. I survived. So will you.”
Now I couldn’t refuse the invitation without rejecting this young man, and by the same token, rejecting that kid inside me who is still waiting for some adult to stand up for him. I guessed this terrified adult was going to have to do the job for both young men.
I’ve been speaking to groups for much of my life, but what scared me about this invitation was that, for the first time, I would be showing up as a “professional homosexual.” I would no longer be in charge of how, when, or whether I came out. No, the only thing people would know about me beforehand is that I am gay. And to them I would represent all their feelings and judgments about gay folks, a cumulative response over which I had no control. I was stumped about how to even begin.
A participant in a workshop I lead called “Daring to Tell Your Story” helped me clarify my thinking. “Don’t debate them,” Betsy advised. “Just tell your story and let them tell you theirs, like we do in class.”
But as we say in a sobriety program I attend, “Simple, but not easy.” As a gay man, I have several versions of my story, depending on what the occasion might call for. There is the political “I pay taxes, too,” version, and the religiously challenging “Jesus never mentioned it” version. I have an aggrieved “Look how you’ve oppressed me” presentation, and a militant “I’m queer and get over it” one. But Betsy was suggesting something different: that I get beyond the urge to use my story as a strategy. Instead, as writer John Cournos advises, I should relate my personal truth to a more universal one, what theologian Miroslav Volf calls “a moral obligation to remember truthfully.” That means telling my story without embellishing it, tidying it up, or turning it into a morality play with clear-cut villains, victims, and saints. It meant including unresolved tensions and all, even if my doubts and mistakes would give others ammunition to use against me. And so I accepted the invitation.
When I walked to the podium that night and scanned a room of budding fundamentalist preachers, I discovered the place was only partially filled. Most in the audience were faculty and female students. Hanging in the back was a crowd of young guys who eyed me suspiciously, still deciding whether this talk was for them, and what exactly their attendance might say about their own testosterone levels. I nervously blurted out the first thing that came to my mind: “Hello, I’m the gay guy!” It was meant to be humorous, but the silence was so thorough that I could hear them breathing.
“OK,” I told myself, “don’t be clever. Just tell the truth. If they walk out, they walk out.” I began again. “When I got the invitation to come speak today, it was a no-brainer.” I looked directly at the young men massed in the back of the room: “Not in a million years!” I noticed a few smirks, but at least we shared some common ground. We all would rather be somewhere else.
“I’d like to say I’m happy to be here today,” I continued, “but I’d be starting our relationship with a lie. Right now, you are the folks I grew up with. The folks I fled over thirty years ago and have kept running from: my family, my community, my church. You were my first family, and families know how to wound you the deepest. So today I just need to say I’m not here because I want to convert you, or change you, or sway you, or make you like me. I’m here because whether I like it or not, you are in my life and I need to somehow make peace with that part of my life.”
Then I told them that “peace” is the last word I would use to describe such forums. All we seem to learn from such exchanges is how to fight one another better the next time. Yes, I told the audience, I did want gay marriage. I told them how much I love my partner, Jim, but that I was just about through with public controversy. I explained that it was a Google search on this seminary and homosexuality that had changed my mind about speaking, specifically the anonymous letter from a student at their university.
I noticed that people began looking furtively at one another, as if the author might be in the room. I told the audience about this student’s fear and depression, his thoughts of suicide. I described his desire to walk with his brothers and sisters in Christ, but also his terror at what might happen if they ever found out who he really was. I told them what he wrote rang true to my own experience growing up in a Christian community. The last thing on his mind was the gay-marriage debate. He was operating in survival mode. That’s why I accepted their invitation to speak.
We were all breathing differently now. Even the guys in the back had nonchalantly drifted into the room. Others, who had been listening from the hallway, began to file inside, until finally all the chairs were filled and people stood lining the walls.
I told them of my own journey into adulthood as a gay man, as a professional, a Christian “with all the answers.” I told them how my life collapsed when I came to the realization that my answers were right, but I had spent all those years asking the wrong questions. Then I told them my story of being a Southern gay Christian alcoholic, or as a friend puts it, a queer, Bible-banging, redneck drunk. It was the first time I had let all these carefully segregated, contradictory parts of my history loose in a single place at the same time.
I ended by sharing a story about my conservative, fundamentalist father. It was the day I finally asked him if he thought I was going to hell. “Johnny,” he had said, “I believe every word in the Bible is God’s literal truth, and the way I read it, it says homosexuality is wrong.” But then he continued, “And I know my son. I know for a fact that he is not evil.” He nodded once, and then said decisively, “I guess both are going to have to be true.”
A sign of genius, someone said, is the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts in your mind at the same time. I told the students that my father had died the year before. “I’m not sure I ever lived up to his expectations,” I said. “I know I haven’t lived up to mine. But it has been a comfort to know that there could be a God who doesn’t hold that against me—who can say, ‘You have failed and you are perfect.’ I guess both will have to be true.” As I said this, I found myself fighting back tears. How strange, I thought, that I have never felt closer to my late father than standing before this group of fundamentalist Christians.
The talk took about fifty minutes. When it was over, a pall of silence hung over the room. Then a few people started to clap, then a few more. Someone stood, and whether it was contagious enthusiasm or peer pressure, I received a standing ovation. “Oh, great,” I couldn’t help thinking, “now they feel sorry for me.”
But something interesting happened next, during the Q and A. The questions were not the ones I had expected. Instead, students asked thoughtfully about my life and my struggle with religion. “How do you as a gay man experience the presence of Christ in your life?” “How do you handle Christians who reject you without knowing your story?” “If your parents had not accepted you, what do you think you would have done?”
The questions were not accusatory, but intimate and inviting. I was able to talk of my struggles, of my own ambivalence about a topic that is usually presented only in black and white, pro and con. It was their obvious concern for me as a person and a Christian that allowed me to go deep within myself to respond to them.
And then, there were no more questions—only a flood of stories. Some told tearfully of brothers and sisters who are gay, and whom they had been taught to reject. Others told how friends had come out to them, and how poorly equipped they felt when it came to offering support. About how the admonition to “hate the sin but love the sinner” proved woefully inadequate when the sinner happened to be a person they cared for deeply.
I understood the dynamic—how story elicits story—but I had not anticipated the commonality of the stories told that evening. They were sharing with me how they had also been wounded by their religion’s intolerance toward homosexuals. Caring and idealistic, these young people still believed that love has the power to remake the world. It hurt them to be asked to mistrust their deepest instincts, the ones that had led them to ministry.
I would like to say everybody involved went on to live happily ever after, but life doesn’t work that way. A few professors whose students were at the session complained to the dean about my being allowed to speak. Some of the seminarians attending the session decided to push for a campus support group for friends of the GLBT community. The dean, alarmed, charged a committee to create a list of faculty and students who challenged the institution’s policy on homosexuality.
Was it worth it? For the institution, I hope so. I don’t know whether the courageous man who invited me will keep his job, or what he might have to do to retain it. I’m fairly certain I will not be asked to speak again anytime soon. As I feared, the student body may have become even more polarized over the issue than before. But it was worth it for me as a Christian. In the most unlikely of places, I had experienced a coming home. Such a coming home is not a matter of conquest or retribution, of finally getting the love, respect, or apologies that are your due. Rather, simply by telling your story, your truth, without the expectation of gain or the dread of loss, a person is set free. I came away with a new understanding of the very old saying that while facts can help explain us, only stories can save us—and, I hope, others.
Related: Luke Timothy Johnson and Eve Tushnet, Homosexuality & the Church: Two ViewsAnonymous, Sins of AdmissionUntouchable
Jonathan Odell is a writer, consultant and keynote speaker, and the author of the novel The View from .
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