The expression “coming out” is primarily associated with sexuality, especially the LGBT movement. Capital Pride in Washington, D.C., is currently showcasing events, parades, and just all-around fun-ness (or at least openness) for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
I previously discussed the importance of being genuine and how authenticity often conflicts with group-formation and acceptance by others. The gay community has done a kick-ass job over the past few decades of creating an inviting community to free the sexual minority from its fears.
“We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!” was perhaps a bit over-the-top at first – but it worked. People are used to it. In fact, the general populace’s acceptance of gay relations has grown faster in the past decade than acceptance of premarital sex and divorce. People are nearly twice as accepting of gay relations as they are of pornography. I don’t know if parades and general flamboyance are the uniting force behind the growing acceptance of homosexuality, but what is clear is that the growth in the movement is not due to more people becoming gay, but more people accepting themselves and coming out in an increasingly tolerant society.
I suspect that being gay in 2013 is a hell of a lot easier than it was in 1953. More community, more communication, more options. In DC, one can find a gay lover at any of several clubs, bars, and websites, and can even walk with a same-sex significant other, hand-in-hand, without much disapproval. So while it’s easier to come out in 2013, it still may not be easy. Being non-mainstream can be terrifying to many, even when a supportive community exists.
I think that fears of being unconventional are entirely justified, especially when being unconventional is correlated with a history of abuse. No wonder people want to fit it; it can be positively painful to be different, particularly when it can’t be controlled. (And, no, being gay is not a decision.) When people are criticized, ostracized, rejected, or abused for their identities or beliefs, they are victims of bullying. Bullying is not just about kids being pushed around and their lunch money stolen; rather, it is about intimidation and abuse, and it can happen at any stage in life and in any social setting. Bullying prevents the love, empathy, and acceptance necessary for people to feel comfortable exposing their true selves.
Capital Pride is just one of many ways in which bullies are being stared down and their abuse challenged. But abuse isn’t limited to sexuality; we’re still trying to eradicate the unkind slur “retard,” for example. The more open and genuine people are, the less unconventional (and scary) they seem, and the more seamlessly they can be accepted by the rest of society. What are some other lifestyles, beliefs, and identities that are currently misunderstood and oppressed? And how can we, as a society, encourage people to open up, own their identities, and live without fear?