I interviewed my friend Chloe, who I went to high school with. They spoke about how they were outed by their mom finding text messages on their phone, and how their parents initially had a negative reaction. Although she came out as bisexual at first, she realized she was experiencing compulsory heterosexuality and had to come out again, this time as a lesbian. Her mother was much more understanding the second time she came out, and her family became more accepting of her identity.
She notes that coming out was also a freeing experience for her, as she no longer had to hide who she was or worry about people finding out. She felt more comfortable making decisions about herself, such as getting a pixie cut she had wanted for a while. We discussed how the town we grew up in and the college town where she lives now are relatively accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, and how this contributed to a more positive coming out experience. On another note, although she tends to be very open about her sexuality, her religious upbringing has impacted how she presents herself in certain contexts.
I also wanted to know about the natural contexts in which she finds herself telling this story. Usually, it’s in situations where she’s with other gay people, such as her school’s Alliance group. We discussed how jokes are a casual way many people come out, and they shared some jokes friends have used to come out to them. Finally, we discussed how their experience with their gender identity differed from their experience coming out as a lesbian.
Although Chloe experienced some immediate negative consequences after being outed, there were some notable benefits once she was able to be open about her identity.
As she mentioned, coming out relieved a lot of anxiety for her. I believe her story about getting her hair cut really exemplifies how she was able to embrace who she is. Even though she had wanted to cut her hair for a long time, she only went through with it after coming to terms with her sexuality, showing that she had gained the confidence to make this decision about her appearance.
Another positive aspect of coming out stories is the opportunity to share them with others who have had similar experiences. The 2011 article “Coming Out Stories” by Toni A. H. McNaron explains the significance of coming out stories within the LGBTQ+ community:
“Coming out stories, both written and oral, have for many years been a staple of lesbian and gay culture building. No matter how sophisticated or theoretical we become, when groups of lesbians or gay men congregate, a usual suggestion is to share coming out stories. The coming out experience is so important that it tends to be the focus of a great deal of gay and lesbian literature, including novels and short stories”
Source: McNaron, T. A. H. (2011). Coming Out Stories. GLBTQ Literature, 1-3.
Chloe is a co-president in the Alliance group at their college, and the group has a meeting every year where they share coming out stories. She explains, “I tend to rehash a little bit of my coming out story, typically not in too much detail but enough detail to get people comfortable enough to start talking.” Coming out stories appear to play an important role in the space this group has made for themselves, as a way for members to bond and get to know each other. She notes that most of the people in her life who want to know about her story are also LGBTQ+. It seems natural that it’s more of a talking point within the community, since anyone who’s openly gay will likely be able to relate.
“There’s not many straight people that ask me about my coming out story. It’s like other people within the community that want to know about it, typically, or, or just really good allies, who knows.”
There are many factors that can influence a person’s coming out experience. In Chloe’s case, their family and upbringing had an impact. They joked that their father’s side of the family has the “gay genes,” while their mother’s side has a lot of Catholic people, creating a noticeable difference. She explains: “…Every time that I am in a Catholic church, I’m very very kept to myself and quiet about it, about being gay. Just because I don’t know quite how people are going to react in a Catholic church, ‘cause I don’t know how strongly they feel about certain things.” Since she was raised as part of a group that historically hasn’t accepted identities like hers, she has remained cautious about presenting this identity in certain situations. However, she also believes that growing up where she did was beneficial to her. She points out, “…it’s real lucky that I grew up in a town that people are, for the most part, okay, with everyone just vibing so long as you’re not hurting anyone.” We agreed that our hometown, a suburb in central Ohio, has a mixture of political ideologies and doesn’t have a heavy lean in any direction. Coming out in a region where a decent amount of people were accepting led to a much more positive experience — if she lived in a heavily conservative area, for instance, she likely would have had many more obstacles to overcome. Additionally, being part of a younger generation has led to more acceptance. She states that while there is confusion among older people sometimes, most people our age have been understanding. And, living in a college town now, most people they encounter don’t take issue with LGBTQ+ identities.
These factors contributed to an overall experience that was “middle ground,” as Chloe puts it. “It wasn’t as positive as it could have been and I definitely got some very bad memories out of it… but at the same time, I’m still lucky enough to be able to speak to my family about it and be open about it,” they explain.
Chloe was very open about both the good and bad aspects of their story. They didn’t shy away from many of the more unpleasant parts of their experience, but they kept the tone light while discussing them. While the subject matter was obviously important to her, the interview mostly felt like a casual conversation between friends. Having known her for many years, I was able to gain an understanding of why she considers her experience to be “middle ground.” Notably, however, the benefits of her coming out experience seem to have outlasted many of the negative aspects — she has gained self-confidence and has even been able to use her story to help others feel comfortable.