Why Coming Out Is a Prerequisite to Membership in the Gay Community
This post is also available in: Русский
The following is adapted from A Gay Man’s Guide to Life.
On first read, “coming out is a prerequisite to membership in the gay community” might sound like a contentious statement, but let me explain.
I’m an openly gay man, and while I think it’s easy for our community to get lost in our own Byzantine taxonomy—gay, bi, bear, otter, wolf, etc.—I acknowledge that any community invariably involves labeling. The application of our distinctions helps us recognize one another.
One such distinction is the difference between “gay” (a cultural identity) and “homosexual” (a sexual orientation). If you accept this distinction, then coming out is a prerequisite to membership in the gay community.
Coming out is an important milestone in any gay man’s life, so let’s take a real look at what it means to come out and be an active member of the gay community.
Joining the Gay Community
Until you come out, you might experience same-sex attraction, or engage in same-sex behaviors. You might even identify homosexuality as your fixed sexual orientation. But until you are living the life, you are not yet gay, not yet part of the culture. And it’s impossible to fully live this life without coming out.
Living as an openly gay man does not mean you live in a coastal, urban center. It does not mean you have a high-paying job. It does not mean you go to circuit parties, or love fashion, or cut hair for a living. It does not mean any of the other clichés, tropes, or caricatures that the mass media perpetuates about us.
It just means you embrace all of yourself, including your sexual orientation, and that you support the liberation of other gay men and all people in the LGBTQIA+ community.
There is no one way to be gay. Being gay cannot be quantified—nobody is “gayer” than anyone else. You either join the community, or you don’t. What out gay men have in common is that we live openly and honestly, and that we support one another.
Coming Out Is Not a Singular Experience
Coming out is rarely a one-time event, and can often be a daily process. Sure, there was the moment when we first came out to our friends and loved ones, and when we tell our coming out stories, that’s often what we are referring to.
But if we commit to living openly and honestly, we will find ourselves routinely disclosing the realities of our lives to a variety of people: whenever someone assumes we are straight, and we correct them; and whenever someone makes a derogatory comment about a fellow member of our community, and we speak our truth. If we marry our stories to any of these experiences, they are all different ways of coming out.
Just as coming out is not a singular experience, closeting is not a singular experience, either. We choose to closet ourselves in many situations over the course of our lives, for all sorts of reasons, usually having to do with personal safety. It may be that we came out years (even decades) ago, yet at some point find ourselves in a situation where we yield to fear.
Perhaps we fear missing out on a promotion, losing our job, being denied housing, or being physically assaulted. The reality of our world is that sometimes these decisions are righteous. They are sacred, personal choices, about which none of us should apply moral judgments.
Community Makes Each of Us Stronger
Sometimes, the LGBTQIA+ community can seem like a strange and unlikely collection of disparate groups: an uneasy coalition of outcasts, united to fight for similar issues, if not for a single, common cause. But it’s a strong community, and joining it by coming out is a defining moment in a gay man’s life.
Coming out is a deeply personal moment worth celebrating and respecting, no matter when or how many times it happens. The most loving thing we can do is welcome brothers into our community with open arms, as they are ready, no questions asked.
For more advice on self-improvement for gay men, you can find A Gay Man’s Guide to Life on Amazon.
Britt East is an author and speaker who uses his experience, strength, and hope to challenge and inspire change-oriented gay men to get down to the business of improving their lives. With over two decades of personal growth and development experience in a variety of modalities, such as the 12 Steps, Nonviolent Communication, yoga, meditation, talk therapy, and the Hoffman Process, Britt is committed to building a personal practice of self-discovery that he can then share with gay men everywhere. He lives in Seattle with his husband and their crazy dog. Learn more about him at britteast.com.