25 Cents’ Worth: The trials and triumphs of coming out

While coming out is empowering, being forced to do it defeats the compelling nature of this act.

Most queer people are familiar with this scene. One clears their throat, as they nervously stand at the center of their living room. They look around the room where their family sits tight, each one intent on listening to what they have to say. It is momentous—nerve-wracking, even. One could cut the tension with a knife. Their lips slowly open as they try to utter the words: “I’m gay.”

These moments illustrate our general perception of what it means to come out. It is an expression of one’s sexual identity, providing queer people a way to identify with a community through shared experiences, adversities, and interests. In this way, LGBTQ+ individuals are finally allowed to be unapologetically themselves.

The act of coming out has therefore become a tradition among the queer community, with many  encouraged—or even expected—to partake in it. This has indirectly caused undue pressure on some closeted LGBTQ+ individuals who aren’t ready to come out. Instead of freedom, the result is the opposite: the claustrophobic feeling of society’s undue expectations of queerness.

So, I’m queer

Coming out reinforces that queerness is a simple defiance of the status quo. The term, “coming out,” was the gay man’s equivalent of a woman’s debutante ball into high society. But instead of suitable bachelors, coming out became an opportunity for them to seek found family within the queer community. 

When an LGBTQ+ identifying individual comes out, it comes with a sense of belonging to a greater collective and for a greater purpose. It was during the monumental Stonewall Movement of 1969 that “coming out” became a form of activism in the queer liberation movement; what started as an opportunity for visibility amid years of heteronormative social patterns turned into a symbol of courage and defiance. Any visibility, even as simple as tolerance, was cause for colorful celebration. 

The rise of social media allowed queer content creators to share stories about making peace with their genders and sexualities. American media personalities Troye Sivan, Joey Graceffa, and Hannah Hart became the faces of the LGBTQ+ e-space. Their influence has painted an image of queer self-identity needing to be loud and extravagant to be real. But this is difficult to echo in a country like the Philippines, where homophobia runs through the veins of its legislations, languages, and landscapes. 

Filipino actress BB Gandanghari had a multifaceted coming out journey. She came out as gay in 2006, and then shared three years later in 2009 that she was actually transgender. The former heartthrob was not spared from internalized homophobia and transphobia as she shared her regret over coming out on the show, Pinoy Big Brother. Yet, Gandanghari maintained that it was still her story to tell. “Hindi naman ako nag-out para tanggapin ng tao. Nag-out ako para magpakilala sa tao,” she said in a 2014 interview with Philstar.

(I didn’t come out to be accepted by people. I came out to introduce myself to the people.)

As far as the world has evolved on the conversation of queer acceptance, there still exists some unanswered dilemmas: is coming out an expression they owe only to themselves, their families, their core circles, or to everyone? If coming out is already a step forward for the queer liberation movement, how far does one need to go to simply garner baseline respect? 

Stepping back

The queer liberation movement has pushed for equality among all sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC). It recognizes that true freedom is only at hand once all forms of discrimination are eradicated. But these freedoms are currently more accessible for queer people who have come out, leaving out closeted individuals who most require support and empathy.

The Philippines is an aggressively conservative and predominantly Catholic country. While studies suggest that the country is tolerant of the queer community, acceptance is still far from arms’ reach. Coming out to family members may result in relatives being indifferent toward you, or they might cut you off completely. This uncertainty creates fear among queer individuals, causing many to not even attempt to come out to their family or friends.

However, coming out publicly is seen as necessary to being a full-fledged member of the LGBTQ+ community. Since it is conventionally considered a form of activism against institutionalized homophobia, queer individuals feel the need to come out. Sometimes, even differing identities call for a greater need to come out. For instance, trans people cannot be discreet with their identity, especially when they start to transition. As a result, instead of being a means to empower oneself, coming out becomes a forced phenomenon as a product of one’s external environment. 

Because one is practically announcing their queer identity, coming out could also reinforce that it is not the norm—that it is out of the ordinary. This could provide a stumbling block to those who wish for all SOGIESC to finally be socially accepted without reservations.

Ideally, coming out shouldn’t even be a need for queer individuals. They don’t need permission from anyone to do what they want to do; they should be able to live their life by their own rules. Queer people are not hurting anyone; so there is no reason for others to rain on their Pride parade.

A revolution? A revelation!

Coming out is a social expectation, founded on the belief that the cisgender heterosexual template is the norm. It should never be a prerequisite for the validation of queer existence. It’s neither a practice to be enforced nor discouraged. 

However, coming out can help someone come to terms with their sexuality. It remains a deeply personal experience for the individual. Either pushing for or against it would be a step backward for the queer heroes of the Golden Gays and Stonewall. Coming out does not have to follow a specific template. Should one choose to come out, it must be done in the spirit of self-identity.  Coming forward to tell the world, may it be to the public or within their core circles, is a large step for the fight for LGBTQ+ presence.

While there have been small developments in legislation for queer validation, it is still miles away from approval and the very aspiration of queer acceptance. As we lobby for legal frameworks that recognize the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, such as the ground-breaking SOGIE Equality Bill, it is only fitting to recognize that one’s self-acceptance is the most important step they can take for their own queer journeys. 

As flawed as the current system may be, it boils down to how people will make sense of queer visibility. From extravagant displays of rainbow embellishments to quiet, tearful epiphanies and celebrations, coming out isn’t the same scene for everyone. Should one choose to go public or make their queerness solely theirs, it is up to them to decide what coming out means for them. 

Ultimately, the goal is to eradicate heteronormativity. This way, the debate over coming out being necessary would cease to exist. All of us must respect one another’s choice in how we live our lives. The fight for queer acceptance isn’t over. But together, we can build a future where queer people don’t have to hide anymore—and where they may live their lives in all their colorful majesty.

Andy Jaluague

By Andy Jaluague

Samantha Ubiadas

By Samantha Ubiadas

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