“The closet does have a benefit. It provides safety. Which at times is important. But remember, as long as you are in there, two other things will be too. Fear and shame.” This quote by Anthony Venn-Brown, a former Australian evangelist, highlights how queer and trans individuals tend to hide who they are because of the stigma and discrimination that comes with it. Due to societal standards, non-heterosexual people are considered deviant, and asinine rhetoric rooted in biology and religion, is used to substantiate this claim. Because of their “deviancy,” queer and trans people are usually outcasted from society. However, next week, Bates College will endeavor to break down the walls that separate the LGBTQIA+ and heterosexual community by engaging everyone in Coming Out Week. Coming Out Week is supposed to bring awareness to the issues that threaten queer and trans individuals, while simultaneously providing us a platform to speak our minds and feel comfortable in our own skin. This week serves to remind queer and trans people how far we have grown after coming out as well as encourage others who haven’t had to opportunity to come out to do the same. Now coming out isn’t an easy ask because as Venn-Brown said not disclosing one’s sexuality or gender “provides safety.” Those that don’t openly identify as queer or trans don’t have to hear the demeaning questions, such as “who’s the woman in the relationship” (asking two gay men as if the purpose of being gay wasn’t to be with a man), or “which bathroom do you use” (asking a trans identifying person). Being closeted grants a reprieve from having to deal with questions that come out of curiosity which usually end up very awkward for everyone because someone decided to reach a bit too far. People who are not out also don’t have to get rude looks from people who are anti-LGBTQ+.
Now hearing about this type of hatred makes people feel inclined to not disclose their sexuality, but not disclosing can hurt a person more so than protect them. Coming out, at least for me, is like a fresh breath of air, because I personally felt like I had to hide who I was from people who I care about. I finally got to talk to people who I felt an intimate connection with and developed more authentic relationships with others. I also gained a whole new level of self-respect and self-love, because I finally could be honest with myself and others. For me, it’s important to acknowledge who I was and who I am now, because they are essentially two different people. I was a person who felt suffocated and trapped; I was a person who felt like I didn’t belong. Now I’m a person who is open-minded, grateful, and truly happy with myself. Coming out is about impressing yourself rather than going your whole life impressing others because you start to realize that the people who love you accept you no matter how you identify.
This brings me to my next point which is what it means to be an ally to queer and trans individuals. Many people go by the saying “I’m cool with them as long as they don’t try and hit on me” (as if every queer or trans individuals wants to get in their pants). This is a very common yet sad claim because not only does it hypersexualize queer and trans people, but it also shows that people do not intend on getting to understand why this group is oppressed, as well as how their stereotypes add on to the oppression. Coming Out Week is as much for heterosexuals as it is for queer and trans people because it helps them understand others stories and come to terms with how they might help endorse certain stereotypes. Being an ally is about actively listening to others and ensuring them that they have a friend who cares. Therefore, next week I implore all Bates students to get involved and learn something about what it means to be queer or trans, and how this campus can accommodate those people better.