National Coming Out Day is just around the corner on Oct. 11. This is a day where non-heterosexual, non-cisgender people are encouraged to come out to their friends and family, knowing that around the country thousands of other people like them will be doing the same.
The event is an important day for many, especially for people of college age and younger who aren’t straight or cisgender.
Coming out is not a one-time deal, however; coming out is a process that will likely go on for the entire length of a person’s life. It is often necessary to come out to each person we know, and each person we meet; but it is also a process of choosing who to come
out to and who to keep our identities hidden from in order to preserve our own safety. The bravery it takes to come out is a feat that has to be performed not just once in a person’s life, but constantly.
Now, you might be thinking, “Why do people even need to come out in the first place? Aren’t we all just people? Why does it matter?” The answer to those questions, I would have to respond, is “because of systematic, oppressive heteronormativity.”
Heteronormativity is, in simple terms, the societal assumption that every person is heterosexual and they identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.
This might seem simple, even harmless, if you are not familiar with the far-reaching effects that heteronormativity has in our everyday lives, even in the lives of heterosexual people. It is because of heteronormativity that non-heterosexual, non- cisgender people are seen as abnormal, wrong or even sick or disgusting by the heterosexual majority.
Heteronormativity is the wellspring of homophobia, heterosexism and transphobia, and gives rise to systematic oppression of LGBTQ+ people.
The assumption that there is something “wrong” with LGBTQ+ people leads the heterosexual majority to perpetuate structures that put LGBTQ+ people at a severe social and economic disadvantage and their lives in direct danger.
Coming out in heteronormative society is an act that actively counters the heteronormative assumption, and this disrupts the status quo; this disruption is often seen as a threat to the worldview of the majority, and unfortunately, is seen as a threat that must be put down violently.
It is possible to work against heteronormativity in your own life by simply not assuming a person’s gender or sexuality before you find out what they are specifically. However, society at large will remain heteronormative until we can get every person to think this way. Until that day, coming out is still a necessity in our society.
So for now, the best thing you can do for a friend or family member who comes out to you is to accept them for who they are and do your best to protect them from anyone who would seek to harm them on the basis of their non-normative sexuality or gender.