Closets, what are they for?

Written by: Andrés Suro



Time to read 5 min

We all know the expression coming out of the closet. It comes from the mid-twentieth century in the United States, and it is believed that its origin comes from trans men and women who “came out of the closet” who wore feminine clothes as a way to express their sexuality openly to society in a vindictive way. As a result, today, it is used to define homosexual and trans people who decide to accept and express their sexual identity. 

Nowadays, closets are a source of debate and controversy. This is due to the misconception that, if you are part of the LGBTQ+ community, you should let everyone know to assure their sexual identity in society. However, it is still necessary to come out of the closet in certain social circles for many LGTBIQ+ people in order to be respected? So how relevant are “closets” nowadays?

What does it mean coming out of the closet?

Conventionally, we can understand coming out as the process by which a person, usually homosexual, although it can also apply to trans realities, communicates his or her sexual identity to his or her acquaintances. Historically, it has been understood that this was something necessary because, otherwise, the person would be deceiving their loved ones. Therefore, the focus of blame was placed on the person who lived this experience as something traumatic on many occasions due to the fear of the uncertainty of not knowing how others would react.

Nowadays, this definition has changed and coming out is related more to a process of self-knowledge and self-acceptance than of disclosure to others for many young people. On the other hand, there is a large sector of the population that denies this experience and feels that they do not have to vindicate their sexuality to naturalize their experience as much as possible. But what does it really mean? Coming out could be summarized in three stages:

  • Acknowledgement: Awareness of feeling different from the rest because we are attracted to people of the same gender (homosexuality or bisexuality) or we feel that our identity does not correspond to the assigned one (trans identities). 

  • Exploration: It is when we have the first sexual experiences or approach that differentiates us from the rest.

  • Acceptance: There is full agreement between what we feel, what we do and how we express ourselves. 

Generally, these phases can summarize the process that many LGBTQ+ people go through to come out. However, it can vary greatly depending on one’s context and circumstances, so the consequences will also be different. 

Gay couple holding a lgbtq flag in a van

What are the consequences?

It can all be summed up in two words: it depends. It is true that we can find better and more positive ways to come out, but there will be a great chance that there will be some negative consequences due to the lack of understanding of a large sector of the population. Among them, we find: 

  • Suffering bullying or mobbing: It is still common to be bullied at school or at work. This denigrating and discriminatory treatment that can range from the purely psychological to physical. 

  • Rejection and hostility from the family: For many parents or caregivers (especially those with strong religious beliefs) don’t comprehend the idea of having a gay child, which means a rejection of their children that sometimes leads to abandonment or lack of protection.

  • Environmental rejection: Growing up in a community that rejects the LGTBIQ+ community increases the likelihood that certain people close to you (friends and colleagues) will reject you or distance themselves from you.

Despite these possible resolutions, the reasons why many people are encouraged and decide to come out outweigh the negative ones: 

  • Acceptance and recognition by the family: Sometimes coming out, may lead to a complete understanding of a person’s reality by their family, which makes it possible for the family to accept and recognize them.

  • Empowerment: Once someone accepts them, they will begin to feel less stressed about criticism others may have about them, to such an extent that there comes a time when they might not feel judged. They no longer believe that the negative comments are determinant in their life.

  • Living in peace: For many people, coming out of the closet is the turning point that allows them to be authentic and stop living in the shadows.

At this point, you may be wondering: Do I have to come out? Is it really necessary? 

How to come out of the closet?

The first thing you need to know is that you are not required to come out if you don’t want to, if you don’t feel ready or simply don’t see the need to go through this “ritual” to be your true self. Both decisions are equally respectable, don’t let anyone or anything make you feel undervalued or belittled for your convictions.

There are a number of ideas that can help you make this decision and guide you through this process and, in this sense, avoid unpleasant moments that may affect you.

Gay couple coming out of the closet with family

Prepare the ground

On many occasions, knowing what your environment thinks about the LGTBIQ+ community can help you decide if they will probably either support you or not. Even if they support the LGBTQ+ community, this doesn’t mean that they will be open to acceptance. This means that you just have to prepare yourself to expect any type of response or reaction. But asking others about sexual diversity issues can help you know where we are starting from.

Protect yourself

If you suspect that someone in particular or maybe a group of friends have a tendency of denigrating the LGBTQ+ community, it is best not to come out of the closet with them. Remember that the most important thing is your well-being and safety. In any case, always keep in mind that there are institutions, associations and organizations ready to help you, both in emergencies and in situations of confusion or misinformation. 

Create support resources

Whether through professionals, friends or people you trust, having a support network is beneficial so that you don’t feel helpless or isolated. In addition, you will have their support and perspective during the process. In this sense, you don’t need to feel alone through this process.

Be patient

Chances are that the people around you may need time to digest this information. This may be due to the fact that maybe they weren’t expecting for you to come out, some may even change the way they treat you forever. Don’t push yourself and others.

Lesbian couple caressing in the couch

Coming out of the closet is a lifelong process. By this we mean that every time you meet someone, every time you enter a new context or circle, it will be like starting from scratch. You decide when and with who to come out of the closet. But we have good news, it will become easier for you as time goes by generating less and less stress to the point that it will become so naturalized that it will be part of your cover letter. 

However, remember that this is a personal decision and you don’t have to feel obliged to do it. After all, closets shouldn’t even exist, but if this process is important to you, do it because it helps you acknowledge and accept yourself. 

Andrés Suro

Author: Andrés Suro  (Sexual Coach at MYHIXEL)

Psychologist specialized in the social area and expert in sexology applied to education.