This Friday (October 11) is National Coming Out Day, which started in 1988 as a way to challenge conventions and raise LGBTQ awareness. It was organized to coincide with the first anniversary of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The march had occurred the year prior (on October 11, 1987) and along with other social justice causes, it called for the legal recognition of lesbian and gay relationships, the federal government to act in response to the AIDS crisis (that disproportionately affected gay men, at the time), and for the repeal of all laws that criminalized sodomy between consenting adults (which had recently been upheld by the US Supreme Court in Bowers v Hardwick). The march was a hugely important and energizing event, and National Coming Out Day was created as a way to continue that momentum. The idea was that the personal act of coming out could also be a very political statement that could help drive change. Ignorance allows hate to persist, and many people didn’t know anyone that was openly gay at the time. As more people came out, people saw that their hate wasn’t directed at someone they didn’t know. It was directed at their friend, their brother, their neighbor, or their aunt. National Coming Out Day was born out of the idea that awareness leads to acceptance, and it has occurred annually on the anniversary of the march ever since.
We should celebrate people living authentically and the bravery that it often requires to be your true self. At the same time, we can also work to challenge the heteronormative assumptions that require coming out in the first place.
Much has changed in the past 31 years (and awareness has led to more acceptance), but we do still live in a heteronormative society. This means that our society operates on the assumption that heterosexuality is the “normal expression of sexuality.” Gender binary (that it is only possible to be male or female) and cisgender (that your gender identity is the same as your sex assigned at birth) are usually part of heteronormative assumptions, as well. Heteronormativity is not a good thing, but you’ll see it everywhere you look. It’s asking a woman about her husband when you don’t know that she is romantically interested in men. It’s asking boys if they have a girlfriend. It’s school registration forms that have a space to list the Mother and Father. It’s looking for wedding decorations or cards and only seeing men and women portrayed together. It’s sex education that only covers heterosexuality. It’s being unable to find a pink onesie for a little boy. It’s forms and surveys that neglect being transgender. It’s male or female designation on driver’s licenses. It’s gendered bathrooms. It’s check boxes for male or female on forms and surveys. It’s assuming that everyone is heterosexual and cisgender unless you’ve been told otherwise. It’s what requires people to announce when they don’t fit these assumptions, and it’s what continues to drive National Coming Out Day.
Breaking down these assumptions has benefits all around, and it’s something that all of us can commit to in honor of National Coming Out Day. I’ve talked about how my spouse and I actively parent as allies, and not making assumptions is a big part of it. We don’t make assumptions about our children’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and we don’t make assumptions about the people that we cross paths with either. Let’s work together to challenge these heteronormative assumptions, and maybe someday we’ll live in a society where either everyone or no one has to announce who they are or who they love.