Coming out is easy because no one cares about it anymore. That’s the sentiment felt by many who fail to understand the reasons why it is still hard to go through the process of ‘coming out’. But what is it that makes it still so difficult for so many, and how can we address this?
Our generation has seen a huge amount of progression for LGBTQ+ rights yet many queer people struggle in understanding and accepting their true identity. We are still taught that being heterosexual is the norm and that being queer means bringing inferiority simply by being different. These heteronormative norms associated with sexuality are damaging and cause people to feel powerless, as its something that is unable to be changed. Many young queer people foster internalised homophobia simply because they don’t identify with what is considered around them as ‘normal’.
Another core reason is rejection. Rejection comes in many forms and may come in disownment or being treated differently from how you used to be treated. Whether it's your grandma or your barber it can be very hard to tell them you are gay because of fear of some sort of rejection. When somebody asks you “have you got a girlfriend” as a queer man it can feel like an impossible task to correct them because they have already put the heteronormative
More than 1.3 million people in England and Wales identify as LGBTQ+ census data has revealed for the first time in 2023.
expectation on you that you must be straight. Nobody wants to be rejected, especially when things like social media make many crave validation and thus fear rejection. If you say nothing then there is no fear of being rejected for your sexuality, but this only strengthens those feelings of internalised homophobia, as if our identities are something that deserves to be hidden. Whereas if you were to correct them and say “I have a boyfriend” there is always that risk.
Religious or cultural values can also hinder a straightforward coming out process, with many individuals still struggling with the concept of somebody in their family having a queer identity. This brings lots of pressure onto queer people to hide who they are from sometimes their closest friends and family because they don’t want to cause upset. So by them hiding their true selves they can try and appease other people's values and expectations of them.
Additionally, it is important to acknowledge that change is hard. Many of those close to you would see coming out as a big change in
Who you are, or even make it about themselves.
To sit somebody down and say that you are not straight and don’t fit into the normal heteronormative stereotype is still hard for so many people. In the span of a generation or two, we have gone from the criminalisation of homosexuality to the pressure, predominantly from heterosexual, cis people, to come out because ‘it’s easy’. In such a relatively short period, no time or attention has been paid to the ways in which we should address this stigma.
It may seem obvious, but it is so important to emphasise that you should not put pressure on people you know to disclose aspects of their identity they don’t yet feel comfortable sharing. Give people the time and space to wait until that point where they feel ready, and don’t put pressure on them by assuming or judging them with outdated heteronormative stereotypes. Allow them to do it on their terms when they feel safe and happy to do so.
Even simple steps like gender-neutral language when referring to them, partners or complete strangers can help prevent feelings of shame and anxiety when discussing their personal lives with you. Let them tell you instead of you assuming and rushing them to do so.
Crucially, educate yourself. Endeavouring to understand those different to you helps make them feel valued and recognised, and queer people are no different. Lots of the hateful sentiments, fear and judgement of queer people come from a lack of education, so it is key to make those around you as comfortable as possible.
Published Online: 26/02/2023