Coming Out mattered, matters and will always matter


coming out

Coming out is an important part of the queer journey, whether one’s personal coming out involves shouting from the rooftops or a quiet chat with loved ones.

Queer people have been coming out for a very long time. The first organised public rituals we know of took place in the US in the late 1800s.

From debutante balls to coming out

Coming out derived from the debutante balls of the British Royal Court. At those very stiff and formal events, young upper-class women were presented at court — their ‘coming out’ into society.

In the late 1800s, black, gay men in the United States of America took the idea and made it fabulous. Drag queens escorted by tuxedo-clad beaux made their ‘coming out’ into gay society at the famous Harlem drag balls.

The Hamilton Lodge Ball of 1869 is recognised as the first drag ball in US history.

The success of the New York balls inspired similar events in other cities including the Washington galas of legendary black, gay activist William Dorsey Swann.

Black, gay men across the US came out in a joyous celebration of affirmation to the welcoming cheers of hundreds of their new family members.

However, in the 1930s, increasing conservatism in the United States saw the balls discontinued.

‘Coming out’ slipped from the queer lexicon, replaced by the secret codes needed to protect our community members in increasingly perilous times. Queer people discreetly inquired of others if they were ‘friends of Dorothy’ or even ‘gay’.

Exiting the closet

Until the 1950s, the focus of the phrase ‘coming out’ was on entering a new world of hope and communal solidarity. In the 1970s, the emphasis moved to the exit from the closet.

Activists juxtaposed the shame of hiding in the closet with the joy of living openly as your authentic self. More queer people coming out also helped build a more powerful political constituency to fight prejudice, discrimination and unjust laws.

During his 1978 campaign against a state initiative that would have banned gay teachers from California public schools, Harvey Milk urged people to “Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are.”

The pioneering gay politician believed people who realised they had queer friends, coworkers and family members would oppose the proposition. Indeed, they did. His campaign helped defeat the initiative.

In the 1980s, activists again urged the closeted to “Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are.”

The AIDS epidemic threatened the very existence of the queer community with the Christian Right poised to deal the death blow.

Queers came out en masse and our community survived.

Coming Out today

In recent times, articles in the queer media about people coming out often attract cynical comments from those who think enough people came out already.

But that is an entitled and privileged view. It ignores that many queer people in this world remain at risk from prejudice, discrimination, unjust laws, and violence.

In Australia, during the marriage equality debate just a few years ago, newly out Aussies like Magda Szubanski and Ian Thorpe made significant contributions to the Yes campaign.

Today, there remain many Australians troubled about disclosing their sexual or romantic orientation or their gender identity.

Every person who comes out offers them reassurance that they are not alone, that they have value as a person and that they can dare hope for a happy future lived as their authentic self.

So next time you see an article about a not-so-famous sportsperson or a lesser celebrity announcing their sexuality or identity to the world, remember — yes, they are getting attention, maybe even free PR, but also they’re providing valuable service as a role model.

MORE:

Are you a friend of Dorothy?

Coming out to Granny – a personal memoir of the 1970s.

Dame Joan Hammond: coming out at 80.

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Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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