In my original article on coming out, I dissect the act of coming out through a sociological lens with the help of Cambridge’s definition.
“To tell your family, friends, or the public that you are gay, after previously keeping this secret.”
The definition leaves room to criticize the act of holding up a metaphorical megaphone, but also the implicit semantics for coming out. The closet itself is something that sociologists drool over because it’s seemingly tangible - they can operationally define their variables by watching LGBTQ+ individuals utter words of their sexuality and measure the fear society has installed.
I’ve critiqued the engineering of such a small area, the discrepancy between gays and straights for announcing their sexuality, but I missed a vital step in the coming out process that is nearly impossible to assign concrete characteristics, is more psychological, and entirely idiosyncratic.
I’ve always thought that the act of coming out was a two-part process. Yes, one has to overtly announce to others they deviate from the norm of heteronormality. However, in order to get to that point, that LGBTQ+ individual has to acknowledge to themselves they stray from the herd. As I have mentioned in my previous article, this process to self-acknowledgement is very challenging when society installs fear for being considered different.
How is a gay man to acknowledge what their erection is telling them as they see another man in the locker room when society has taught it wasn’t appropriate? I’m being dramatic—not every gay man gets a boner in a locker room.
It took me twenty-two years to complete the self-acknowledgement stage of coming out. Growing up, I knew I had an unusual interest in certain males. For example, there was Batman. Batman was a badass superhero, but I wasn’t watching his movies for his ability to defeat the world’s most dangerous criminals. My four-year-old eyes were more attentive and glued to his exaggerated abdominal and arm muscles under his black, skintight, suit.
In sociology, there is a concept by American sociologist, Charles Horton Cooley, called “The Looking-Glass Self.”
“I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am.”
It’s a bit confusing, entirely brilliant, and is similar to psychology’s concept of the “Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.” Essentially, Cooley’s concept explains that if I think someone thinks I’m smart, then I’ll behave in a way—maybe I’ll say the word “elucidate”—that validates my thought they think I’m smart. And the whole process makes me believe that I actually am smart.
Cooley definitely had a creative way of explaining complex human behavior with only seven simple words. For me – and I’m sure for a lot of others—it was difficult for me to acknowledge my gay tendencies when my self-worth, self-concept, and self-esteem were all based off how others viewed me. I thought that others viewed me as being gay, which equated to “less than,” and the way I was treated by my peers validated I was indeed “less than.” I fulfilled my own prophecy.
I didn’t want to be ridiculed for being gay, so I hid. Thus, I put on my hard hat, drew up a blueprint, and built a small space to store my fears (aka, I built my closet). I tried different methods for years to identify as being straight. I spent my entire adolescence convincing myself I was interested in girls, but it wasn’t until I moved to California and experienced a more open culture for LGBTQ+ lifestyle. Plus, another gay man caught me off guard, gave me a kiss, and I immediately knew I was pretending to be straight for such a long time.
Once I actually acknowledged I had a giant proclivity for the same sex, it was like that feeling when you suddenly understand math. For such a long time, my algebra equations never had the correct solution—and I was really good at math. But there was the vital stage of self-acknowledgement I failed to accomplish. I wish I didn’t place so much importance on how others viewed me growing up. I was afraid of how I would be treated. But the fear only aided in stalling my self-acknowledgement.
It seems as if fear is the common denominator for creating The Looking-Glass self, the closet, and the inability to live one’s truth.
Again, maybe Cambridge can redefine their definition as, “to tell your family, friends, the public, and yourself, that you are you.”