Let's stop LGBT people 'coming out of the closet'

It fails as an analogy, and in the march towards equal rights it's time to take an axe to this anachronistic mausoleum


Things that belong in a closet: guest towels and spare bed sheets. Things that don't: lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender people.

After self-acceptance comes the closet - a source of tremendous inner turmoil that LGBT individuals have to overcome. But in many ways the community as a whole is still trying to escape it. Pedalled by political agendas, religious fundamentalists and endemic ignorance, a sordid, sexualised fallacy still lingers - and the closet is at its epicentre. In the sluggish march towards equal rights the time is right to take an axe to this anachronistic mausoleum, make a wicker-man from its splintered remains and emancipate the LGBT community from its claustrophobic reductionism.

‘Coming out’ derives from the debutante balls of young aristocratic women in the early 20th century, where upon reaching the age of maturity they were formally presented to society. The LGBT equivalent, according to historian George Chauncey, was the welcoming of ‘newly-outs’ into the social gay collective. The emphasis though was on stepping into a new world, not leaving an old one behind.

Decades later and the meaning is heavily distorted, embroiled in the idiom ‘skeleton in the closet’. The connotation: sexuality is akin to a rotting cadaver, tucked away out of sight for fear of judgement and retribution, a source of contempt, disgrace and abnormality.

The modern euphemism, ‘coming out the closet’, emphasises the notion that embracing homosexuality entails a lifestyle of seedy activity, exacerbated by the HIV epidemic, prevailing stereotypes and fundamentalist rhetoric.

READ MORE: Pride 2014: I'm glad I was born gay

It fails as an analogy too. Literally stepping out of a closet involves one swift, decisive action - in then out. But coming out is a lifelong process. Even for those who identify as “fully out”, the assumption of heterosexuality can hurl them back into the dark confides of ‘closetdom’.

The closet’s simplicity creates the illusion of choice. Emphasising a binary closet - in then out - suggests that repression and the retention of a heterosexual façade is both feasible and acceptable. Ian Thorpe’s interview with Michael Parkinson serves as a reminder of the mentally crippling effects of concealment, “living a lie” and pandering to social expectations.

Sexuality is not a choice. There’s no opt in or out, you just are. Coming out should be presented for what it is: an inevitable, natural process. As long as the illusion of the closet exists, so too will a lingering reluctance for many LGBT individuals to address their sexuality.

Perpetuating myths and stigmas is the staple diet of those who seek to debase sexual minorities, especially in countries which criminalise sexual minorities. Putin regularly pairs it with paedophilia, openly telling LGBT tourists to “leave the children alone” prior to the Winter Olympics.

Though UK laws promote equality, society is playing catch-up; addressing the subtle nuances of language would be a start.  Language is a powerful tool and the persistent existence of the closet will fuel prejudice. Thorpe spoke of the accusations and suspicions he faced growing up. But, as he rightly suggests, such terminology is harmful; you 'accuse' people of crimes and you’re 'suspicious' of their guilt. It’s hardly language conducive to breaking stereotypes.

 ‘Coming out’ is now eponymous with the accepting and addressing of one’s sexuality. On its own it’s a fairly neutral metaphor. But in its misappropriated form it’s at best clunky, and at worst a purveyor of the outdated homophobic mechanisms which continue to drive ignorance, prejudice and violence against the LGBT community.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Read Next

War with Isis: If the US wants to destroy the group, it will need to train Syrians and Iraqis

David Usborne
David Cameron gives a speech at a Tory party dinner  

In a time of austerity, should Tories be bidding £210,000 for a signed photo of the new Cabinet?

Simon Kelner
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most