Come out on your own terms

Why it is wrong to 'out' someone


Your coming out narrative is incredibly personal, and it belongs to you alone.

It is not for straight or cisgender people to tell, nor is it fair game for well-intentioned members of the LGBTQ community to share.

It is essential that LGBTQ people are allowed to construct their own coming out narratives in their own time, on their own terms.

Even if you’ve known that you are LGBTQ since you were five years old, it can take years—decades even—to make sense of your unique identity and how you wish to label (or not label) yourself. I’ve known that I was bisexual since I was at least 11, but I didn’t start sharing this information until I was 18 years old. And even then, I only came out to close friends. I didn’t publicly and formally come out until last fall, when I wrote a column about coming out as bisexual for The Spectrum.

I am incredibly grateful that no one shared this information before I was ready for it to be shared.

When Matrix co-editor Lilly Wachowski, a trans woman, was outed by newspapers without her consent, she said the story could possibly have “a potentially fatal effect,” which is the crux of this issue. LGBTQ people are more than twice as likely than straight people to attempt suicide, according to the Center for Disease Control.

There are a number of reasons why members of the community stay in the closet. They could be in a situation where they could face abuse from bigoted family members if they come out. LGBTQ youth could risk being kicked out of their parents’ house and becoming homeless—20 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ.

People might also choose to remain in the closet for fear of losing their jobs. Twenty-nine states in the U.S. still lack statewide laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

LGBTQ people also stay in the closet for safety reasons. LGBTQ people are more likely to be targets of hate crimes than any other minority group. 19 to 29 percent of gay and lesbian students and 18 to 28 percent of bisexual students experienced dating violence in the prior year, 14 to 31 percent of gay and lesbian students and 17 to 32 percent of bisexual students have been forced to have sexual intercourse at some point in their lives, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Even if a closeted LGBTQ person has a good support system and is surrounded by open minded, accepting people, it is still important to allow that person to come out on their own terms.

By outing someone, you rob them of their right to self-identify and you risk mislabeling or misconstruing the person’s identity.

Many people might consider or “try-on” different identities before settling on the label that feels right for them. When I first started questioning my sexuality, I wondered if I was a lesbian. If someone had outed me back then, they would have forced me into a label I ultimately realized was not for me. By giving me the space, time and freedom to self-reflect and self-identity, I discovered exactly what label fit me, and expressed that identity when I was at a time and place in my life where it felt safe and comfortable to do so.

If you are privileged enough to live out “loud and proud” as I do, I commend and celebrate your decision.

However, it is important to remember that not everyone is in a place where they can safely come out, so remember that before sharing information about someone’s sexual or gender identity without his or her permission.

Everyone’s coming out journey is incredibly unique and personal, and no one else can tell that story but them.

Maddy Fowler is an assistant news editor and can be reached at