Abigail Ruhman is a freshman journalism and political science major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for The Maneater.
This column is part five of Abigail Ruhman’s “Twelve Gays of Christmas” series. Twelve Gays of Christmas is a twelve-column series about a variety of LGBTQ topics. During the holidays, members of the LGBTQ community are more likely to experience depression. By informing readers of the issues facing the LGBTQ community, these columns are meant to support the community this holiday season.
In a world of discrimination and hatred, coming out can be a difficult step in accepting a different sexuality. It can become something that is both exciting and terrifying, but it is an experience that most queer and gender nonconforming people have.
That experience should only be determined by the individual that is coming out. When someone outs a queer person, they never truly know the consequences for their actions.
There are a lot of different responses that someone can have to hearing someone is queer or gender nonconforming — some can be better than others.
From personal experience, acceptance is one of the most amazing feelings. In other instances, silently ignoring my declaration of queerness was the best result. That response didn’t feel great, but I had mentally prepared myself for the worst case scenario.
If I never had that opportunity to prepare myself and if something bad occurred, it would have left me devastated. Whether it's getting kick out or getting sent to conversion therapy, there are results that I had played out in my head. That’s where outing, or telling others about someone’s sexuality without their permission or knowledge, can be dangerous.
In the movie “Love, Simon,” Simon is outed by a classmate who was blackmailing him. After the classmate attempts to find an excuse, Simon angrily responded, “That's supposed to be my thing. I'm supposed to be the one to decide when and where and who knows. You took that from me!"
In that moment, Simon managed to put into words how it feels to be outed. Not only was it an act of betrayal, but that classmate stole Simon’s right to tell others about his sexuality. Even though people around him were accepting, he wasn’t the one to decide. He lost his coming out story.
No one has the right to out someone. That is their story and their choice. For the rest of their life, they have to live knowing that they never got a say in how they came out. It doesn’t matter if someone outs someone else to one person or to everyone.
When my sister told my aunts and uncles that I was queer, nothing could prepare me for the moment my extended family said, “We know.” I wasn’t sure what they were talking about, but for a moment my heart jumped into my throat.
When they told me that my sister had told them about my sexuality, I was disappointed that I wasn’t the one to tell them. I’m glad that they were accepting, but for a moment I didn’t know if that was how the situation would end.
My sister didn’t have bad intentions, but she took away that part of my coming out story. That’s not something that you can get back.
If you’re concerned about telling others, take a moment and talk to your friend. Start by asking if they’re okay with you talking about their sexuality or gender identity in public. If not, you don’t get to fight them on their reasoning.
If they say yes, ask them if there are certain places you shouldn’t talk about it. For a while, I was out at school, but not at home. Understanding that coming out is a process is vital to protecting your LGBTQ friends. They may have certain situations where it is dangerous to be out. Even if someone else is out in the same situation, that person deserves the opportunity to decide.
When I came out to my parents, it was an amazing experience because I got to decide when and where. They were accepting, but not all parents are. Outing someone may put their life in jeopardy.
Coming out is a huge step that only one person can make. Don’t endanger someone or take away their story just so you can talk about it. The story belongs to the individual that is coming out. After someone has crossed the line of outing someone, it can be difficult to fully trust that person again. Protect LGBTQ individuals by simply talking to them. Knowing where someone is okay with you talking about their sexuality can save a relationship. More importantly, it could also save their life.