“Coming Out” stories frequently center around white gay men who have an awkward conversation with their family before moving to a gayborhood like Chelsea, New York; Hollywood, California; or Boys Town, in Chicago or Philadelphia. In these gayborhoods, white gay men join social and political clubs like Stonewall associations, gay kickball leagues, and frequent gay bars, enabling them to draw power from their queer identity. They become leaders of Human Rights Campaign chapters and local pride associations. They produce events that center and celebrate important parts of their identities—often erasing and ignoring the Black trans, queer, and non-binary/non-conforming leaders who fought for their ability to advance a queer agenda focused on equal rights in the process. Coming out in these fairytales may be fraught with early tension, but many who benefit from white privilege find their way to communities that meet them with rainbow pride flags and confetti.
That story is not my story.
Holding space for people from minoritized communities to create community safely is essential; however, coming out narratives frequently ignore that for Black people who are also members of sexual minority communities, coming out can be dangerous—if plausible.
The vast majority of Black trans, queer, and non-binary/non-conforming people live in the South—we are disproportionately concentrated in communities where there are laws permitting discrimination against us based on race and where religious exemptions allow for discrimination based on assumed sexual identity, gender orientation or expression. In the last year, hundreds of anti-Back and anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced and codified across more than 42 states, the impact of which is primarily felt in the lives of poor Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ people and families. Most Black trans, queer, and non-binary/non-conforming people do not have the luxury of coming out—not in the way imagined by Hollywood or embodied by privileged white, primarily male, members of our incredibly diverse community.
Expectations around coming out can be a part of what prevents queer, trans, and non-binary/non-conforming people from being free.
CleverMade Collapsible Storage Bins
Lightweight yet heavy duty
Good storage bins are essential for keeping your home or office organized and clutter-free. These are versatile, collapsible containers that come in various shapes and sizes that also stack together.
Rather than holding space to celebrate how each of us develops as humans, who experience a range of emotional, romantic, and sometimes sexual relationships, National Coming Out Day has become a placeholder where people who have never practiced answering the question for themselves stand with their arms folded waiting for Queer people to explain, often on command, when we realized that we were different—somehow eschewing behaviors and predispositions that we are led to believe are normal, natural, or “traditional.” This practice advances the heterosexual agenda by suggesting that privileged positions are normal or natural when they are simply privileged. This practice also works to affirm fallacies around white superiority. As a Black same-gender loving man, that my Black siblings can understand this concept in application when thinking about race but refuse to apply it when thinking about sexual identity, gender orientation, and expression has always vexed me. White supremacy is designed to prevent all of us from being free.
As someone who cares deeply about all Black people, I hope that we can use days like “National Coming Out Day” to think critically about the signs, systems, and symbols designed to divide members of our beautifully diverse community in ways that prevent all of us from being…or from getting free! In this spirit, I encourage a shift away from Coming Out to Inviting In.
Inviting In is about shifting power and holding space where each of us feels safer and more supported in talking about the parts of us that society says we should feel shame around. Inviting In acknowledges that disclosure is not expected but instead entrusted after demonstrating competence and compassion. You can learn more about Inviting In by watching this video and visiting NBJC.org.
Consider inviting someone in today–no matter how you may identify or describe how you show up in the world.
Let’s get free, all of us!
Dr. David J. Johns is the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), a civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer+, and same-gender loving (LGBTQ+/SGL) people, including people living with HIV/AIDS.