Today is National Coming Out Day and social media has been abuzz. Individuals across the world are sharing coming out stories and reflecting on their journey to self-acceptance. However, an article on The Washington Post caught my eye. Written by Matthew H. Birkhold, the article was titled “It’s time to end National Coming Out Day.”
In the article, Birkhold who is an assistant professor at Ohio State University wrote a piece on why he thinks National Coming Out Day shouldn’t be celebrated because it promotes heteronormativity (I am paraphrasing). He says:
“Let’s dismantle the norm altogether and abandon the concept of “coming out.” Straight people don’t come out. Why should gay people?
Of course, National Coming Out Day helpfully raises awareness of the gay community, its interests and its rights. But, paradoxically, the more Coming Out is celebrated, the more it reinforces a normative ideal that is harmful to gay people. In the process of trying to make ourselves safe and visible, we are marginalizing ourselves. This will end either when all people are expected to “come out” or when no one is expected to do so.”
Reading the article it is obvious the writer is very privileged and might be clueless about the reality facing people who identify as LGBT across the world. Plus the question “Straight people don’t come out. Why should gay people?” is counterproductive. It might seem harmless but can in a way promote living in self-denial which is the cause of many issues facing individuals in the community from suicide to HIV/AIDS.
It is easy to say we don’t need to come out when you live in a society where there is (some) LGBT representation everywhere. From politics to pop culture and even religious institutions, there seems to be someone that is a part of the LGBTIQ community. That is not the same in Nigeria as there are not a lot of out gay people especially in the public eye. From Bisi Alimi to Jide Macaulay and Kenny Brandmuse, it is not a packed list. There is no visibility or LGBT representation in the public space.
As many across the world celebrate National Coming Out Day, many LGBT Nigerians are still comfortable in their closets. For them, coming out is still a dream and for some, it is not a possibility. With the passing of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act to the homophobia in the society, many LGBT Nigerians are just trying to get by in a country that does not respect their rights to exist and live free.
This is why National Coming Out Day is important.
The observance of NCOD is significant for many individuals around the world who want to be able to live free without inhibitions. It is for many who aspire to walk down the streets and hold hands with their lover. It is for people who want to exist in a society where they can get married to the one that they love irrespective of the gender of their partner. NCOD is about giving hope to those who do not have the luxury yet of coming out.
Getting rid of Coming Out day is like erasing a part of our history. It is saying that things are better when they aren’t. I agree that heteronormativity exists so we need to constantly work hard to create a more inclusive society. Letting go for NCOD will not stop heteronormativity but voices speaking out and celebrating diversity can. Coming out is not compulsory but it is necessary. It is important because it lets a young LGBTQ person in Jigawa know that he/she is not alone and that it actually gets better. Visibility has a way of encouraging and inspiring people and NCOD does that well.
National Coming Out Day is here and even though it might be a dream for many still in the closet, whether in Nigeria or across the African continent, things are looking up and we can only be optimistic about our future.
~ Boye Black
Boye Black (a pseudonym) is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Rustin Times.