This week, Cameron Leakey delves into disclosing your sexuality and takes stock of how far things have come, and where they have to go.
There’s a quote from Kip Chapman, New Zealand Actor and Director, on his own coming out that appeared in Auckland’s Paperboy Magazine in 2017. “You’re always coming out, every day. You’re always choosing”. Chapman is referring to the choice that we as queer people make on a daily basis whether to disclose our sexuality. Sometimes it’s a doctor’s office, where disclosing your sexual behaviour is crucial to receiving the appropriate medical care. Sometimes it’s at university, when someone makes an assumption they shouldn’t have. Sometimes it’s whether to hold your partner’s hand in the street. We make decisions daily on whether to disclose our sexual orientation.
The article is truly terrific and one that my mother still has at home in a basket filled with sentimental things. Around the time that I came out, while my parents were and still are incredibly supportive and accepting, it provided them with some context to what I was to embark on in terms of disclosing my sexuality.
My coming out story is a good one. It’s one of real love and acceptance. Of telling friends and family who were supportive, who were kind, and who shared with me as I embraced a time where I was as honest with them as I was honest with myself. It was the conversation I had when visiting the Halls of Residence in Wellington where I pulled aside an old family friend, who grinned ear to ear telling me how proud she was. It was the mate at Shadows who stood outside with me as I told him what everyone else at the table already knew. Who told of defending me at High School where others had made comments. I look back on these moments fondly. I am not the only one, but I am also, unfortunately, one of the luckier ones whose disclosure results in mostly just acceptance and understanding. For some, coming out is a hard and challenging time, confronting those in your life who are not tolerant or accepting or who may reject you at a time where you are openly being yourself.
The coming out process is not just disclosing your sexuality to your friends and family. Firstly, there’s an inner coming out. The internal recognition that you have attraction that is not just heterosexual. It’s gradual. It begins with models on underwear boxes at Farmers, characters in TV series who you’re truly drawn to or that thought of ‘did I just think they’re hot’. This internal process can sometimes not be easy. To recognise that your sexuality strays from what is considered the norm takes some internal courage to recognise and accept. Some face internalised homophobia or deeply ingrained biases that result in a challenge accepting who they are. It’s figuring out who you are, before anyone else may know.
From here, we have disclosure. Coming out of the closet. Who do you tell and when? How do you tell them? What if they found out already?
But what about the notion of never being in the closet to start with? In 2019, Green Party MP, Chloe Swarbrick told the media that she did not have a ‘coming out’ story. Following the lead of British MP, Mhairi Black, she told the media that she didn’t ‘come out of the closet’ because she was ‘never in the closet’. It’s an interesting notion – the idea that you don’t necessarily have a ‘coming out’ moment as neither confirming nor denying your sexuality means it has never been a hidden fact . However, coming out is still recognised as something that those in the queer community have to do. While some may never choose to be in the closet, addressing your sexual orientation or confirming your sexuality is not a process that every queer person can exclude themselves from. What Swarbrick does recognise, is the notion that being openly queer is no longer this large statement it must be. A lot of people are queer, a lot of people in our politics, our sport, our media, and movies are LGBTQ+ and as we see these narratives become more diverse and see queer characters represented in media beyond traditional tropes, we no longer have to view coming out as this huge thing it once was.
For others, to come out is to drastically change things at home. It is often perceived that gaining gay marriage was this huge milestone to completely achieving equality for queer folk. This is not true. Our community still face disapproval, issues with acceptance and unfortunately, Gay Conversion Therapy is still not banned in New Zealand. You can hope that acceptance is growing, but there’s still further to go.
So, how do we take stock of coming out in New Zealand. The Youth00, Youth12 and Youth19 series of studies at the University research young people’s experiences of coming out. The latest study, Youth19, will release its data in the near future. But otherwise, it’s not really that easy to measure. It relies on a cultural barometer for understanding how coming out experiences are for each other. It’s a personal process and it can also be a continuously evolving process. No one person can ever speak for the experiences of a whole community.
I guess, when we consider where to from here, it’s the recognition that coming out is this lifelong process. Disclosing your sexuality happens in many ways and with many differing significances. That isn’t always a bad thing, or a good thing, or even a big thing. It’s one part of being queer among many others.