Opportunity Knocks: Intersectionality at the Closet Door

We don’t come out of the closet into a vacuum. It’s crowded out there, full of positionalities and power dynamics that affect our emergence. Marginalization and privilege are not only attached to sexual politics but also to our color, religion, health, immigration status, and so forth down to the smallest of characteristics.

The metaphor of the closet is presumptive; who would choose tight confinement over free space? But not all closets are the same. Nor are closet doors. Some of us are fixed behind heavy gateways reinforced by religious shame and familial disapproval with hinges rusted with toxic masculinity. Some of us are in walk-in closets, well-appointed, full of inertial comforts.

And we don’t come out just once. We are forever becoming. Adults come out to their families, to their colleagues, to neighbors and store clerks, maybe to their spouses. Youth come out to their classmates, to online communities, to a long procession of adults holding authority in their lives. We may even enter what we thought was the outside world and find it is just another closet, and start the discernment again.

Working in mental health provides constant reminders that shame will kill us as readily as violence. Neither, however, are equally distributed. Coming out to your parents is much different for a teenager than it is for an adult. Coming out to a Catholic family is different than coming out to a family practicing Wicca. It is hard enough to be queer, but being a queer girl in a misogynistic culture? Being a queer girl of color in a misogynistic racist culture?

Gradually increasing queer visibility and hard-won civil victories have also changed the dynamics outside the closet. Folks coming out today are more likely to find supportive communities than our predecessors. The bricks thrown by the veterans of Stonewall laid the foundation for a world we continue to build, in which we can marry whom we like, find affirming healthcare, and see reflections of ourselves in media.

The louder we declare and celebrate Pride, the safer we make it for those who come after us. Don’t underestimate the safe spaces we make this way; they will save lives as surely as medical treatment or any heroism. Moreover, positionalities of privilege insulate us from the social consequences of coming out and give us greater access to safe spaces. So if you’re a white or able-bodied or otherwise privileged queer person reading this, I need you to answer the question of how you are contributing to making Pride intersectional? How have you shared the safe spaces you accessed?

Coming out is always brave, but never the same. It is not equal. If you’re in the closet, you have your reasons for being there and you are valid. If you’re at the threshold, you have your reasons for being there and you are valid. If you’re out, Pride is a time of celebration and self-actualization. It may also be a time of social responsibility proportional to your privilege. Join the vanguard in rainbow regimentals wielding whatever you took with you coming out the door.