I have been in the position recently to give some 101-level advice and thought I might collate some thoughts here—not my normal use for this blog, to be sure, but perhaps something I should do more often. (Opinions welcome in the comments)
Comings Out to Watch Out for
It has become common when spotting a coming out to think of it as simply that and not look any further. Upon closer inspection of the features and markings of these majestic creatures, however, it becomes clear that they are not all the same sort. I’d like to introduce three subspecies of coming out to you and describe their unique traits, which I hope should be edifying to casual observers and serious out-commers alike.
As a point of terminology, I will be referring to the subtypes as Coming In, Coming Out, and Inviting In, but please do bear in mind that they are all still comings out. As such, there may also be hybrids in the wild, and this is not meant to be an exhaustive account of every individual of the species, but rather a simplified guide.
This type of coming out hearkens back to the meaning of “coming out” as a debutante being presented to society. It is coming out to oneself and coming in to the community. This type of coming out is unique as the only one that comes in black-and-white, and the only type that is done once instead of over and over again.
The benefits to this type of coming out are that it enables one to begin to explore how one wants to live ones life and it gives one access to a community of people like oneself. Choosing not to do so is often a denial of a part of one’s self, and so this type is absolutely vital to the ecosystem. It is also, however, the rarest to see in the wild. Both for its singular nature and largely internal experience, it can be hard for anyone else to observe. The advantage there, of course, is that it requires very little preparation or strategy. Lacking the flash or frills of other types, this coming out is foundational and should not be overlooked.
In a metaphorical sense, Coming In happens behind closed doors, whether of ones own house or houses of friends. It is not public, but public—lest we forget—is not the same thing as valuable.
The archetypal coming out, this type is the one most people picture in their heads. As time has gone on, however, media portrayals have created an image for the Coming Out that is more an amalgam or conflation than the true essence of what this type is. This one is the flashiest, and that’s no surprise because it is the one that is political. Motivated by responsibility, this type is the one most easily Romanticized and therefore easiest to soften the edges of.
While this subspecies was dominant to the exclusion of the others within the popular imagination for a long time, hybrids with the Inviting In subtype have been increasingly appearing. Your author will not opine on the value of this shift in the absolute sense, but in my humble and limited experience, making a clear distinction between the two is helpful for the beginning outcomer. First, clarity of purpose helps when deciding strategy, and second, it helps with discernment between internal and external motivations. This type is the most easily influenced and therefore the one where outcommers should remain on highest alert.
It is also important to note that while this type comes in extremely flashy varieties, it can also occur in more subdued colors, typically losing its bright colors for more practical and low-key plumage over time. The goal rather than the manner is what is key to identifying this type.
Continuing our metaphor, this is Coming Out of ones private spaces and, like the slogan says, into the streets. Into schools, workplaces, doctor’s offices and retirement homes. The manner is not as important so much as the goal of being publicly recognized and using that public recognition to affect and change public spaces.
This form of coming out has quietly become the most common, so much so that it is often not recognized when observed. While its existence has been attested for a while, it has recently been taken up and promoted in earnest. The main difference in this type of coming out is that it is personal, an act of increased intimacy and connection. It relies and thrives upon the trust between those involved and often comes in muted pastels to the Coming Out’s bright jewel-tones and shimmer. Without trust, it cannot survive.
This is a particular shame because of how often it is conflated with Coming Out subspecies, which is much more confrontational and more risk-tolerant because of it. Learning to see the subtle differences between these two’s morphology is absolutely vital to not damaging them and the ecosystem. Ideally, recognizing this type should actually give an opportunity to deepen the trust between the parties, and that its unique niche.
As the final scene in our metaphorical triptych, this is letting someone in to see ones home, though some doors may remain closed for the comfort of one party or the other. It is an invitation to see the world that was built behind closed doors after the host’s Coming In.
And thus having faithfully reported to you the facts, it is here your author humbly submits for your consideration a piece of advice: the best Inviting In should include a further invitation to the listener of what they can do for the outcommer. It could be a request for emotional support, such as “I recognize this may be a lot for you to hear, so I would like your permission to call next week and discuss this with you further,” or physical, such as “I would be very much obliged if you would accompany me to the next meeting of my society.” In the best case, it might even call upon one’s long acquaintance and knowledge of the person, such as calling upon the family fashionista to accompany the trans sister to the dressmaker for a new wardrobe. Ultimately, the gracious host would set out tea and cake in the metaphorical sitting room in advance of the guest arriving, avoiding the terrible faux pas of standing awkwardly just inside the foyer.