October 11th marks National Coming Out Day (NCOD), a significant date in the ever-growing LGBT calendar of awareness events. The day does what it says on the tin, aiming to celebrate and draw attention to the experience of coming out which has become a 'rite of passage' for many (but not all) LGBT people.
So why is this day an event that should be celebrated and promoted? Firstly, because it draws attention to the global inequalities many LGBT people still face, particularly in countries less progressive than the UK. For some people, coming out isn't an option and will never be a reality.
Further to this, NCOD highlights the societal intolerance that still exists towards LGBT people, even those who live in more progressive societies.
For people like myself, homophobia is still a part of everyday life and manifests itself in a number of ways. This makes the process of coming out ever-testing for gay people, particularly for young gay people or those from certain cultural backgrounds.
And let's not forget that, even for those who have 'come out' officially to family and friends, the process of coming out never stops throughout their lifetimes. There are always new people to meet, new places to work and new networks to establish, all of which demand your coming out time and time again.
Another benefit of NCOD is that, in many ways, it offers help to those who are scared to accept their minority status sexuality or gender identity.
My little way of contributing is to put a video on my LGBT YouTube channel, telling my personal story and offering support to those who wish to email me. And I'm just one small voice amongst millions of individuals, groups and services who are doing the same - and that's great.
For some, NCOD can even be a celebration; a time for them to reminisce on the personal struggles they may have had to overcome in order to be their 'true' selves. For others it's a time to celebrate the progress our society has made in terms of LGBT rights; to rejoice in the fact that it is much easier to come out now than it ever has been in recent history.
So what are the drawbacks of NCOD? If it's a day where the LGBT community stretches out its hand to those who are suffering in silence, surely there are no grounds to critique it.
Unfortunately, I've found a few.
A strong memory I have of witnessing the promotion of this strange day whilst being 'in the closet' was seeing an image of a rainbow shared online with the strapline: "come out, come out wherever you are!"
I found this unnerving. It was like I was being pushed to come out against my will; as if a gay army were lurking in the shadows of everyday life waiting to 'out' me. It didn't feel supportive and it didn't feel comforting.
Although NCOD is a great way to draw attention to serious issues, the LGBT community must be careful not to alienate its more introverted invisible members.
Coming out is still marketed as a glittering array of rainbows, hedonism and extroversion. Such marketing can serve as a deterrent to many gay people who just want to fit in with wider, dare I say it, heteronormative society.
Yes, you can argue this is boring and goes against the 'solidarity in segregation' mantra that many people in the LGBT community strive to uphold, but LGBT groups need to recognise that they lose out on the support of many members and allies due to their forceful agenda of remaining a segregated and marginalised part of society.
In light of such drawbacks, however, the existence of NCOD emphasises the most pressing issue that the LGBT community - and society at large - continues to face: that people still have to 'come out'.
The fact that this day is still needed speaks volumes. It's 2016 yet millions of LGBT people are still having to endure the disturbing reality of having to declare themselves L, G, B, T or beyond.
For me, coming out was a spectacular ordeal of smoke and mirrors, where society fooled me into thinking that I would be better off remaining in the closet. Thankfully I found the strength to turn on the lights and see that coming out, if you'll pardon the gay cliché, is just like the Wizard of Oz.
That big scary monster you fear for so long actually turns out to be nothing more than an old man pulling strings behind a curtain (metaphorically speaking, of course).
There is no old man. You will not find him.
So if you're LGBT and intimidated by this day that urges you to come out sooner rather than later, try not to take it too seriously. You should only come out when you feel the time is right for you.
That said, don't waste time. We don't have nearly enough of it.
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