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Coming out to others

Coming out of the closet

When we disclose or tell others that we are gay, the phrase associated with this process is 'coming out of the closet' or 'coming out' as a figure of speech. Who you tell is really up to you. You may decide to tell your best friend or a member of your family. Remember, once you have told someone about your sexuality it can become known to others within a short period. This is human nature and there is very little you can do to prevent it. Be prepared to deal with any negativity that this disclosure may bring.

Where did the phrase come from?

The word 'closet' was first used to mean secret as early as the 1600s, but not in relation to a person’s sexuality. 'Closeted' also came into use around the same time and meant to keep something hidden or secret from others. 'Closet case', 'closet queen', or 'closet homosexual' began to be used during the middle of the 20th century to mean that someone was hiding their homosexuality from others.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first printed use of the term 'coming out of the closet' to describe declaring one’s sexuality, was written by Sylvia Plath in the January 16, 1963 issue of London Magazine. It is also believed to be the first time that these two terms were combined into one phrase, and a new meaning was born.

By the 1970s 'coming out the of closet' had come into common usage and 'come out' or 'coming out' was often used as a shortened version of this longer phrase, although 'coming out' can also be a reference to the social custom of a débutante coming out as mentioned above.

'Come out', 'coming out', and 'coming out of the closet' are terms that are now mostly used in reference to a person telling family members, friends, co-workers, or others that they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Our language and the meanings of words are constantly changing and evolving, just as our society changes and evolves.

Sources: Dictionary of American Slang, 3rd ed., HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1997. The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., vol. III, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1989. The Queen’s Vernacular: A Gay Lexicon, by Bruce Rodgers, Straight Arrow Books, San Francisco, 1972. Word’s Out: Gay Men’s English, by William L. Leap, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1996.

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