A few days ago after I got off work and arrived home, my mother, who is more than 60 years old, was watching television and she asked me what “coming out” meant. She had heard the term used on a news report in which entertainer Chu Hui-chen (朱慧珍) was shown holding up a rainbow flag and coming out on behalf of her recently deceased daughter.
I told her that coming out means telling other people about one’s homosexuality. In the past, some people preferred homosexuals to keep their sexual orientation hidden, which is why the term “coming out [of the closet]” symbolizes that a homosexual person is comfortable with their sexual orientation.
However, “coming out” is an ongoing process, with some homosexuals choosing to come out to friends, but to hide that part of themselves from family and relatives. This is an important personal choice and has nothing to do with right or wrong.
However, what is the significance of coming out?
Many heterosexuals wonder why homosexuals bother to come out at all. Why do they need to tell the whole world that they are homosexual? Is it not enough for their families to know? Why do they have to come out to everyone they know?
In this regard, perhaps we should think about it the other way round: In daily life, heterosexuals are essentially “coming out” all the time and in any place by simply declaring that they are heterosexual.
For example, when heterosexuals complain about their marriage and family life, when they chat about their children or when they exchange stories about the disagreements they have with their in-laws, they are effectively declaring their sexual preference. These are issues that not everyone faces, but they are built upon a heterosexual-centric foundation.
Although not every homosexual feels the need to take the risky step of coming out to an potentially unfriendly world, when basic civil rights are ignored by policies blind to the range of sexual preferences, then coming out becomes a way of securing legal rights for homosexuals.
If society continues to view homosexuals as people on the fringe just because they do not fit within the parameters of a heterosexual society, it does not matter how many people come out because society will still act as a huge closet characterized by homophobia.
Chu’s symbolic holding of the rainbow flag made viewers realize that people are just as diverse as the colors of a rainbow, varied and splendid.
If our society accepted people with different sexual orientations there would be no need for homosexuals, heterosexuals, bisexuals or transgenders to come out as there would be no need for them to feel that they have to hide their true identity in the first place.
I still remember when we first hung the rainbow flag up on our campus and a student left me a note that read: “This flag makes me feel as though I am being recognized within my own house.”
However, we still need to ask whether our society is provides adequate friendliness and trust for more people to hold up the rainbow flag and come out on behalf of their daughters.
Cho Keng-yu is a high school counselor and chairperson of the Taiwan Gender Equity Education Association.
Translated by Drew Cameron