Can We Please Come Up With a New Way to Say ‘Coming Out’?

Daniel Kowalski, the Australian swimmer who snapped up four Olympic medals in the 1996 and 2003 games, came out today in the most public of ways — in a newspaper column. Now working as an athlete career education adviser, he writes, “I finally accepted my sexuality at the end of 2006 following a huge anxiety attack at work. After what were literally years of torment, denial and very, very dark times, I couldn’t live a lie to myself any more.” That’s great stuff. But you know what we’re tried of? Announcing various people have “come out.”

“Coming out of the closet” has reigned supreme as the phrase to describe a gay’s acknowledgment to friends, family, and the public that he’s not a hetero. (It’s also used, of course, by our transgender brothers and sisters.) And for about a hundred years, it’s suited us well. But now it’s time to retire the phrase.

It’s antiquated. It’s passé. It’s tired. And every time we hear about someone “coming out,” we cringe. Coming out of the closet? Is that really the best we can do — to intimate that we all need to bust through the wood paneling of our wardrobe — to represent what is both a significant and, increasingly, unremarkable process?

Our search for a new phrase, of course, does nothing to diminish the coming out process. It’s a required step for any LGBT to denounce the stigmatization of their identity, and to embrace just one more part of who they are. That so many of us are coming out each day does more to normalize our tribe than any legislative effort ever will. And yet, to say we are “coming out” props up the notion that we’ve had something to hide. That we’ve been hunkered down behind closed doors, ashamed of ourselves. That we have something to admit.

We don’t. We’re just being as honest about ourselves as heterosexuals always have been. And we would really appreciate it if the term used to describe our acknowledgment of our identity — the “closet” — didn’t automatically imply that we’re fashionistas.

So let’s find a new phrase, a new term, and new Wikipedia entry to describe the coming out process. It should be short, easy to say, memorable, and not the faggiest thing you can think of. Some first, and admittedly lacking efforts by Team Queerty have yielded “gannouncement/gannounced” (too much of a play on words); “way big/gone way big” (too non-specific) ; “D-G’d,” as in “DeGeneres’d” (too celebri-fied); and “said hi to his mother” (should we really let Andy Samberg control our vernacular?).

Surely, you can do better. And to test our your new token euphemism, give it a real-life whirl: “Lance Bass _______ on the cover of People.” “Ricky Martin upset so many straight girls by _________.” “I can’t wait till Zac Efron _________.” (Please don’t use that last one as an excuse to list your sexual fantasies with Mr. Efron.)

Let’s crowdsource the crap out of this one, people. And hope that by the time October 11 rolls around, we’ve got something more creative to celebrate than Coming Out Day.

We’ll collect your efforts over the coming days before putting the best choices to a vote. And then we’ll embark on rebranding the coming out process, ’cause we’ve got nothing else to do.

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  • orpheus_lost

    This is a silly waste of time.

    The term “Coming out of the closet” doesn’t connote that we have something to hide, it denotes that we too often hide something that is in no way shameful. Coming out is our way of taking control of our lives and claiming our rightful place in society. It’s not about admitting our sexuality to others, it’s about admitting self-worth to ourselves.

    Instead of wasting time debating new terms which will soon become just as cliched and out of date as you feel “coming out” is, why not expend that energy toward making the entire concept moot?

    Changing the term to “sexual liberation day” won’t help a single young person with their struggle. Let’s work to see a day when “coming out” isn’t a concept that needs a second thought. Isn’t that what this is all about?

  • adx

    “steps up” or “stepped up”

  • Fitz

    I think that “the closet” is an excellent metaphor. It expresses the cramped, sad, lonely and dark world of someone who can’t or won’t embrace their sexuality. It further is an excellent metaphor for how much more awaits someone who is willing to look outside of their sad world. It even works as a metaphor for the fluidity of people who go in-and-out!

  • atxthumper

    I respect your opinion but, I’m pretty sure you’re kind of on your own with this one. “Coming out” is too good of a phrase. When someone says it, we know what they are talking about.

    We already screwed things up by playing word games.
    We decided the term “gay” wasn’t good enough to describe the community, so we change it to GLBT. Now I have to look for both terms to find the news. Then, someone decided (for a reason I still am not sure of) that LGBT is better.

    Soon it’s going to be BLTG. And soon after that, I’m sure someone is going to get rid of the G all together. Let’s quit playing these games with words and focus on the real issue, equality for everyone!

  • TonyD

    @atxthumper: Don’t forget the “Q” for “Queer.” I’m still not sure who that specifically includes, so I take it as a free-floating persona thing? Our campus group wanted to include hetero and those that didn’t want to be labeled allies and there was a HUGE debate on names/definitions/lingo/etc for our group- it splintered everyone into the stupidest cliques.

  • alan brickman

    Most people who come out actually believe nobody knew they were gay….more often it’s “dude! you’re gay… deal with it!!!”

  • Wyatt Darling

    Instead of saying ‘coming out’ can we use the phrase ‘revealed’?

  • Michael

    @Wyatt Darling: Or more likely, “confirmed.”

  • uffda

    don’t see what the big deal about “coming out” is… how about “queer emergent?”

  • Robert

    Liberated his/her true identity

  • Z.L.

    Good luck with that.

    Savage got away with ‘santorum’ because is was an appropriate gesture toward Rick Santorum, and because there was no easy, succinct way to say “the frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes a by-product of anal sex.”

    There’s already an easy way to say to that one has acknowledged one’s alternate sexuality–coming out. Trying to replace a known word with a new one is a lot harder than creating a word for something that never had a name.

    I’m on the fence; I’m not sure it needs a new name.

  • Robert

    Lance Bass liberated his true identity on the cover of People magazine.

    I can’t wait until Zac Efron liberates his true identity.

    Ricky Martin upset so many girls when he liberated his true identity.

  • Jeremy

    I love the term “coming out”. It sounds proactive and very hopeful. But maybe it’s a little bit too…outspoken, especially to celebrities, who don’t want to throw the “sexuality thing” on people’s faces. “Coming out” maybe not the best word to say, but it’s the best one to describe the process of a person being a genuine self.

  • Chuck

    Living out loud

  • Chuck

    The slogan I just mentioned is life affirming, as in all we want to do is live, just like any other minority group. The out loud part speaks to the fact that we never had a bad thing to fess up to, just are deciding for the first time to let our private thoughts and identities be “out loud” as opposed to silent. This also builds on the existing “out” phrase from ‘out of the closet’ but re-spins it in a better way.

  • greybat

    Ricky Martin so upset by straight women, he “Surrendered Dorothy” yesterday.

    Zac Effron “Blanche DuBoised” at a press conference last week.

    Bruce Baldwin “Iridescenced” before a film crew….

    Nope. I got nothing.

  • Stephanie

    I always used “taste the rainbow”. Whaddya think, too commercial?

  • Cris

    My friend and I have decided that the new saying shall be:
    Guébut (pronounced Gay-bju)

    It refers to the debut (to various persons) of one’s homosexuality. Please disseminate this new information and get back to us regarding royalties.

    Thank you.

  • Ken S

    How’s this: I “gaymancipated” myself when I was 17. Works best for the guy-on-guy type of guys, obviously… mebbe “gaywomancipated” or “lesbiancipated” for the dykes and “transancipated” for the intersexed folk? hehe :) What about “Ricky Martin finally achieved homopotheosis?” Or “Zac Efron has gayscended?”

    I really do like the first one best, though. :)

  • Blaisen

    I think Jane Lynch starring as Sue Sylvester put it best a few weeks ago with, “Swish it up a bit!”

    Lance Bass swished it up a bit on the cover of People.

    Ricky Martin upset so many straight girls by swishing it up a bit.

    I can’t wait till Zac Efron swishes it up a bit.

  • Sceth

    Lance Bass acknowledged it on the cover of People.
    Ricky Martin upset so many straight girls by acknowledging it.
    I can’t wait till Zac Efron acknowledges it.

    “Acknowledging it” keeps the language polite, classy, normal, inconspicuous and connotation-free, if just a little bit nebulous. The “it” would only need to be expanded upon by a reporter, anyway.

    Why won’t Anderson Cooper just acknowledge it?

  • Sceth

    @Robert: “Liberate (her/his) true identity” is tacky, uncomfortable, and loaded with far more than speakers may intend to communicate. Stop pushing it.

  • Michael

    “Being honest.”

  • Rikard

    “coming out” may have become hackneyed, but it came into use organicaly. i applaud the effort and chuckled at some of the suggestions. in ten years we may be using some of them and in another ten we may have narrowed it down to something significant.

  • John

    “make friends with oneself”?

  • Tessie Tura

    I don’t see why @WyattDarling’s comment was panned so badly it was hidden. Although I agree that “coming out” has been with us since we had closets, I don’t see that “revealed” was such a bad idea that he got enough thumbs down to play the Thumbalujah Chorus.

  • Tessie Tura

    Oh, and btw, I have no sexual fantasies involving Zac Efron. I am a homosexual. That means I prefer to have sexual relations with men.

  • Drew2u

    Announces his Engaygement?

  • Qjersey

    Debutantes have their “debut” so gay people have a “gaybut,” but it looks funny, gay-butt, LOL.

  • j

    This. Is. Rediculous. Stop it queerty. Just stop it.

  • David Ehrenstein

    @orpheus_lost: SING OUT LOUISE!!!!

    You’re exceptionally silly today Queerty. it’s very annoying.

  • Blaz

    I absolutely agree with this article. I am a masters community counseling student and I have seen a big push in the counseling realm to move away from the term “coming out.” Not only has it been attacked for denoting that one has been hiding away in shame and finally was able to admit it (instead of denoting that it is a journey of discovery) it is also not multicultural. I have heard that asian communities have a hard time understanding what one means by “coming out” because, at least in the East, one’s identity is more closely related to the community one is in. When one is out with their gay friends then they are promoting themselves as gay, at home though they take on their family role.

    One of the panels I saw at the multicultural counseling conference suggested that we begin using the term “disclosed.” This would look like, “I hope Zac Efron discloses his sexuality soon.” or “Lance Bass discloses that he is gay!” This supports that everyone has to, at some point, disclose their sexuality. One either discloses as a gay or straight individual. Also, coming out of the closet sounds like a one time thing and then everyone knows… well… we all know that isn’t true. So, one can disclose their sexuality to their friends, but may have not yet disclosed their sexuality to their parents. It simply feels more accurate. Only problem is there is nothing catchy about it… it is a little sterile.

    I hope that people may consider moving to disclosing though, I think it would do well for fighting against internalized homophobia and making sexual orientation less of only a gay thing and more of a universal coming to terms.

  • D'oh, The Magnificent

    The first truly nutty moment in my struggle for black civil rights happened when I had to debate someone over whether I should be called African-American, a minority group or black. Having been down that road of nutty and irrelevant exchange, I abstain from this one.

  • TonyD

    @Blaz: A press conference to disclose their personal business? I’m sick of every female celeb holding a conference to say she’s preggers or not. “I’d like the world to know I was bloated in that photo.” =P I don’t want front covers of magazines saying, “Gay/Not Gay?”

    Homosexual or heterosexual, or in between, it’s a personal choice to disclose and I feel the simpler the terms, the politics, the public curiosity, the easier it will be for a person to stand on their own two feet and declare their sexuality without expecting stigma or a witch hunt from both sides. Forget a term all together and let the individual disclose how he/she wants to define it.

  • Nick

    I’ve always really disliked the term “coming out.” I just feel like it suggests you were lying before or something, which isn’t necessarily the case.
    I think it’s better to just not have a term. Our language is varied enough for us to get by without one!

  • J mill

    Maybe one could look at this another way.

    I believe in Mexico and latin american countries a young girl celebrates a “Quinceanera” at around age 15 as her ‘coming of age’ (whatever ‘coming of age’ or kind of a “coming out as a new young adult”).

    In the Jewish tradition young men at age 13 (i think its 13) have a “Bar Mitzvah” to celebrate that they have “become men”. Jewish girls become young women at 13 when they have their “Bat Bitzvah”.

    I believe in the Catholic Church young people “come out” as christians for life by having their “First Communion”.

    In the southern part of the United States I believe they still have Debutante Balls where young girls “come out” at the age of 18 and are introduced to society.

    I think nearly every human culture, sub-culture, religon, or group of any kind that has existed for a while eventually recognizes and comes to celebrate the moment, or at least the ceremonial moment when a child beomes an adult.

    In the gay community this is what happens when a person finally decides to “Come Out”, they essentially decide to become an adult. They finally recognize the that ignoring the truth and pretending to be something they are not is what children do, not what grown-up people do. So when a gay person, at whatever age they do it, “Come Out” they accknowledge to the world that they have finally become a adult.

    I don’t think its the phrase “Coming Out” that needs to be changed in the gay community. Whether you like that combination of words doen’st really matter, what matters is that “Coming Out” was born out of the early struggle for gay rights when to Come Out meant certain persecution. Today it no longer means that. Thankfully when a gay person Comes Out today it is a reason to celebrate.

    And that is what I think we should do. We should embrace our tradition of Coming Out and allow it to keep its name because that name itself tells a story. To change it to something completely arbitrary just cause we don’t like the phrase “Coming Out” would be to turn our backs on where we come from.

    So, instead of changing the phrase “Coming Out” to some other word or words to mean the same thing, I would suggest instead that we turn and look more carefully at “Coming Out”, both the phrase and the act and begin to realize that this has become one of the great traditions among gay people. One to be cherished. One to be celebrated. For who among us didn’t have to Come Out. We all did. And most likely people in the future will too.

    I think the best thing we could do for gay people who come after us would be to take this “Coming Out” transition from child to adult that happens in out community and create a celebraton for it that can be practiced and handed down from generation to generation. In doing so it not only will uplift all who celebrate their own Coming Out in the future, but will give people who are not gay something that they can understand, so when they have a child who announces they are comeing out, the parents will know exactly what to do and will know it is something to be celebrated and they will do just that, celebrate it.

    So, instead of a new name, what kind of celebration should we design to enhance the “Coming Out” traditon among gay people?

  • J mill

    I mean, who in the Jewish community could imagine Passover not being called “Passover”. Nobody. And Passover celebrates that when the Jews were facing a moment of destruction they found they were spared, they were “passed over”. So this is what they celebrate today, all this time, these thousands of years later, they celebrate “Passover”.

    “Coming Out” has earned its name. Now, like Passover to the Jews, “Coming Out” deserves its place on our calendar and in our hearts.

  • M

    All I can think of is rainbow-related phrases: “gone over the rainbow” and such.

    Cheesey, but who doesn’t love The Wizard of Oz?

  • jeffree

    @Blaz: “Discloses” is vague, sounds boring, has too many negative connotations, and is value laden: we “disclose” bad things (cancer, affairs, a botched boob job).
    but *do not* tend to use “disclose” with good things such as winning a prize, passing a test or getting a new job.

    “Jill disclosed her relationship with Ted was over the day she disclosed er lesbianism…..” .

    It was a noble attempt 2 be sure but DiSCLOSE still probably is not gonna catch on.

  • DR

    how about we just let people use whatever term they feel comfortable with?

  • D'oh, The Magnificent

    @DR: I feel comfortable with “Gay guy who doesn’t like faux thinkers like DR” How’s that for you? It works for me. You can’t put me down or show judgement or you would be a hypocrite to do so since I am just using my right to self label myself.

  • Michael

    Yeah I’m with most other people here…I’m not sure that “coming out” necessarily implies a negative connotation to anyone but those who disapprove of homosexuality in the first place.

    While I agree with what I think you’re really trying to say (that it is a shame we have to have a moment of admitting it to ourselves and to others) I think the phrase suits the situation very well.

    One thing I’d like to pick at: you said “We’re just being as honest about ourselves as heterosexuals always have been.” This is a flawed statement, considering ideally we’ll never know for certain that heterosexuals are indeed heterosexuals, while we can be fairly certain a homosexual is in fact homosexual. After all, the very topic here at hand is coming out. That implies that a gay was previously considered straight. Because we’re the minority and because it is assumed we’re straight, heterosexuals are NOT honest about their identity. This is an important thing to consider…which leads me to:

    Now – I DO think it would be nice to one day have the need for a phrase be obsolete. When the majority is comfortable with sexuality, we’ll see an increase not only in our numbers (particularly with bisexuals) but also in those who support us. Being gay/bi and hopefully one day being trans will be considered completely natural and normal. THEN, we’ll need no fancy phrase to announce one’s embracing of their sexuality, it will just simply be.

    So…ideally, instead of “coming out,” Michael admits he’s gay.
    Michael is honest about his sexuality. Michael says he’s gay. Michael is gay. OR Michael is bi. Michael is straight.

    See? …assuming it is as normal to be gay as it is straight. In this crazy time for us when we are fighting for freedom and equality, THAT is when we know we’ve achieved it.


  • Hyhybt

    This is very much like the item last year (or possibly the year before) about replacing the rainbow flag. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s good enough, everybody knows what it means, and whatever you replace it with will be worse.

  • Jerr Bear

    I like confirmation. I confirmed very early on.
    And as for a celebration. I think your first party where you serve brie is pretty much a coming out party… right? LOL

  • the Jack

    I’ve never had a problem, personally, with “coming out” — but, being in my 30s, I grew up in an America vastly different from the place many queer youth are growing up today. Sure, there are still bastions of of homophobia and assorted bigotry around the country, and the world, but most young people I know today tell me it’s no big deal for kids they go to school with to be gay or trans or otherwise queer-identified. This is a generation of kids who might legitimately say, “I never had to ‘come out,’ because I was never IN.”

    I think “out” as a descriptor for people who are out is going to be around for awhile, if for no other reason than that it’s how many people from my and older generations think of and speak of themselves. That doesn’t necessarily mean “coming out” as a phrase will remain useful for as long.

    There are absolutely people all over the world, and even in generally gay-friendly communities like Hollywood, California, who are still “in the closet,” hiding — or deluding themselves that they’re hiding — the truth about their sexual and/or gender orientation. The U.S. military Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy is still in effect and, sadly, doesn’t look likely to go away in the near future. So for at least some people, yes, “coming out” is indeed still very much relevant.

    I’m sure that the kids growing up in queer-friendly-enough environments that they never consider staying “closeted” are perfectly capable of coming up with their own term for being out (presuming they want a term other than “being out”) without us old fogeys trying to force one on them. What with the communication revolution the internet has made possible, they can even hash it out amongst themselves without having to rely on a few delegates who can manage to make it to some large gathering to debate and vote on behalf of everyone else; even a queer kid who thinks they’re the only one in their school or town can easily reach out and find queer peers in ways I could never have imagined at their age.

    That said, of the suggestions others have made, most have been overly unwieldy, overly silly, or overly complex. Some had other issues, like being overly vague, or synonymous with “giving bad news”; I don’t think anyone should announce their queer identity using language better suited to admitting to a conflict of interest, side effects of their product, or infection with an STD.

    If I had to come up with a new term, though, here’s an idea: declare. This is a word which in virtually every other context requires a grammatical object: a dictator declares martial law, a legislature declares women’s history month, we all declare our earnings at income-tax time, I declare my intention to run for political office, revolutionaries declare independence from oppressive governments. But saying “I declare / she declares / they declared / you’re going to declare” without anything after “declare” doesn’t have any existing meaning.* So, there’s one simple, succinct, sensible option for bringing to public attention something that doesn’t necessarily, nowadays, merit a dramatic pronouncement.

    *The one exception to this is the idiomatic phrase “Well, I declare!” (Imagine it in a Southern accent if at first it seems like I’m just making something up.) It is a mostly-archaic regionalism / colloquialism, but also one without much actual semantic weight… that is, it doesn’t really mean much of anything, but sounds better than “Geez!” or “Uhhhhm” as verbal filler. And frankly the idea of people coming out (sorry, it’s what my generation calls it) by saying “Well, I *declare*!” strikes me funny. Though I personally don’t care one way or the other whether Zac Wossname ever declares, or, if he does, as what. Who knows? In another couple of generations, the trend may be for kids to declare if they’re straight.

  • Phil

    @the Jack: Well, I do declare!

  • Greg from Denver

    First off, I have no problem with “Coming out of the Closet”, but an additional euphemism could be to “Get your Feet Wet”. The idea being you could carry the metaphor to express the newly gay acknowledgments enthusiasm.

    “Ricky Martin upset so many straight girls by getting his feet wet.” “I can’t wait till Zac Efron puts his toe in, he’s been testing the water for years .””Lance Bass jumped in with both feet on the cover of People. After his first year as an out entertainer he is encouraging others to get their feet wet too,”Saying jump right in the waters fine. ”

    Plus it could open a whole new humor arena. “Has he got his feet wet, yet? Honey, He’s been swimming so long, I think he has web feet.” Unfortunately web feet jokes could segue back into marrying a duck territory. We may not want to go there.

  • Anthony

    @J mill: There already is a nationally established Coming Out day – it is October 12 of every year.

  • Wy

    What a unique way to start a discussion on Coming Out a full six months early – insidious maybe, but still inventive. Just think how many posts to the thread will be here by October 12!

    I like the term Coming Out myself because it totally appropriated and redefined the old debutante tradition which is all but abandoned by society now. The term invokes the idea of a coherent community the individual has agreed to publicly enter as an acknowledged, contributing, and (often) available member of equal standing.

    If it were to be changed at all I think I would insist it appropriate the language of something else like maybe Catholic Confirmation. Of course the gay community may want to distance itself from tainted associations like that, so that pretty much leaves a wide open quest for something else traditional to hollow out, redefine, refurbish and restore.

  • Mark

    Is it not what your comfortable with, I’m gay, I’m a homo, I have same sex attraction, I come out.
    If you have been hidding then of course your going to “come out” does it sound so bad.

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