For this week’s column, I wanted to share a perspective from Ash Beckham, a lesbian and LGBT*Q advocate. Beckham says the experience of being in and coming out of a closet is universal to every single person. I wanted to add, as mentioned in a previous column, that I do not want us to invalidate those of us who do in fact feel safe staying in the closet. Being out of the closet involves a certain amount of privilege—such as support from friends and family—that isn’t always possible for everyone.
Beckham is referring to all kinds of closets, not just queer closets. “We all have closets, your closet may be telling someone you love them for the first time, or telling someone that you’re pregnant, or telling someone you have cancer, or any of the hard conversations we have throughout our lives,” she says.
This is an inclusive framework that invites us to think about the fear that is aroused in exposing the truth about ourselves. For me, my “queer” closet was always made out of glass. This meant I could never fight homophobia or transphobia in a way I would have liked. But even so, I still had many other closets in my life that I had to deal with, including ones I have not dealt with at all. These closets do not define us; rather, they shape our experiences in unique and meaningful ways. The universality of our closets creates an understanding that they are more similar than they are different within a world that does not always acknowledge that we need each other.
“I’ll give you a hundred reasons why coming out of my closet was harder than coming out of yours, but here’s the thing: hard is not relative. Hard is hard,” Beckham says. “Who can tell me that explaining to someone that you just declared bankruptcy is harder than telling someone you just cheated on them? Who can tell me that his coming out story is harder than telling your five-year-old that you’re getting a divorce? There is no harder. There is just hard.”
There are always risks associated with coming out of any closet. It requires us to be in a vulnerable position. Though it would be ideal for all of us to live freely and to be authentic, direct and unapologetic about who we are, there is no easy way to get there. There is much work that needs to be done to address the oppressiveness from living in the confines of one’s closet. At the same time, there still needs to be a discussion about the differences between excluding someone and actively including them.
There can be a political solidarity in coming out of these closets together that allows us to see that we are not alone.