Coming Out Day, Oct. 11: When is the right time?

As college age individuals in an increasingly progressive society, it is common practice to encourage LGBT peers to be openly true to themselves. But there might be a specific right time to do it.

Oct. 11 marks the 28th anniversary of National Coming Out Day, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s website.

“Coming out – whether it is as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or allied – STILL MATTERS. When people know someone who is LGBTQ, they are far more likely to support equality under the law. Beyond that, our stories can be powerful to each other,” the website states.

Some coming out stories may end tragically, with family members or friends ultimately disowning the individual as a result of their gender or sexuality.

Such a situation was not the case for Dominic Butchko, a sophomore political science major who identifies as gay.

“All in high school I was in the closet. I knew since, like, fifth grade, but I just was very ashamed of myself,” Butchko shared.

After Butchko graduated high school, his mother sent him to Europe for the summer, which opened him up to the world. After this experience, he decided that he would be true to himself, putting effort into losing weight and, as he put it, “being the change he wanted to see.”

Part of this, he said, was making the decision to come out to his mother, which he was very afraid to do.

“Her response was perfect… she turned to me and said: ‘Welcome to the party. We didn’t know if you were here or not,’” he said, laughing.

After coming out and coming to Wilkes, Butchko explained that he was a new person.

“In a lot of ways, Wilkes has been very liberating and very freeing. If people in high school knew me now and knew me back then, I am literally a completely different person,” he said, comparing himself to “The Doctor” from the popular British television show “Dr. Who,” in which the character periodically “regenerates” and is replaced by a new actor.

“I also think though Wilkes has been, in a lot of ways, really disappointing,” he went on. “I was expecting there to be more of a community. It’s very open and inclusive, I’m not saying it’s not, but the numbers and the type of people is what I was a little disappointed about. So that’s been an interesting thing to navigate.”

The community aspect of being an LGBT individual might be the most important thing when it comes to coming out, according to Dr. Ellen Newell, an assistant professor of psychology who also identifies as gay. Much of Newell’s research deals with LGBT issues.

“I think as a psychologist, as a researcher in this area, coming out days are really important because they are designed to express or shed on light on our community, and are designed to allow people to understand who we are and why coming out is important and accepting all diversities,” Newell said. “Multiculturalism is really really important.”

Multiculturalism is an ideology that looks at diversity as a positive thing, and sees each type of person individually rather than as a “melting pot.”

Social support though, according to Newell, is essential to a good experience with coming out.

“So if I come out, or if a student comes out, they might know that coming out to mom and dad is going to be super stressful, or at least they’re worried that it is. If they have some friends in their dorm that they’ve already come out to that they can go to if coming out to mom and dad is super stressful, that support is going to make the experience that much better.”

Newell shared a story about Coming Out Day at a previous school she was employed at, where the poster campaign was “come out, come out, wherever you are.”

“Which sounds sort of OK, but when you get into it, it says, ‘we’re gonna pull you out if you don’t come out’… that is not OK,” she said.

Newell added that she has interesting, albeit unpublished, data that suggests that coming out can actually be harmful if an individual does not have the social support needed.

“We need people to develop their sense of self and identity enough to come out,” she said, explaining that forcing people to come out when they aren’t ready does far more harm than good.

Newell also added that understanding fluidity of sexuality is exceedingly important for the health of coming out.

“We also need to, as a community… allies, queer people… need to understand that this is a growth period…. it’s OK if someone comes out and identifies as bisexual and then says ‘no, I’m gay.’ It’s also OK if someone says ‘I’m gay, now I’m bisexual.’ It’s okay if they reject labels and say they are just going to say they are queer. That’s OK.

“A lot of times, they think the discomfort people have is because they don’t know what category to put people into. It’s easy for us as members of the queer community to say ‘Whatever! Don’t put them in a category!’ but we have a natural desire to put people in categories so there needs to be a learning curve here, both for the people coming out and for the people interacting with the people coming out.”