Coming out for the First Time
Welcome back to Queering the Narrative! This week we’re continuing out mini series on writing coming out scenes by discussing what it’s like the very first time you come out!
Contrary to popular belief, the first time you come out is not usually the “Big One,” when you come out to your family/friends/the world. Usually, the first time you come out is a small moment, an opportunity to seize your truth and accept it fully for the first time. It’s powerful, wonderful — and, oftentimes, private.
This isn’t really coming out to yourself (which is a very real thing). It tends to be coming out to a single person, or a small handful of people, to build up support and validation for The Big One. A lot of queer folk come out in bits and pieces, which helps to slowly build self-confidence and a supportive framework should the worst happen when you decide to go public with your queerness.
In most cases, the person that a character comes out to the first time will be someone the character trusts. That’s not always the case, though — sometimes, a queer person will come out in a space that feels distant from their real life.
I know a lot of people who discovered online queer communities in their formative years and, though they didn’t know most of the people there in real life, felt that they were safe to express that they were starting to believe they were queer.
An example of this can be found in Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda What Simon could not say to his friends, family, and classmates he could say to an anonymous queer person online. This is both a real and powerful experience that many young queer people go through.
However, if they do tell someone in person, it’s absolutely going to be someone they trust, and it’s definitely going to be an intimate and emotional moment for the person coming out. This is the moment where someone vocalizes an essential truth about themselves to someone for the first time!
I remember distinctly the first time that I told someone that I wasn’t sure I was cis, and the first time that I told my friend that I wanted to transition. That I told those people that — something I’d for a long time not even admitted to myself — was a demonstration of the trust and emotional connection that I felt with those people.
Please note that, if this is something your character is going to do at some point in the story, then it’s most likely that this is what your book is going to be about. If a main character is just getting to the point that they’re comfortable telling others that they’re queer, then a lot of their emotional energy (and therefore character development) is likely to be focused on that, unless some VERY extenuating circumstances prevent it.
And honestly, this is fine. It may feel like we’ve got a lot of “queer person discovering their identity” stories, but like… we really don’t. There’s a decent amount of media dedicated to lesbians and gay men (and, increasingly, binary trans folk) discovering their identities, sure, but the same really can’t be said for more marginalized identities. Even bi folk are still struggling against the “not interested in labels” erasure that’s plagued the community for so long. I think there’s a lot of space left for these sorts of stories to be told for bi, ace, or nonbinary people.
That being said, please tread carefully if you don’t identify with one of these marginalized identities, and do NOT assume that coming out for them is the same as coming out for a homosexual or trans person. The best case would be to allow space for people from these identities to tell these stories themselves. But, if you really want to have a character come out as a marginalized identity (like Bojack did with Todd), please make sure that you utilize sensitivity readers!
No matter what the overall situation is, the first time a character comes out will be a big deal to them, at least in some way. This isn’t necessarily a universal experience — some very fortunate queer people were able to realize and embrace their queerness from a very young age. But for many queer people, the first time that you hesitantly whisper “I think I might be gay” to someone you trust is huge. Be sure to treat it with as much reverence as it deserves!
That’s all for this week! Be sure to check out Queering the Narrative again next week as we continue our discussions about how to write various kinds of coming out. And, until next time, cheers!