The slang term "being in the closet" has been used to describe keeping secret one's sexual behaviors or orientation disapproved of by society; typically homosexuality or bisexuality, but also including various paraphilias. It is also often applied to transgender or transsexual people as long as they keep their gender identity or gender variance secret.
A "closeted" person originally referred only to lesbians, gays and bisexuals who kept their sexual orientation secret. The reason is usually that the person does not want to face the environment's homophobia. In many places in the world, coming out of the closet means losing one's job, home, family, friends, and religious and political membership. There is often also a real risk of being the victim of violent hate crime. The same factors apply to transpeople, compare transphobia.
The term is derived from the metaphor of the "skeleton in the closet": a thing a person hides that they don't want to be found, but which is inevitably stumbled across. This often refers to a person's past love affairs and the like. In a homo- and transphobic society, homosexuality and transgender are understandably such skeletons, and are therefore closeted. Use of "the closet" without skeletal embellishment is almost universally reserved for the LGBT* community.
Coming out of the closet (often shortened to coming out) describes voluntarily making public one's sexual behaviors or orientation, or gender identiy, "being out" to not concealing one's sexual behaviors or orientation or gender identity, and "outing" for making public the sexual behaviors or orientation or gender identity of another person who would prefer to keep this information secret.
The term closet has also been used, seriously or not, to refer to other personal preferences; e.g. "John Doe is a closet postmodernist, communist, liberal, etc."; likewise for to come out of the closet, e.g. "John came out of the closet about his gambling addiction"; "Janice came out of the closet when she told everyone she secretly loved chocolate". This is part of a more general tendency towards taking sexual identity as identity.
One use of this is in a concept called the "broom closet", that refers to people who hide the fact that they are Wiccans for fear of social rejection and reprisals. Activists for Wicca and general religious freedom and tolerance stress that the same problem of the regular closet concept also applies to this variant and encourage people to come out for the same reasons.
- A Guide to Coming Out at the Workplace
- A Guide to Coming out to Family
- A Guide to Coming out to Friends
- Coming Out at Susan's Links section
- National Coming Out Project www.hrc.org
- Epistemology of the Closet (reprinted 1992) by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, ISBN 0520078748.
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