Celebrating coming out: The power of the coming out story

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Stories help define who we are, they educate, they humanize and they help us remember important parts of our experience. Coming out can be an important process that helps shape the identity of many LGBTI people.

Why do stories matter?

Throughout the ages, stories have always mattered, both on an individual and community level. In prehistoric times, stories were painted on caves as a way of communicating about special events. The legacies of these rock paintings are still evident today as we appreciate and reflect on these ancient stories. In the middle ages, traveling troubadours shared stories about far-away lands and places. These musical stories helped inform others about what was happening elsewhere and what might happen to them. It was a way of connecting communities. Indigenous people of Australia share stories to pass on sacred knowledge to their youth. These stories help connect generations. And even now, in contemporary times, stories are being embedded within advertisements to help sell products for multi-million-dollar companies. Storytelling is therefore a powerful tool.

The power of the coming out story

The coming out story is one form of special narrative that has the potential to bring people together, humanize, educate and transform.

Coming out stories bring people together as they are ultimately stories about collaboration and connection. The coming out narrative usually involves telling someone something intimate and secret about our sexual or gender orientation, and then finding out whether or not we are accepted for who we are, despite this intimate and secret detail. The climax of the story is whether or not the listener continues to care for us after our coming out. Therefore, coming out stories, although extremely personal and individual, contain ideas that transcend ourselves. Ideas of acceptance, caring and love form part of each and everyone one of our coming out stories, and this is why coming out stories have the power to bring people together.

Coming out stories also both express and evoke emotions. They therefore help humanize both the person telling the story and also the listener, and this is how coming out stories help personalize issues. Coming out stories keep people at the heart of the story – the individual, their friends, their family and their community. They are also a rich form of self-expression, and in this respect, they help connect us to our innermost being.

Through sharing our coming out stories we also help educate others. Our stories enable insight into how hard it is for some to come out. The challenges of working out whether it is right to come out or not also surfaces during this process.

Plus, and very sadly, our coming out stories can also be used to illustrate the painful losses that are sometimes sustained because of coming out. But, they can also help demonstrate that love and acceptance have nothing to do with whether a person is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex, and nothing to do with whether someone is questioning their sexual or gender orientation.

In addition to educating others, coming out stories also present each one of us with opportunities to revisit our own memories and our understandings about ourselves. In this respect, they provide us with an opportunity to learn more about who we are.

Each time we tell our coming out story we receive a slightly different response than the last time we told it. Also, each time we tell the story slightly differently depending on who we are talking to, what we remember, how we are feeling about ourselves and our relationship with the person listening to our story.

These different storytellings allow us to revisit our coming out story in different ways. When people ask questions about our stories, we have the opportunity to learn more about ourselves. Their questions allow us to focus on a different part of our story, for example, and this means we can focus on different feelings, aspects and relationships that are remembered when we tell our story. Through looking at these different reflections, we have the opportunity to realize and even celebrate parts of ourselves that we hadn’t noticed before, and aspects that have changed since the last time we told our story.

In essence, the power of the coming out story shouldn’t be underestimated. Instead, the coming out story should be celebrated, as it has the power to bring people together, humanize, educate and transform. Whether you’re out or not, whether you are LGBTI or not, or one of our supporters, we hope you too can celebrate National Coming Out Day!

A touching coming out story is shared in the video below. The story was collected as part of the ‘YourStory’ Campaign launched by the National Institute for Challenging Homophobia Education (NICHE) in Australia. Thank you to the individual that shared this story and also to those who helped produce this wonderful portrayal.

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