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Coming Out Stories  
page: 1  2  

The Characteristics of the Coming Out Story

Identifying characteristics of a coming out narrative would include some or all of the following:

(1) Coming out stories recount the teller's initial recognition of themselves as "different" emotionally or sexually.

(2) Coming out stories most often focus on a "first time" erotic or sexual experience with someone of the same sex.

(3) Coming out stories are usually quite short, the shortest unit of shaped autobiographical writing. Like any good short story, these narratives have a single focus and a tight structure. They might be thought of as mini romans à clef.

(4) Coming out stories are as varied in their details as they are numerous in their narrators. Commonality flows from the act of speaking, of giving language to the suppressed underlife, of bringing the "love that has no name" out of the darkness of bars and bedrooms into the light of gardens, offices, barracks, nurseries, and boardrooms.

(5) Coming out stories involve a crucial naming of the self to the self as someone who loves a member of one's own sex, recognizing just how radical and dangerous such an act is in a virulently society.

(6) Coming out stories empower their tellers on many levels in addition to the sensual. Indeed some such stories may not involve a sexual liaison at all, depending on the teller's particular circumstances.

(7) Coming out stories defy the implicit and explicit demands of the dominant culture by refusing the injunction to hide or "pass" for heterosexual either to oneself or to those around one.

The Desirability of Diversity

When Margaret Cruikshank published her anthology, she spoke in the introduction of its hardly being necessary in 1979 to prove that the lesbian community in North America was diverse. Yet she had not been able to make her initial collection reflect that diversity to the degree she had hoped.

She called for subsequent publication of collections of coming out stories of lesbians of color, older lesbians, working class and poor lesbians. Many of these have appeared subsequently, along with anthologies grouped around such unforeseen themes as lesbians who once were nuns, gay men and lesbians over fifty, Asian-American lesbians, and gay men whose coming out has hinged on their finding themselves to be HIV-positive.

Empowerment through Articulation

It seems clear at this point in lesbian and gay history that we can continue producing collections of coming out narratives as long as we exist since our stories of self-recognition shift and multiply as our culture evolves. But since the very act of telling our stories is itself an act of personal and political disobedience, the one constant running through all coming out stories is the empowerment inherent in the articulation itself.

Toni A. H. McNaron

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social sciences >> Overview:  Coming Out

"Coming out" is the revelation or acknowledgment that one is a member of a sexual minority, a process that is at once personal and social and often political.

literature >> Overview:  Historical Fiction

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literature >> Rich, Adrienne

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social sciences >> Ride, Sally

Sally Ride made history as the first American woman in space when she flew as a mission specialist aboard Challenger in 1983; her lesbianism was not widely known until shortly after her death.

literature >> Tobias, Andrew

Financial writer Andrew Tobias, the author of the classic coming out memoir The Best Little Boy in the World (1973), was elected Treasurer of the Democratic Party in 1999.


Adair, Nancy and Casey Adair, eds. Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives. New York: Dell, 1978.

Adelman, Marcy. Long Time Passing: Lives of Older Lesbians. Boston: Alyson, 1986.

Beck, Evelyn T. Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology. Watertown, Mass.: Persephone Press, 1982.

Cruikshank, Margaret, ed. The Lesbian Path. San Francisco: Grey Fox Press, 1980, 1985.

Curb, Rosemary and Nancy Manahan, eds. Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence. New York: Warner, 1986.

Jay, Karla and Allen Young, eds. After You're Out: Personal Experiences of Gay Men and Lesbian Women. New York: Link Books, 1975.

Monette, Paul. On Becoming a Man. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1992

Stanley, Julia P. and Susan J. Wolfe, eds. The Coming Out Stories. Watertown, Mass.: Persephone Press, 1980.


    Citation Information
    Author: McNaron, Toni A. H.  
    Entry Title: Coming Out Stories  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated March 14, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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