glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Bookmark and Share
Coming Out Stories  
page: 1  2  

Coming out stories, both written and oral, have for many years been a staple of lesbian and gay culture building. No matter how sophisticated or theoretical we become, when groups of lesbians or gay men congregate, a usual suggestion is to share coming out stories.

The coming out experience is so important that it tends to be the focus of a great deal of gay and lesbian literature, including novels and short stories. In recent years, several collections of lesbian coming out narratives have appeared to an eagerly awaiting readership. In 1980, two such collections were published: Margaret Cruikshank's The Lesbian Path and Penelope Stanley and Susan Wolfe's The Coming Out Stories.

As the epigraph to her foreword for the second printing of The Lesbian Path, Adrienne Rich offers this quotation from Deena Metzger's The Book of Hags:

The women gather their old flesh into sacks and carry it along the road. Under the bridges in the middle of the night, they tell stories to each other. Each secret told gains a year. "Why are you telling me this?" one asks. "So I won't die."

The sense of urgency in this passage underlies many of the oral tellings and written collectings of what an individual deems to be his or her coming out story.

The Need for Coming Out Stories

As members of a historically invisible minority, lesbians and gay men have routinely had difficulty positioning ourselves, partly because we have had no language with which to do so and partly because the larger culture has supplied no acceptable mirrors or images by which to fashion ourselves.

The existence of coming out narratives between printed covers is a sign of existence both for those featured therein and for those who will read their accounts. Such narratives also provide mirrors in which people unsure of their sexual identity may recognize themselves, mirrors that have the capacity to enable newly emerging gay men and lesbians to acknowledge their sexuality sooner and with less confusion and pain than is likely the case in the absence of coming out stories.

Though most large cities in the United States have identifiable centers in which informational and social exchanges occur, much of the rest of the country continues to impose isolation on and exact silence from its lesbian and gay residents. Being able to obtain collections of stories, some of which will narrate exactly the situation in which the reader currently finds himself or herself, can mean the difference between feeling like a part of the world and falling into ever deeper despair and loneliness.

Combining the Unique with the Communal

In literary terms, this genre is capable of simultaneity: If I tell others my particular story of awakening to my sexual orientation, that act is extremely individualistic, even unique; however, it also places me squarely in a community of others with equally individualistic and unique stories. Hence I assert my specialness at exactly the same moment as I identify with and affirm a group.

Collections of coming out stories declare that lesbians and gay men are both alike and different from their sisters and brothers. This may be one of the most exciting aspects of these narratives, especially within the current cultural studies movement in which critical methodologies such as post-structuralism and deconstructionism argue that there may be no such thing as a unified self.

Coming out stories may offer valuable insights into how to solve the dilemma of being absolutely sure of identity at the same time as being keenly aware of one's relativity to all others in one's class or group. This will make them a central element in any academic discourse about gay and lesbian studies and research.

    page: 1  2   next page>  
Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Literature
Popular Topics:

Social Sciences

Stonewall Riots
Stonewall Riots

Gay Liberation Front

The Sexual Revolution, 1960-1980
The Sexual Revolution, 1960-1980

Leather Culture

Anthony, Susan B.
Anthony, Susan B.

Africa: Sub-Saharan, Pre-Independence



Computers, the Internet, and New Media





This Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.