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Why Coming Out Has a Different Meaning for Queer/Trans People of Color

For many, coming out is usually a time of liberation, where an individual begins to feel as if they are speaking truth to power and asserting their identity as valid. For others, coming out is about a journey of personal validation and overcoming the struggle of othering yourself when speaking about said identity.

But what happens when you are having to come out in more than one community?

Being that today is National Coming Out Day, there are multitudes of individuals who are looking forward to celebrating those who are opting to come out. But some forget how extremely difficult the process can be when you identify as a queer/trans people of color (QTPOC).

Coming out can be much more complex for QTPOC being that many are often stuck between navigating the margins of their intersectional experience and said oppression at each of these margins. Being both queer and a person of color (POC) often means contextualizing your identity in communities that may have strong personal and religious beliefs that may oppose your sexual orientation or gender identity. This often leaves many queer POC struggling to understand how to see both their racial identity and their sexual orientation as synonymous, while struggling to navigate what it means to walk authentically in one’s truth.

While it should be noted that the history of National Coming Out Day has mostly centered on those who identify as white and cisgendered, reports are showing that more of the LGBTQ community is likely to identify as a person of color. In a survey provided by Gallup, it was reported that 4.6 of African American individuals surveyed stated that they were a part of the LGBTQ community, along with four percent being Hispanic, 4.3 percent being Asian and only 3.2 percent being Caucasian.

But conversations about how one negotiates the intersections of both their queer and their racial identity are often far less common when talking about the coming out process.

In my own coming out experience, I took the opportunity to come out on National Coming Out Day in 2006. Even then, I rarely recall seeing or knowing anyone who spoken openly about what it meant to be both both queer and a person of color. While I was familiar with the stories of Rupaul and Marsha P. Johnson, very rarely did I know of anyone personally who could help me make sense of my intersectional experience.

Much of the thought process I used when coming out to my mother came from shows like Queer as Folk and Will and Grace, not recognizing how much more complex things would be for me as someone who was both Black and queer. Often I felt that I was to Black to be queer and to queer to be Black because neither community wanted nor accepted my truth.

Though there is substantial data that shows that the LGBTQ community experiences various forms of hate and violence on a regular occurrence, the issues for LGBTQ people of color are even worse. QTPOC must negotiate the added burden of racism while navigating the inequity based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This also doesn’t include the higher rates of police brutality that trans women of color face and the constant racial disparity QTPOC experience both in the community and in media.

For QTPOC, coming out is not just about acknowledging that you are different. It is about acknowledging how you negotiate said differences and how you navigate surviving in a world that was not built for you. Coming out means negotiating the ways you are made to feel different while searching for ways to make yourself feel whole. It is about fighting to get your voice heard in multiple communities that often silence you and the challenges that might come with getting non-marginalized individuals to believe that your experiences and your identity is in fact valid.

Being a person of color who identifies as a queer means being resilient even on the days that you may not have the capacity to do so. It often means showing up and aiding communities that may never show up for you in the same way.

Yes, National Coming Out Day should be celebrated as a form of resistance for everyone in the community but we cannot forget about the struggles that QTPOC will face after doing so. The need to discuss the intersectional experiences of QTPOC are now needed more than ever and the battle to help those both inside and outside of of our communities to understand our journey can’t be won alone.