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Expression Over Confession: How Gen Z Redefined ‘Coming Out’

Oct 09, 2023

Expression Over Confession: How Gen Z Redefined ‘Coming Out’
  • On October 11, 1987, the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights took place in Washington, D.C. Over 750,000 people from all over the United States gathered to protest the government’s slow response to the AIDS epidemic and the Supreme Court’s ruling on 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld (5–4) a Georgia state law banning sodomy.

    Some of the demands made by protestors included:

    • Chosen family and relationships.
    • Sodomy laws.
    • Presidential action/ Executive order.
    • End discrimination against people with AIDS/ARC. 
    • Funding for AIDS.

    Ever since the one-year anniversary of the march, an annual celebration has taken place every October 11, known as National Coming Out Day. It’s a day dedicated to the empowerment and celebration of queer people across the world. It helps support and uplift members of the LGBTQIA+ community who are in the process of coming out.

    A group of protesters marching with a banner that reads, "The National March On Washington for Lesbian & Gay Rights"

    Source: Good Morning America

    But, as time continues to propel us toward more inclusive social landscapes (online and offline), I find myself more and more drawn to one question: how will National Coming Out Day be celebrated by younger generations who understand diversity as the norm? Let me explain what I mean by that.

    To Generation Z, social justice and equity are a given

    I was born in ‘97, which means that I have a complicated relationship with my generation. 

    While according to the Pew Research Center, I’m definitely a Gen Z, I feel like many of the key characteristics of slightly younger Gen Z’ers were lost on me. 

    I blame this phenomenon solely on the preteen experience of “technically Gen Z’ers” born between 1997-2002. I need you to bear with me while I make a lot of generalizations for a moment.

    Older Gen Z’ers grew up alongside technology rather than into a fully functioning technological world. 

    The first app on my phone was literally an animated lighter, and it was mind-boggling to us. If I wanted to read about celebrity gossip, I had to get it the old-fashioned way: by begging my mom to buy me a copy of J-14 at the check-out line of Publix. 

    Being “online” when I was a preteen meant I had a Twitter and a Tumblr account, where I’d spend hours looking at slightly older, prettier, and more unhinged teenagers posing in their American Apparel shorts, holding up a peace sign while looking down. 

    Paparazzi photos of Vanessa Hudgens straddling Zac Efron on some beach were literally what led my mom to have “the talk” with me, and Santana and Brittany on Glee were the first lesbian couple I saw on TV. 

    My first Instagram posts were zoomed-in breakfasts my mom made (Valencia filter on full blast, obviously), and my friends and I would write “TBH” posts on each other’s Facebook walls. 

    We were cringe, but we were free.

    Younger Gen Z’s were born cool. And it both kills and fascinates me.

    Younger Gen Z’s were born when more inclusive sociocultural norms were a given. They were born after certain amounts of representation in the media were no-brainers. They were born after language was created to reflect different people’s experiences in the world more accurately. They were born into a world that, for the most part, celebrated individuality and freedom of expression. 

    I remember when I was young, my aunts and uncles would tell me, “Your generation was born understanding technology. You didn’t have to learn it.” And I would sort of agree and brush it off. But teens nowadays have the literal world at their fingertips in a way my sweaty little preteen self could have never imagined possible. 

    So, of course, they’re fucking cool. And, of course, they’re unphased and woke as shit. 

    Because to them, talks of social justice and equity are inherent to reality.

    Back in my day (I’ve already roasted myself for writing that as a twenty-six-year-old), we were bullied for being queer. And I wasn’t living in a conservative bubble. I was living in Miami. Nowadays? If you’re a teenager bullying someone for being gay, girlypop, the whole school and the internet are coming after you.

    I don’t want to make it seem like bullying isn’t an epidemic to this day or everyone has it easy because the world is a cruel and deranged place. But I think it is mindboggling that the majority of the violence and injustice younger generations are affected by are government-led and systemic. 

    For the first time in history, younger generations are gathering to bully politicians, CEOs, and the vile systems oppressing marginalized groups and communities. 

    How Coming Out Day is evolving 

    And how does this tie into National Coming Out Day and the big question that’s been circling around in my head as October 11 is around the corner? 

    Well, because Gen Z isn’t “coming out” in the way previous generations used to. It’s fascinating to me because how is it that the queerest generation ever (no, literally) is also the generation that’s (for the most part) made “coming out” the most casual thing ever?

    Because they’re decent people.

    Gen Z’ers have redefined the world and are going to be the people spearheading us toward more radical futures.

    Even though the world is aflame with injustice, I have never felt more hopeful because these kids are going to be the future policymakers, world-builders, and community advocates of tomorrow. 

    Source: BBC

    So, who is this day for? Why must we still honor coming out now that the future is here and it’s gay, and we couldn’t be happier about it? 

    It’s for all of us. It’s for our elders. It’s for the work that previous generations of gays did that’s made it possible for a fifteen-year-old today to come out and be accepted. It’s ammunition for more radicalized societies, reform, and social change. 

    Celebrating our work while acknowledging we have ways to go

    To have “coming out” as a positive experience is a privilege. And it’s not the case for everyone, even some Gen Z’ers today.

    While social media has been used as a tool to dissent knowledge and praxis, it’s also a double-edged sword. People feel more entitled than ever to other people’s personal lives and information. 

    Young celebrities like Kit Connor, best known for playing Nick Nelson in the Netflix teen series Heartstopper, and Joshua Bassett, who played high school student Ricky Bowen in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, were harassed by countless people on the internet who accused them of queer baiting. This forced them both to come out publicly before they were ready to do so. 

    This misdirection of anger to individuals rather than to the studios who cast closeted members of our community without understanding the implications is dangerous and irresponsible. Producers often tokenize queer actors rather than doing the work of making the system queer and safe. 

    This is a horrible reality that celebrities like Chaz Bono, Ricky Martin, Lance Bass, Neil Patrick Harris, and Lee Pace (to name just a few) also fell victim to decades or years back. 

    Every person has a right to come out on whatever timeline they want — to whomever they want, at whatever moment they choose. 

    It’s indispensable for our work to take into account people’s right to privacy and humanity. We cannot move forward without letting go of the phenomena that hurt our community in the past. We must learn from the past and move forward with grace, accountability, and compassion. 

    The fight for a better world is not over. We haven’t reached our “final destination,” and being a gay person in the United States is still plagued by injustice. But we would be doing a dishonor to our community and the efforts of great community leaders by not celebrating our victories.

    This National Coming Out Day, I will be thinking of the work of my queer heroes: Harvey Milk, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Chavela Vargas, Barbara Gittings, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Phyll Opoku – Gyimah, Lisa Power, Sue Sanders, Ocean Vuong, Robert Sember, and Stef Rubino, and thanking them and their work as the architects of a more inclusive world. 

    Daniela Ochoa-Bravo is a writer and creative based in Brooklyn, born in Bogotá. She is the Founder and Editor of Colectivo Tabú, a project dedicated to democratizing the publishing industry by creating a space where the works of emerging and established artists can seamlessly coexist alongside each other.

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