We’re all coming out fabulously

Coming out can be a complicated issue in the LGBTQ community. For some people, coming out was a difficult process involving wrestling with the consequences of revealing such a personal issue in a homophobic or transphobic society. For others, coming out was an extraordinary relief or even something to be celebrated. Each LGBTQ person’s coming out story is ultimately unique.

This year, Coming Out day fell on Oct. 11. For a period of time in the mid-90s, MSU was inundated with fliers by a group called Zero Tolerance fliers, a homophobic hate group that was  typically most active around Coming Out week. The group promoted a coming out heterosexual week as an alternative. Fortunately, Zero Tolerance hasn’t been heard from in decades.

Oddly enough, I actually think a coming out cisgender heterosexual event could be a useful concept, if those involved focused their “coming out” on their cisgender or heterosexual privilege.

My coming out story is as follows. When I was a senior in high school, the teacher for my participation in government class required us to do a presentation on a contemporary issue. I chose to do mine on same sex marriage. When the time came to actually do the presentation I got up in front of the class and told everybody that I had chosen the topic of same sex marriage because I myself was gay.

Coming out to myself as agender was more of a process and took longer. I had even given presentations and such where I discussed the concept of non-binary gender identity and such but it still took a long time before the label finally clicked with me.

Over the years, there have been many notable coming out stories.

Some historians have claimed that the first coming out was Karl Ulrichs who came out as an urning (his word) while publicly arguing against German anti-sodomy laws. Ulrichs later said “I am proud that I found the courage to deal the initial blow to the hydra of public contemp” when describing that event.

In Mankato, Jim Chalgren (founder of the Jim Chalgren LGBT Center) was among the earliest individuals to come out in a public fashion in Mankato.

Dr. Alan Kern became the first member of the MSU Mankato faculty to come out publicly when he wrote a Tomorrow column called Coming Out Gay in the Reporter on Oct. 2, 1974. In Coming Out Gay, Kern wrote, “My gay mind-body reaches out to all who want to know themselves through us.”

In 2003, C. Rhys Gaffer came out as a transgender man during his inauguration speech after he was elected as MSU Mankato’s Student Government President.

In 1981 Charles H. Cochrane became the first NYPD police officer to come out as gay when he came out to the New York City Council during a debate over an anti-discrimination ordinance.

Glenn Burke, who is credited with co-inventing the high five, was the first major league baseball player to come out as gay.

Ellen Degeneres coming out on The Puppy Episode of the sitcom “Ellen” could easily be described as the coming out story of the 90s. In the Puppy Episode, Ellen’s character on the TV series came out as lesbian, with Degeneres coming out well at the same time. The Puppy Episode of Ellen reached 42 million viewers, making it one of the most high profile modern day coming out events.

In the “coming out can be complicated” category, the first known use of “lesbian” in an American publication was used in reference to Joseph Lobdell. The thing is, Lobdell was actually a transgender man. While living in Minnesota, Lobdell was arrested and charged with “impersonating a man” by a Meeker county attorney, although the charges were later dropped by the presiding judge.

Other early transgender pioneers include Alan L. Hart who helped develop innovative ways to use X-ray photography to diagnose tuberculosis, and who is among the first transgender men to have a hysterectomy done as part of a gender affirming medical procedure. Hart received his hysterectomy around 1917.

Christine Jorgensen was among the earliest individuals to gain notoriety as a transgender woman when she became one of the earliest individuals to receive gender affirming medical care involving surgery. She started gender affirming surgery in 1952 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

While Jorgensen drew international attention for her transition, Dora Richter is believed to be the first transgender woman to receive gender affirming medical surgery at the Institute for Sexual Research in Germany in 1922. The Institute for Sexual Research was founded by Magnus Hirschfeld and would be destroyed by the Nazis during their rise to power.

In conclusion, I would like to return to what Dr. Alan Kern had to say about coming out in his column. “Now that I see my fear, I feel the pride of coming out gay. If only all people would come out as themselves.”

Header photo: Courtesy Jeremy Redlien

Write to Jeremy Redlien at Jeremy.redlien@mnsu.edu

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