Olivia Barrett

Reflecting on the coming out experience

by Olivia Barrett, Editorial Associate

Saturday 28 October 2023

Right now, 2019 feels like a lifetime ago. In some ways it was. I was still in high school, still living in Toronto with my family, and still very unsure of what I wanted to do in university or afterwards.

This year, on national coming out day, I thought about what coming out means to me and to my experience as a Black, queer woman. For some, coming out is a simple, worry-free experience where they know their families and friends will support and love them unconditionally. For others, it’s scary not knowing how people in their life will react. The feeling can be all-consuming. The back and forth of whether to tell them or keep it to yourself for just a bit longer can linger in the back of their mind for days, weeks, months and even years.

Like many other BIPOC youth, the thought of coming out brought many questions of where I would be accepted. With anti-Black racism being prevalent in the 2SLGBTQ+ community and homophobia in the Black community, finding an accepting space can be difficult when identities intersect.

The Capital Rainbow Refuge is an Eastern Ontario organization that aims to create a safe spaces for LGBTQI+ refugee. Spaces like this help racialized queer youth to explore their identities, find support groups and discover their place within both the BIPOC community and the queer community.

These spaces and connections are crucial for racialized youth, especially if they have previously struggled to find support from their communities. This lack of support for racialized queer youth is common across several fields. Rainbow Health Ontario released a report discussing the discrimination and stigma racialized youth face when accessing health care services. 

This discrimination causes distrust towards the health care system because racialized queer youth are not able to access the affirming and competent care. The report explains some of the health disparities racialized queer youth face and how these disparities are not equal within the BIPOC community, highlighting the role of anti-Black racism. It uses the prevalence of anti-Black racism in the health care system to show how the HIV/AIDS infection rate is higher in Black communities than among other Canadians.

Additionally, the report discusses the lack of representation of Two Spirit identities in health research. This places limitations on the level of care these individuals are able to access because only small-sample studies are able to be conducted. This leads to greater health disparities, contributing to “systemic invisibility” of Two Spirit individuals. This “invisibility,” in combination with ongoing colonialism and racism, has led to higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases in the Indigenous population in comparison to the non-Indigenous population. As a solution to this gap, the report suggests that health care providers should “take the same considerations” for Two Spirit individuals as they would for Indigenous and LGBTQ+ individuals.

The report also includes microaggressions in its discussion of health disparities. This section explains that racialized queer people report experiencing discrimination from within the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

This separation between the racialized and non-racialized queer experience is essential to understanding the complicated idea of coming out.

The report uses the example of being pressured to come out by non-racialized partners to show how concepts like coming out are based in “white, middle-class conceptualizations of sexuality and identity.”

This pressure from friends or partners who don’t understand certain cultural perceptions or expectations can make coming out and being comfortable with one’s queer identity complicated. With being part of the LGBTQ+ community being criminalized in 62 United Nations member states, coming to terms with this part of your identity can be challenging. The lack of language, acceptance and general exposure to queerness is isolating.

For me, the feeling of being queer, was always there, I just never had the language to explain what I felt. The lack of education around diverse sexualities and genders leads to this gap in language and knowledge that can isolate people exploring their sexuality or gender identity without having the words to explain to themselves, much less anyone else.

Despite the challenges that come with being Black and queer, this intersectionality of my identity has become one of the things that I love most about myself.

Once I learned what it meant to be bisexual, a weight I didn’t know was there was lifted off of me. I will never forget the feeling of finally being at ease just being myself.