Written by: Lynn Nichols
Powerful narratives for National Coming Out Day
On October 11, LGBTQ+ people and allies will celebrate National Coming Out Day. First observed in 1988, this day of recognition and action was created by Richard Eichberg and Jean O’Leary. According to an article from the American Psychological Association, Eichberg and O’Leary selected October 11 to honor the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. This booklist commemorates Coming Out Day with a selection of memoirs, short stories and novels, whose stories represent just a few of the diverse experiences of coming out. These narratives demonstrate the personal and political power of coming out while showing that LGBTQ+ identity and experience extend far past the closet door. We celebrate the icons in the LGBTQ+ community, and at the same time, we recognize that not everyone has the safety, the need or the desire to come out. National Coming Out Day challenges cisheterosexist assumptions until cis and straight are no longer seen as the default.
These narratives demonstrate the personal and political power of coming out while showing that LGBTQ+ identity and experience extend far past the closet door.
“Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love” is a memoir by Jonathan Van Ness, the nonbinary activist and television personality famous for his grooming expertise on Netflix’s “Queer Eye.” Before his book was published, Van Ness was already out and visible on television as a gay, gender nonconforming person, but in the memoir, he also shares his story as someone who is HIV positive. The autobiography balances a strong and often hilarious voice with a deeply emotional, personal narrative. “Over the Top” was a Goodreads Choice Award winner, and Van Ness has since published his first picture book, “Peanut Goes for the Gold.”
Content warnings: addiction, homophobia, sexual abuse.
“One Life” is a memoir by World Cup champion, Olympic gold medalist and equal pay advocate Megan Rapinoe. Rapinoe’s autobiography details her early life and soccer career, with an emphasis on her personal and political awakenings as an activist. This journey includes her meaningful decision to come out as a lesbian when there were no out players on the U.S. Women’s National Team, and the convictions which inspired her protests in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. In a clear, engaging style, Rapinoe subtly challenges the stereotype that LGBTQ+ identity must lead to an internal struggle. Instead, she shows that her experiences as a gay woman are essential to her identity and worldview.
“Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me” is the second memoir by editor, producer and activist Janet Mock, who came out as transgender in a 2011 Marie Claire article. Her first memoir was “Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More,” which explored her childhood and teenage journey of self-recognition. “Surpassing Certainty” focuses instead on Mock’s life as a young adult attending college and entering the professional world. She examines the unique pressures that she navigated as a Black, trans woman, including the decision of when and with whom she could safely come out. Mock’s profound and honest prose make “Surpassing Certainty” a compelling second coming-of-age volume.
Content warnings: misogynoir, racism, sexual assault, transmisogyny.
National Coming Out Day challenges cisheterosexist assumptions until cis and straight are no longer seen as the default.
“All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages” is a short story anthology edited by author Saundra Mitchell. The anthology collects contributions from 17 different authors with stories centered on the many aspects of the LGBTQ+ experience, not just the experience of coming out. The genre selection is just as diverse as the protagonists, with stories ranging from contemporary slice-of-life, to period pieces, to queer ghost stories and trans reimaginings of Robin Hood. Popular authors published in the collection include Malinda Lo, Anna-Marie McLemore, Mackenzi Lee, Shaun David Hutchinson and Kody Keplinger. Mitchell has also edited a follow-up anthology (“Out Now: Queer We Go Again!”), which spotlights 17 more authors including Meredith Russo, C.B. Lee and Julian Winters.
Content warnings: forced outing, homophobia, transphobia.
“It’s Not Like It’s a Secret” by Misa Sugiura is a coming-of-age YA novel, focused on the romance between two young women of color. Through her protagonist Sana, Sugiura depicts high school drama and first loves, as well as the model minority myth and other prejudices which Sana confronts as a Japanese American teenager. The novel explores multiple relationship dynamics, not stopping at Sana’s struggle to come out to her family. “It’s Not Like It’s a Secret” was recognized with the Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature and included on the 2018 Rainbow Book List. In summer 2021, Sugiura published a second sapphic romance novel, “Love & Other Disasters.”
Content warnings: anti-Asian and anti-Latinx racism.
“Exit West” is a literary fiction novel by Mohsin Hamid. The novel begins with a familiar plot, as main characters Nadia and Saeed search for passage out of their destabilized (and unnamed) home country. Hamid diverges from typical refugee fiction, however, with the magical realism of “doors” that can transport characters between cities, countries and even continents. Nadia and Saeed’s story is interspersed with carefully crafted, lyrical vignettes of unnamed characters from all over the world. When the novel’s gay and bisexual characters escape and emerge through these doors, Hamid illustrates subtle yet powerful coming out narratives parallel with immigrant experience. “Exit West” was shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize and Booker Prize, and Hamid has been recognized with the Cleveland-based Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.
Content warnings: sexual assault, xenophobia.
“Maurice” by E.M. Forster is a coming-of-age novel first written in the early 1900s. The novel was not published until 1971, the year after the author’s death. While he was alive, Forster never attempted to publish “Maurice,” fearing public backlash and the risk of outing himself. Forster’s writing is introspective and character-driven, and even with the focus on 20th-century England, the novel’s style is accessible to modern readers. Contrary to norms of literature during the time period (and even some literature today), the novel did not end by condemning its gay characters to death or suffering. Protagonist Maurice lives in a time and place where he can never safely come out to the world, but Forster frames the end to his story as mostly happy. This is a rewarding novel for readers seeking a connection to historical LGBTQ+ narratives and community that has always existed.
On October 11, LGBTQ+ people and allies will celebrate National Coming Out Day.