Stuck in the Closet

It’s hard to be open when you can’t even come out.


It was 10 p.m. The house was quiet. The only other sound was the television playing a game show Ana’s mother and sister were watching while her father got ready for his shift at the hospital. Ana*, 18, laid down against her pillows quietly tapping her phone’s keyboard to make it seem like she’d fallen asleep. But in reality she was gushing over a girl her parents would disapprove of instantly.

Ana, a freshman film major, identifies as pansexual, which means she is attracted to people regardless of that person’s biological sex, gender, or identity. While her parents disapprove of her dating in general, nothing quite prepared her for the Romeo and Juliet romance she had with Anita*, a girl she met on an exclusively girls-only dating app.

“It was difficult watching my friends get into relationships, so I decided to try it. I’d been sitting on the sidelines for so long, I thought I deserved to have a chance to play the game.”

Anita was everything Ana was not. A confident liberal arts student, Anita had been the first to ask Ana if they could exchange numbers and Snapchats while also being the first to bring up going on a date. That’s when it hit Ana that she’d have to tell Anita the truth about her situation at home.

“I’d met women who I clicked with instantly, only to have them reject me when I said I wasn’t out. Some would even pressure me to come out. I really liked Anita, and I really, really hoped this would be different. It took three attempts for me to finally send her something along the lines of, ‘Hey so I just want to let you know, because people have rejected me about this, that I’m not out to my family. And if you don’t want to go out anymore I’m okay with that.’ Really I wasn’t, but there wasn’t much I could about it if she was.”

The moment the three dots popped up saying Anita was responding, Ana could remember her heart stopping as she waited for her crush’s response.

“It’s okay, I’m not out to my parents too lmao.”
“Oh thank god. This is going to work out.”

They continued texting late that night until Anita fell asleep. While everything felt at ease, there was still one thing bothered Ana about her budding relationship with the other girl.

“I couldn’t believe I was excited we were both in the closet. That’s not something to get excited over. I felt selfish. Actually, I was really fucking selfish.”

Dating while in the closet is something people in the queer community either try to avoid, or are willing to get into, whether they are the ones in the closet or dating someone who is.

While there are many reasons behind staying in the closet, family is one of the most common reasons. In Ana’s case, it was her family’s religious upbringing which rejected homosexuality that made her scared to come out. For Valentin*, who identifies as bisexual, his family also played a role in his fear of telling his parents of him going on dates with other men.

“When I came out it was a bit of a shock because I came out to both [parents] at the same time. But my mom started crying like it was my fault, like I chose this. She said ‘stop, stop don’t do that.’ My dad on the other hand, it was more like questions… He didn’t say stop, but he said if you [date other men] don’t do it here.” Valentin explained.

In a study conducted by Pew Research in 2013, 54 percent of people who identified as part of the queer community were out to important people in their lives. Meanwhile, only 56 percent of people said yes to having told their mothers about their sexual orientation or gender identity, and 39 percent having told their fathers. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, studies have shown that between 20 percent to 40 percent of homeless youth are queer and on the streets because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. While the Washington Post reported nearly half of homeless youths are queer.

That same report by Pew also reported that about four-in-10 (39 percent) of its participants reported that at some point in their lives they were rejected by a family member or close friend because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; 30 percent reported they have been physically attacked or threatened; 29 percent reported they had been made to feel unwelcome in a place of worship; and 21 percent reported they had been treated unfairly by an employer. All of these are reasons why some people stay in the closet with no intention of coming out any time soon.

Being in the closet can affect a person’s growth as well as their mental and physical self. Quinn Sloan, an 18-year-old art and psychology major who identifies as both queer and non-binary, and was in the closet when they meet their partner, said they were “always on edge” during this time in their life.

“When you’re in the closet, it is easy to have a bunch of internalized queerphobia built up in you that makes you uncomfortable with dating and having feelings for people. I’m not saying that’s not present when you’re out — but I definitely feel like being in the closet allows for you to internalize things about yourself more.

Honestly, it’s very scary because you’re always in fear that someone you don’t want to know will find out or you won’t be careful enough when you’re making up an alibi. ”

Being on the opposite end and dating someone in the closet is also a struggle. For Valentin, who dated someone who was in completely in the closet and hadn’t come out to anyone, said, “I wasn’t too fond of the idea. He’d completely ignore me and say ‘I’m not going to acknowledge you in case my friends notice me.’ It was difficult to see someone hiding from everyone.”

Despite the difficulties faced by people wanting relationships while also not being out of the closet, it does get better.

Ana, who is still in the closet, said the idea of coming out feels easier as the world continues to respond more openly to the LGBT community. Watching YouTube coming out videos, Ana points out two videos in particular that reassure her about coming out to her family one day: beauty vlogger Ingrid Nilsen’s “Something I Want You To Know” and musician Troye Sivan’s “Coming Out Pt. I.” Nilsen, who came out to her fans in 2015 talks about her experiences being gay, but suppressing it due to the environment she lived in, something Ana says she can relate to closely.

Meanwhile, Sivan’s video has him coming out to fans after coming out to his family in 2010 when he tells viewers he is “terrified” knowing people are going to “have a problem with this,” and that it could change everything even though it shouldn’t have to.

Ana said, “Seeing how successful and happy they are now, in spite of being in the closet before, makes me hopeful. You see the commercials saying it gets better, and seeing it happen to real people makes it feel a lot more real.”

Juan Marco, 19, business and French major, who came out in high school, said falling in love with another man had a role with him coming out. “That guy that I dated while I was in high school was out and I was not at the moment. I remember feeling extremely jealous at how accepting his friends and families were to him. He seemed super happy and comfortable around them. This was finally the reason why I decided to come out, I thought to myself ‘wow, I could have all of this too.’” Being out now, he said, “[Dating] is also easier because you are able to do all the things that any other couple does: hugging, kissing, holding hands, etc. It’s the freedom of being able to do whatever you want, no restrictions.”

In a poem by Tumblr user briansellalookinguncomfortable titled “Things People Taught Me About Liking Girls” which portrays the struggles the poet wrote growing up in a homophobic environment starting from when she was aged 12 to 21, promises that things do get better. In the last paragraph she wrote:

“You are 21 and you are kissing a beautiful girl and she’s your girlfriend and you understand why people write songs and make movies and stupid Facebook statuses about this and time around you just seems to stop and you could spend forever like this and you learn that there is nothing wrong with you and you are falling in love.

You are 21. And you are okay.”

Note: To protect their privacy, the names of Ana, Anita, and Valentin have been changed.