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Closeted and in the closet are metaphors for LGBT people who have not disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity and aspects thereof, including sexual identity and sexual behavior. This metaphor is associated and sometimes combined with coming out, the act of revealing one's sexuality or gender to others, to create the phrase "coming out of the closet".


Nondisclosure of one's sexual orientation or gender identity preceded the use of 'closet' as a term for the act. For example, the writer Thomas Mann entered a heterosexual marriage with a woman in 1905, and had six children, but discussed his attraction to men in his private diary, which by contemporary terms would have designated him a closeted homosexual man.

D. Travers Scott claims that the phrase 'coming out of the closet', along with its derivative meanings of 'coming out' and 'closeted', has its origins in two different metaphors. 'Coming out' was first a phrase used in the early 20th century in reference to a young woman attending a debutante ball, such that she was 'coming out' into society. In past times, the word 'closet' meant 'bedroom,' so one's sexuality was not shown beyond there. Later in the 1960s, the metaphor of a 'skeleton in the closet', which meant to hide a secret due to taboos or social stigmas, was also used in reference to a gender identity or sexuality that one may not wish to disclose. As such, to reveal one's LGBTQ+ identity that was previously hidden or kept secret was to allow a skeleton to come out of the closet.[1]

One linguistic study suggests that the transgender community may use different vocabulary to refer to the disclosure status of one's gender identity, such as "stealth" in place of "closeted".[2]


A 2019 study by the Yale School of Public Health estimated that 83% of LGBT people around the world do not reveal their sexual orientation.[3]

In 1993, Michelangelo Signorile wrote Queer in America, in which he explored the harm caused both to a closeted person and to society in general by being closeted.[4] The closet is difficult for any non-heterosexual, non-cisgender identified person to fully come "out" of, whether or not that person desires to do so. Scholar Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, author of the Epistemology of the Closet, discusses the difficulty with the closet:

...the deadly elasticity of heterosexist presumption means that, like Wendy in Peter Pan, people find new walls springing up around them even as they drowse: every encounter with a new classful of students, to say nothing of a new boss, social worker, loan officer, landlord, doctor, erects new closets.[5]

Alternatively, Mary Lou Rasmussen argues that there exists a 'coming out imperative', where the dominant LGBTQ+ narrative offers no moral alternative to coming out, relegating the closet to "a zone of shame and exclusion".[6] This may suggest that in the modern day, there is pressure or an expectation for an LGBTQ+ person to come out of the closet. Rasmussen further notes that there are several factors that may dictate someone's choice to remain closeted, such as ethnic or religious background, or financial dependence on family or peers that may be jeopardized if that person chooses to come out.[6]

Scholars also noted that people of different genders and sexual orientations often faced different experiences and stigmas, resulting in varied rates of being closeted among LGBTQ+ people of different identities. One 2015 study found that bisexual men were more often closeted than gay men, due to the possibility of negative reactions from heterosexual partners, in addition to homophobia.[7]

A study by Lal Zimman noted that among transgender people, coming before and after taking up their corresponding gender role is separated into distinct categories of "declaration" and "disclosure". Before occupying a different gender role, the act of coming out of the closet is one where a person declares a different gender identity than what they are perceived as. After taking up the gender role, this person is disclosing that they had previously identified with and fulfilled a different one. Zimman found that declaration of one's gender identity happened more often than disclosure of a past gender role.[2]


A 2019 study of LGBTQIA+ individuals found that 94.8% were closeted in North Africa and 89.5% were closeted in Sub-Saharan Africa.[8]



A 2016 survey found that 85% of LGBT people have not told anyone about their sexual orientation and 95% have not revealed it outside their family.[9] A study in 2015 described homosexuality as "not socially accepted in China", noting that gay Chinese men may participate in lavender marriages with heterosexual or lesbian women, and that nondisclosure of sexuality may stem from opposition from a heterosexual spouse in addition to societal stigmas against homosexuality.[10]


Some scholars and activists consider the process of coming out in Japan to be extremely difficult, claiming that due to the cultural and emotional importance of the home, the emotional honesty expressed within a household may create a "locus of homophobia" that would reinforce one's desire to remain closeted.[11] Overall, a study in 2017 found that among members of the Japanese LGBTQ+ community, coming out of the closet was generally considered desirable, but the process may be complicated by patriarchal or heteronormative ideals held by society.[11]


Frank T. Y. Wang argues that among gay or bisexual Taiwanese men, the societal importance of a family or household unit is the primary reason why one may choose to remain closeted. Participants of the study often cited their family's conservatism, fear of disappointment or emotional distress, or a desire to keep their parents from the stigma of having an LGBTQ+ family member as reasons for staying closeted. Wang also notes that unmarried men in Taiwan tended to live with their parents, such that older closeted men may arouse suspicion for not having married, causing them to compensate by emotionally or spatially distancing themselves from the household, or otherwise act in certain ways to raise or lower the expectations one's family may have for them.[12]


According to a 2020 survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 30% of LGBT people in the EU are very rarely or almost never open; the highest percentages are Lithuania (60%), Bulgaria (54%) and Romania and Serbia (both 53%).[13]

Middle East[edit]

The majority of Middle Eastern countries have very harsh laws against LGBT rights, with some even executing gay men.[14] A 2019 study found that 94.8% of LGBT individuals in the Middle East were closeted.[8]

North America[edit]

Some scholars criticize that coming out of the closet in North America is at times associated with migration from a rural, conservative area to a progressive urban one. Lewis argues that queer migration is not usually an escape from intolerance of LGBTQ+ identities, but instead driven by a desire to escape shifts in previous social networks and relationships that had occurred after coming out.[15]

United States[edit]

In the United States, 4% of gay and lesbian people and 26% of bisexual people are not "out" to at least one of the important people in their lives.[16] A 2018 report by the Human Rights Campaign found that 46% of LGBT American workers are closeted at their workplace.[17]

In late-20th-century America, the closet had become a central metaphor for grasping the history and social dynamics of gay life, along with the concept of coming out. The closet narrative set up an implicit dualism between being "in" or being "out." Those who were "in" are often stigmatized as living false unhappy lives.[18] However, there are numerous social, economic, familial, and personal repercussions that may lead to someone remaining, whether consciously or unconsciously, "in" the closet.[citation needed] For example, the Lavender Scare led to the implementation of Executive Order 10450 in 1953,[19] which banned all gays and lesbians from working in the US federal government, forcing employees who wished to retain their jobs to remain closeted. Sometimes, people have remained in the closet because they themselves have had difficulty understanding or accepting their sexuality.[20] The decision to come out or remain in the closet is considered a deeply-personal one, and outing remains controversial in today's culture.

In the 21st century, the related concept of a "glass closet" emerged in LGBT discourse.[21] The term describes public figures, such as entertainers or politicians, who are out of the closet in their personal lives and do not engage in the tactics (such as entering a lavender marriage or publicly dating a person of the opposite sex) that were historically used by members of the LGBTQ+ community to hide their gender or sexuality, but have not formally disclosed their sexual orientation to the public.[21] Lavender marriages had occurred throughout Hollywood to advance and maintain one's career and since the early 20th century.[22] Examples of celebrities who were in the glass closet include Colton Haynes[23] and Ricky Martin.[24] Closeting is seen not only in celebrities but also in the media that is produced. Popular television shows use metaphors to show closeting that differ based on how they relate to society at a given time.[25]

Recent attention to bullying of LGBTQ youth and teens in the United States also gives an indication that many youth and teens remain closeted throughout their educational years and beyond for fear of disapproval from parents, friends, teachers and community members. To remain in the closet offers an individual a layer of protection against ridicule and bullying [citation needed]; however, to remain in the closet typically takes a toll on the mental health of the individual, especially in the adolescent years as reflected in suicide rates among LGBTQ youths.[26] Being closeted can also have different effects on the mental health on men and women. In a study done by John E. Pachankis from Yale University and Susan D. Cochran and Vickie M. Mays from the University of California, it was found that women who were closeted were twice as likely to report depressive episodes than women who were out.[27] Comparatively it was found that men who were in the closet were less likely to report a depressive episode than those out of the closet.[27] Along with effects on the mental and physical health of those who remain in the closet, it also impacts the cost of health care and the public awareness of the LGBTQ community.[28]

However, Seidman, Meeks and Traschen (1999) argue that "the closet" may be becoming an antiquated metaphor in the lives of modern-day Americans for two reasons.

  1. Homosexuality is becoming increasingly normalized and the shame and secrecy often associated with it appear to be in decline.
  2. The metaphor of the closet hinges upon the notion that stigma management is a way of life. However, stigma management may actually be increasingly done situationally.

South America[edit]

A 2019 study found that 35.4% of LGB individuals in Latin America were closeted.[8]

In media[edit]


  • Dr. Matthew O'Connor, a gay character in the 1936 novel Nightwood by Djuna Barnes, refers to himself as "[...] I, the Old Woman who lives in the closet," (138).[29]
  • The short story Brokeback Mountain and its 2005 film adaptation directed by Ang Lee center on two men who briefly enter a homosexual relationship, but proceed to enter heterosexual relationships and conceal their homosexuality from their peers.
  • "Devotion", a short story by Adam Haslett, concerns a closeted gay man and his sister who both harbor feelings for the same man.
  • The 2015 novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and its film adaptation Love, Simon (2018) center on a closeted teenage boy who faces the prospect of coming out.


  • Lan Yu (2001) is a Hong Kong-Mainland Chinese film where the protagonist enters a relationship with a closeted businessman.


  1. ^ Scott, D. Travers (3 July 2018). "'Coming out of the closet' – examining a metaphor". Annals of the International Communication Association. 42 (3): 145–154. doi:10.1080/23808985.2018.1474374. ISSN 2380-8985. S2CID 149561937.
  2. ^ a b Zimman, Lal (2009). "other kind of coming out'". Gender and Language. 3 (1): 53–80. doi:10.1558/genl.v3i1.53. ISSN 1747-633X.
  3. ^ Pachankis, John E.; Bränström, Richard (13 June 2019). "How many sexual minorities are hidden? Projecting the size of the global closet with implications for policy and public health". PLOS ONE. 14 (6): e0218084. Bibcode:2019PLoSO..1418084P. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0218084. PMC 6564426. PMID 31194801.
  4. ^ re-released in 2003 by University of Wisconsin Press, ISBN 0-299-19374-8
  5. ^ Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. The Epistemology of the Closet.
  6. ^ a b Rasmussen, Mary Lou (2004). "The Problem of Coming Out". Theory into Practice. 43 (2): 144–150. doi:10.1207/s15430421tip4302_8. ISSN 0040-5841. JSTOR 3701550. S2CID 145748328.
  7. ^ Schrimshaw, Eric W.; Downing, Martin J.; Cohn, Daniel J. (1 January 2018). "Reasons for Non-Disclosure of Sexual Orientation Among Behaviorally Bisexual Men: Non-Disclosure as Stigma Management". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 47 (1): 219–233. doi:10.1007/s10508-016-0762-y. ISSN 1573-2800. PMC 5145776. PMID 27278965.
  8. ^ a b c Pachankis, John E.; Bränström, Richard (13 June 2019). "How many sexual minorities are hidden? Projecting the size of the global closet with implications for policy and public health". PLOS ONE. 14 (6): e0218084. Bibcode:2019PLoSO..1418084P. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0218084. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 6564426. PMID 31194801.
  9. ^ Huang, Zheping (2016). "Only 5% of China's LGBT citizens have come out of the closet". Quartz. Retrieved 25 August 2020.
  10. ^ Zhao, Ye; Ma, Ying; Chen, Ren; Li, Feng; Qin, Xia; Hu, Zhi (1 January 2016). "Non-disclosure of Sexual Orientation to Parents Associated with Sexual Risk Behaviors Among Gay and Bisexual MSM in China". AIDS and Behavior. 20 (1): 193–203. doi:10.1007/s10461-015-1135-6. ISSN 1573-3254. PMID 26174317. S2CID 179663.
  11. ^ a b Tamagawa, Masami (20 October 2018). "Coming Out of the Closet in Japan: An Exploratory Sociological Study". Journal of GLBT Family Studies. 14 (5): 488–518. doi:10.1080/1550428X.2017.1338172. ISSN 1550-428X. S2CID 149019321.
  12. ^ Wang, Frank T. Y.; Bih, Herng-Dar; Brennan, David J. (1 April 2009). "Have they really come out: gay men and their parents in Taiwan". Culture, Health & Sexuality. 11 (3): 285–296. doi:10.1080/13691050802572711. ISSN 1369-1058. PMID 19296307. S2CID 36520091.
  13. ^ European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2020). EU LGBTI II: A long way to go for LGBTI equality (PDF). European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. doi:10.2811/7746. ISBN 978-92-9474-997-0.
  14. ^ "LGBTQ communities face threats in Middle East". DW News. 16 July 2022. Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  15. ^ Lewis, Nathaniel M. (2013). "Beyond Binary Places: The Social and Spatial Dynamics of Coming Out in Canada". ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies. 12 (2): 305–330. ISSN 1492-9732.
  16. ^ "Bisexual adults are far less likely than gay men and lesbians to be 'out' to the people in their lives". Pew Research Center. 18 June 2019. Retrieved 25 August 2020.
  17. ^ "Report Reveals Half of LGBTQ Employees Remain Closeted at Work". Human Rights Campaign. 25 June 2018. Retrieved 1 December 2022.
  18. ^ Seidman, Meeks and Traschen (1999)
  19. ^ ""These People Are Frightened to Death"". National Archives. 15 August 2016. Retrieved 17 November 2020.
  20. ^ Jack Drescher, M. D. (October 2004). "The Closet: Psychological Issues of Being In and Coming Out". Psychiatric Times. Psychiatric Times Vol 21 No 12. 21 (12). Retrieved 17 November 2020.
  21. ^ a b "The Glass Closet". www.out.com. 23 September 2008. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  22. ^ Morgan, Thad (10 July 2019). "When Hollywood Studios Married Off Gay Stars to Keep Their Sexuality a Secret". HISTORY. Retrieved 4 June 2021.
  23. ^ Jacobs, Matthew (14 June 2017). "Colton Haynes, Once Told To Stay In The Closet, Returns With A Sparkling Outlook". HuffPost. Retrieved 4 June 2021.
  24. ^ "'I was told my career would collapse if I came out,' says Ricky Martin". The Independent. 23 October 2011. Retrieved 4 June 2021.
  25. ^ Kustritz, Anna (September 2020). "Everyone has a secret: Closeting and secrecy from Smallville to The Flash, and from shame to algorithmic risk". Sexualities. 23 (5–6): 793–809. doi:10.1177/1363460719850114. S2CID 189979651 – via OhioLink.
  26. ^ "Generation Q Pride Store brought to you by LAMBDA GLBT Community Services". www.lambda.org. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  27. ^ a b Pachankis, John E. (2015). "The Mental Health of Sexual Minority Adults In and Out of the Closet:A Population-Based Study". Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 83 (5): 890–901. doi:10.1037/ccp0000047. PMC 4573266. PMID 26280492.
  28. ^ "The 'Global Closet' is Huge—Vast Majority of World's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Population Hide Orientation, YSPH Study Finds".
  29. ^ Barnes, Djuna. 1936. Nightwood. 1961. New York: New Directions.


  • Chauncey, George (1994). Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890–1940. New York: Basic Books. Cited in Seidman 2003.
  • Humphreys, L. (1970). Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places. Chicago: Aldine.
  • Kennedy, Elizabeth. "'But We Would Never Talk about It': The Structure of Lesbian Discretion in South Dakota, 1928-1933" in Inventing Lesbian Cultures in America, ed. Ellen Lewin (1996). Boston: Beacon Press. Cited in Seidman 2003.
  • Seidman, Steven (2003). Beyond the Closet; The Transformation of Gay and Lesbian Life. ISBN 0-415-93207-6.
  • Seidman, Steven, Meeks, Chet and Traschen, Francie (1999), "Beyond the Closet? The Changing Social Meaning of Homosexuality in the United States." Sexualities 2 (1)
  • Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet (reprinted 1992).

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]