Queerness and the Closet

Words by Helena (she/her), 20 QLD

Being closeted is an almost universal queer experience.

At about the age of ten, I remember thinking to myself that by the time I was older things would be better; people would be more accepting. Until I arrived at this imagined future I had conceived out of hope and desperation, I swore to devote all my efforts to concealment and internal repression.

From the first inklings of my queerness, I managed to repress these thoughts for most of my adolescence, engaging in an intense cognitive dissonance that allowed me to keep my queerness out of conscious awareness. There was a constant internal dichotomy in which I did everything in my power to be perceived as straight in fear of being outed, whilst simultaneously being in complete denial of my queerness myself.

Since beginning the process of reintegrating the dissociated aspects of myself, I have managed to gradually fish these memories out of my subconscious one by one. Looking back, this form of repression seems almost nonsensical, an impossible feat to achieve. But it is a very real experience that many queer people endure throughout adolescence, and in some cases even into adulthood.

Queerness is, and especially was, so unacceptable that it is often kept dissociated from the self, with many using selective inattention over an extended period to separate their sexual or gender identity from the rest of their persona.

Even when one does manage to allow their queerness into conscious awareness, it is often kept hidden from others despite this achievement. It can be incredibly painful to vigilantly separate aspects of the self in this way and eventually keep significant aspects of oneself hidden. An inability to integrate aspects of the self into a public persona creates risks of splitting and fragmentation, as a double life is lived.

The impact on forming relationships in adolescence is another profound consequence of life in the closet, one which often persists into later life. Alienation, isolation and distance are frequently experienced by closeted queer people in their relationships with others. This is fuelled by both the social presentation of an inauthentic self and the fear of closeness eventually revealing their queerness.

I completely lost my sense of self living in the closet, as I devoted everything to performing interests and tastes that best integrated with the heterosexual identities I perceived around me. Everything, down to the most minute of details, was painstakingly constructed to create a performance in contradiction to my true self. Every decision was made in constant fear of being perceived as queer.

It was often completely irrational, as many of these choices would not even be registered by most people. For example, I once chose to buy a rose gold iPhone in case the black one I had originally wanted seemed ‘too masculine.’

Closeted queer people also live in constant awareness that others’ acceptance is conditional and based on a lie, and consequently live in fear of being exposed and losing all connection. This often leads to a mental distancing of oneself from others, avoiding closeness in an effort to avoid a revelation of queerness. I am still unpicking this behaviour in my early years of adulthood, battling my reflexive tendency to deflect close bonds with others.

Luckily, I was right – the hopeful future I had imagined as a child has gradually begun to realise itself. Things have shifted over the last ten years and people are far more accepting than they once were. Societal changes over the last five years have been especially monumental and are only growing exponentially.

Now, queer people have a far greater ability to come out safely, to greater acceptance and from much younger ages. Further developing this culture is essential to the safety and mental wellbeing of young queer people, allowing them to live a full and enriched life in contact with their true selves.


Illustration by Aileen. You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenngstudio
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