[Ads-l] Antedating of "Come Out of the Closet" (Homosexuality)

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 23 19:34:56 UTC 2018

On Tue, Jan 23, 2018 at 2:01 PM, MULLINS, WILLIAM D (Bill) CIV USARMY

> >
> > come out of the closet (homosexuality) (OED 1972)
> >
> > 1968 _Berkeley Barb_ 15-21 Mar. 12/1 (Independent Voices)  HAY FRUITS!
> Come out of the closet long enuf to attend the East Bay Gay
> > Discussion Group Fridays.
> It would be nigh-on impossible to search for, I suspect, but I wonder when
> "of the closet" started being dropped, and when "come out" started being
> applied to characteristics other than homosexuality ("come out as a
> Republican", etc.).

See OED3 senses 12 and 13 of "come out" (s.v. "come" -- June 2017 update).

 12. intr. With complement. To make a public declaration in support of or
against something specified; to declare oneself a supporter of, or act as
an advocate for, a particular cause.
See also _to come out in one's true colours_ at _colour_ n.1 Phrases 5a.
1836   New-Yorker 26 Mar. 9/2   James B. Gardiner..was then a supporter of
Mr. Van Buren's claims for the Presidency.—Since that time, he has come out
as a partisan of Gen. Harrison.
 13. intr.
 a. slang. Among homosexual men and women: to become socially or sexually
active within homosexual circles; to realize that one is homosexual. Now
rare except as passing into sense 13b.
Perhaps influenced by the idea of social debut in sense 8c.
1941   G. Legman in G. W. Henry Sex Variants II. 1161   Come out, to become
progressively more and more exclusively homosexual with experience.
1949   ‘Swasarnt Nerf’ in H. Hagius Gay Guides for 1949 (2010) 48   Come
out, to be initiated into the mysteries of homosexuality.
 b. To acknowledge or declare openly that one is homosexual. Also in
extended use with reference to other sexual or gender identities. Cf. _to
come out of the closet_ at _closet_ n. and adj. Phrases 2a.
1971   Observer 17 Jan. 3/1   ‘I enjoy my double life,’ said a delicate
youth wearing a gold chain belt in a Chelsea pub, ‘I don't want to come
1974   Win 3 Oct. 10/2   The conference..was a very special occasion for
me. It was the time when I came out as a bisexual.

So "come out as a Republican (etc.)" long predates the coming-out-as-gay
usage, though latter may inflect the interpretation of the former these


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list