"Leave No One Behind" Group Exhibition Vol6: coming out: do not leave those in the closet behind, do not leave them alone.

Artist: Nigar Safarova Description: Trigger Warning: Abuse The pieces portray the real story that the artist has been through. Once, as a punishment, she was kept in the closet and the unfortunate experience has left many literal translations on the artist. Since then, she has been bottling her emissions and literally feeling in the closet about herself and her identity. According to the artist, when the emotions of a person are hidden, it translates as manipulation that is depicted as the locks in the pieces. The small keyhole of the lock has been the observing point of the world for the artist. People experiencing challenges to express their emotions tend to have more social isolation which pushes them to stay closer to different fast dopamine sources such as entertainment on the internet which turn into a comfort zone at some point. The addictive nature of social media is obvious to all of us, however, sometimes certain online spaces are more helpful for closeted people to express themselves more freely. Consequently, the artist also stated “Being in the closet is a personal choice. Some might have more safety and security in the closet and one should always have preventive measures in hostile settings about their queer identities and experiences”. The pathway to self-acceptance can be a tough one, particularly when it's vulnerable to other people’s reactions. For the majority of the queer community, coming out as their true gender or expressing their sexuality publicly is a challenging process over how biological family members will react, whether they'll bear the consequences of losing close ones once they shed a light on their authentic selves, or if their relationships in school, with their colleagues and community, will not be the same. Queer Art Festival has conducted a community meeting by creating a safe space for women and LGBTI+s to tell their coming out stories and discuss the challenges around the topic. This article is the summary of the general discussion and different points made by the participants. Most of the participants mentioned that they had challenging experiences when they initially came out to their families. Most were forced to go to therapy or a doctor for a hormone check-up. Some mentioned they were bullied by their family members and abused for many years after coming out which left them with no choice but to abandon their biological family not to bear the ongoing psychological violence. Some were luckier than others and a participant mentioned that last two years her family started respecting her identity, and she feels good about herself. She added that “although I had no expectations of support from my family when I first came out, after 10 years of coming out they started supporting me and it is the best feeling”. Few also added that it is a matter of coming out to yourself before coming out to others. Due to the lack of conversations around the topic, the stigma around the community as well as, transphobia and homophobia always demonized the community in the eyes of kids, and growing up many feared their “unusual” feelings towards others. Being born and raised in smaller and more conservative settings and the influence of religion has made it really challenging for many of the LGBTI+s to self-identify and accept their true gender and sexuality. Thus, many participants mentioned that they had an understanding of their sexuality from an early age, however, it took until the age of 14 to 19 to come out to themselves and experience their identity. Confusion, fear, and lack of knowledge about their gender and sexuality were major struggles for most of the participants. One mentioned that “I had no idea about bisexuality and I was always assuming that you are either lesbian or straight” and the confusion caused me a lot of damage around the age of 12. Further, participants added that one of the significant challenges growing up they were facing was the pressure from the family. A gay participant mentioned that “spending so much time with girls at school was not welcomed by my family and they were mostly complaining about the issue”. Also, some phrases addressed to them by their family members such as “do not act masculine/feminine” was also putting so much pressure on participants as teenagers and in some cases, the overall situation and treatment by the family was leading to body dysmorphia and self-harm. Some also commented that although coming out is a way of celebrating your identity and embracing your queerness, it is also important to be political about it. In a conservative society where there is no healthy discourse around the issue, where queer people are systemically oppressed, violated, and discriminated against, and there is no protection and recognition of rights by the government, sometimes it is better not to share about your identity that could put you in a hostile situation. In conclusion, participants agreed that coming out is a personal choice and one could decide based on their privileges and power dynamics inside the communities and settings they are in. One’s safety and security must be always prioritized and people who come out should consider its consequences.

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