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Closeted or "the closet" are phrases generally referring to undisclosed sexual identity, behavior, orientation and gender identity. The most common of these concern lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people, but may include people who engage in kink sexual behaviors such as BDSM and fetish. Someone who has come out of the closet is considered "out" or "open"; for example, someone who is "openly gay" avoids implying that they are heterosexual.


A survey by The Social Organization of Sexuality in which 150 women and 143 men reported any same-sex sexuality (desire, sex, identity) found that among men 44% felt desire and 22% had same-sex activity and among women 59% felt desire and 13% had same-sex activity, only 24% and 15%, respectively, identified as LGB in addition to feeling desire and having same-sex activity.

Linguistic origin

"The word "closet" was first used to mean secret or unsuspected as early as the 1600s, but not in relation to a person’s sexuality. Closeted also came into use around the same time and meant to keep something hidden or secret from others. Closet case, closet queen, or closet homosexual began to be used during the middle of the 20th century to mean that someone was hiding their homosexuality from others. Similar terms used around this time period were canned fruit, cedar chest sissy, and dry queen, which have now fallen into disuse."

The closet, as it is now used, dates from the 1950s post-war United Statesmarker, when the deliberateness and aggressiveness of heterosexual enforcement increased. "Gay people in the pre-war years [pre-World War I]... did not speak of coming out of what we call the gay closet but rather of coming out into what they called homosexual society or the gay world, a world neither so small, nor so isolated, nor... so hidden as closet implies". In fact, "using the term 'closet' to refer to" previous times such as "the 1920s and 1930s might be anachronistic" (Kennedy 1996).


People may have a closeted sexual orientation identity, gender identity, sexual behavior, sexual orientation, or a combination.

Closeted sexual and gender identity

Many people may self-identify as LGBT, but chose not to disclose their identity. The closet is a "life-shaping pattern of concealment" where LGBT people hide their sexuality and gender-identity in various areas of life, with family, friends, and at work. Individuals may enter into a lavender marriage, or avoid certain jobs or social situations, in order to avoid suspicion and exposure. "It is the power of the closet to shape the core of an individual's life that has made homosexuality into a significant personal, social, and political drama in twentieth-century America".

One study found that gay men are more likely to be in the closet with co-workers, parents, and more distant relatives than with friends and siblings. Same-sex couples who are closeted are not as satisfied in their relationships as same-sex couples who are openly gay. One study indicated that for lesbians, the less people know about her sexual orientation, the more anxiety, less positive affectivity, and lower self-esteem she has. states that closeted individuals have also been reported to be at an increased risk for suicide.

Closeted sexual behavior

People may hide their sexual behavior to avoid being identified as LGB, or they may try to hide kink sexual behaviors such as BDSM or fetish. One study indicated that 26% of women and 28% of men who indicated some form of same-sex sexuality, indicated that they have same-sex relationships, but do not identify as LGB.

An increasing number of women have been concerned with their boyfriend/husband is cheating on them with another man. Approximately 1% of married men and 0.2% of married women have had a homosexual relationship within the last year.

Closeted sexual orientation

Some individuals with a ego-dystonic sexual orientation may chose to actively disidentify with a sexual minority identity, which creates a different sexual orientation identity than their actual sexual orientation. They may have a homosexual orientation, but identify and act as a heterosexual, including possibly entering into a mixed-orientation marriage. A survey by The Social Organization of Sexuality found that 5% of men and women in the US were attracted to the same sex, but had no same-sex sexual activity and did not identify as LGB.

There may be a variety of reasons why a person may be closeted about their sexual orientation, including societal pressure, desire for a family, and religious reasons. A conflict between sexual orientation and values may cause stress, resulting in an ego-dystonic sexual orientation. Psychotherapy, support groups, and life events may help alleviate the stress around being closeted and change a person's sexual orientation identity. There are four possible outcomes in which a closeted person can become well adjusted. The person may learn to accept an LGB identity, a heterosexual identity, rejecting an LGB identity (such as ex-gay) or chose not to have a specified sexual identity. In an Wall Street Journal article on reconciling faith and homosexuality, Dr. Judith Glassgold, who chaired the task force, is quoted as saying "‘We're not trying to encourage people to become ex-gay’" and "there has been little research on the long-term effects of rejecting a gay identity, but there is ‘no clear evidence of harm’ and ‘some people seem to be content with that path’".

Others offer an alternative view. 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. Classic models of homosexual identity development, and most prominently the Cass identity model, have reiterated this suggestion in the social sciences. In the early stages of the LGBT identity development process, people feel confused and experience turmoil.

Other uses

Closet has been extended to indicate any identity or affiliation that a person keeps secret for fear of persecution, exclusion, embarrassment or otherwise controversial. Acts of coming out are sometimes delayed or prevented because of stigmas present or perceived to exist in the dominant cultures (e.g., because of one's religion, lifestyle, political affiliation, etc.) In addition, members of various (non-)religious minorities (particularly Wicca and Paganism) have adopted a variant on the term; a Wiccan that is not open about his or her religious beliefs is said to be 'in the broom closet'.

Related terminology

  • A person who is in the closet may be referred to as "closeted" or a "closet case." Calling someone a closet case is generally meant to be disparaging, and usually refers to someone (male) who seems to go to great lengths to prove or assert his masculinity.
  • "Being out" means living a life in which you do not hide that you are not heterosexual, or more generally that you do not hide your sexual orientation or gender identity. "Openly" as in "openly gay" means the same thing.
  • Passing refers to the practice of a person successfully representing a sexual orientation different from their own. The term is also used by and for trans people who "pass" as the gender identity they wish to project.
  • The Glass Closet (Harlow, 2006) refers to those who may not be out, even to themselves, but others can plainly see that they are, in fact, in the closet.
  • Fire hazard is a slang phrase referring to a flamboyant or "flaming" man who is in the closet.

Criticisms of the closet metaphor

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 may 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.

See also


  • 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)


  1. When Someone You Love Is Kinky by Dossie Easton, Catherine A. Liszt;, published by Greenery Turnaround, 2000; ISBN 1890159239, 9781890159238.
  2. [1]
  3. [2]
  4. The Coming Out Project-Dallas/Fortworth
  5. Chauncey 1994, emphasis added
  6. ibid, p.25 and 214
  7. Beyond the closet: the transformation of gay and lesbian life by Steven Seidman. Published by Routledge, 2002; ISBN 0415932068, 9780415932066.
  8. Seidman 2003, p.25
  9. Berger (1992)
  10. Passing: impact on the quality of same-sex couple relationships. Berger (1990)
  11. Coming out for lesbian women: its relation to anxiety, positive affectivity, self-esteem, and social support Jordan and Deluty (1998)
  12. News, Study: Closeted men at suicide risk Cath Pope, Australia, May 4, 2007.
  13. Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation
  14. A New Therapy on Faith and Sexual Identity: Psychological Association Revises Treatment Guidelines to Allow Counselors to Help Clients Reject Their Same-Sex Attractions
  15. re-released in 2003 by University of Wisconsin Press, ISBN 0-299-19374-8
  16. Dank, 1971; Cass, 1984; Coleman, 1989; Troiden, 1989
  17. The Questia Online Library

Further reading

External links

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