Drag Queens Visit UH Hilo

A look at National Coming Out Day

Staff Writer Elijah Kahula

Photo Courtesy of Leah Wyzykowski

Last week, the 30th anniversary of National Coming Out Day was celebrated at UH Hilo with an event organized by the UH Hilo LGBTQ+ Center. Students gathered upstairs in the Campus Center with refreshments, food, free pride-related stickers, and a special game of bingo.

One may wonder: what does bingo have to do with celebrating National Coming Out Day? The bingo in question was called “drag bingo,” and was hosted by professional drag queens Sister Buffy and Felicity Layne. As the drag queens introduced the rules and prizes, Sister Buffy also mentioned that the event was one of first ones with a sober audience they’d done in a while.

“Usually we play 21-plus crowds, so people are ready to laugh, but I’m hoping you guys will all love our jokes anyway.” This was because the event was technically all-ages, and indeed, students and faculty seem to have brought their children with them. With prizes on-the-line, the atmosphere of the room was celebratory yet competitive, as people shouted out noises and phrases per the special rules the drag queens suggested.

Besides the spectacle and intrinsic fun of the night, what is the significance of celebrating National Coming Out Day? “Coming out,” which is short for “coming out of the closet,” is used as a metaphor for when LGBTQ+ people disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity. The first National Coming Out Day was founded by civil rights activists in 1988, the first anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

When Ke Kalahea reached out to UH Hilo’s Gender and Women Studies instructor Amy Gregg, she pointed out that a lot has changed in the three decades since the holiday’s founding. She admitted there is more nuance involved with coming out than there was upon the inception of the holiday.

“I think one of the big things that’s changed from then until now is that coming out is not only associated with sexuality; now, it is associated with gender identity as well.” The difference, Gregg explained, is that gender has to do with several aspects of ourselves: social expectations of who we are based on how we’ve been designated by our biology (at birth this tends to be male or female.) Then, if designated as male, we are expected to be masculine and, if female, we’re expected to be feminine – those are society’s gender expectations.

“But we’ve also realized in the last few decades that there is more to it than that. Mysteriously, we have an internal sense of who we are in terms of gender, and that can be distinct from our external presentation of ourselves,” said Gregg. “The term gender identity is used in the internal sense while gender expression is used as how we present ourselves externally.” Sexuality, on the other hand, has to do with our desires and who one chooses to be intimate with romantically and physically, which Gregg noted can be two distinct things. “Wanting to be romantic with someone can be different from wanting to have sex with someone.”

Gregg also mentioned that the conception of coming out has expanded significantly since the inception of National Coming Out Day. “Coming Out Day adds to the impression that you come out once and ‘ta-da!’ – you’re done. Of course, anyone who comes out in any particular way recognizes that it’s a constant process. For many, each situation of meeting someone new begs the question: ‘should I come out to this person?’ So it’s definitely on-going.”

Though the understanding of the phenomenon of coming out has progressed to become more complex since National Coming Out Day was first founded, UH Hilo’s attempted strides on an institutional level towards assuring the inclusivity and celebration of the LGBTQ+ community seem evident - even with an event as simple and goofy as drag bingo.