Understanding the Idiom: "come out of the closet" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English
  • come out, coming out

The phrase “come out of the closet” is a common idiom used in English to describe an individual’s decision to reveal their true identity or beliefs, particularly if they have been hiding them from others. This can refer to a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, political views, religious beliefs, or any other aspect of their personal life that they may have kept hidden.

In recent years, the phrase has become closely associated with the LGBTQ+ community and their struggles for acceptance and equality. However, it can also be applied more broadly to anyone who has felt compelled to hide their true self due to societal pressure or fear of rejection.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “come out of the closet”

The phrase “come out of the closet” is a commonly used idiom in modern English, but its origins and historical context are often overlooked. This phrase refers to an individual revealing their true identity or beliefs after hiding them for some time. It has become synonymous with the LGBTQ+ community, as many individuals have had to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity due to societal pressures.

The history behind this idiom dates back to the early 20th century when homosexuality was considered a criminal offense in many countries. LGBTQ+ individuals were forced to keep their identities hidden from society, leading them to live double lives. The term “closet” became associated with this secrecy as it represented a place where one could hide something away from view.

It wasn’t until the Stonewall riots in 1969 that the LGBTQ+ community began fighting for their rights and visibility. This movement led to more individuals coming out publicly about their sexual orientation or gender identity, which helped break down societal stigmas surrounding these topics.

Today, “coming out of the closet” is seen as an act of bravery and self-acceptance within the LGBTQ+ community. However, it’s important to recognize that not everyone has had access or privilege to do so safely. The phrase also extends beyond sexuality and gender identity; it can refer to any situation where someone reveals something they’ve been keeping hidden.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “come out of the closet”

The idiom “come out of the closet” is widely used in English language to describe a person’s decision to reveal their true identity, beliefs or sexual orientation. This phrase is often associated with LGBTQ+ community, but it can also be applied to other situations where someone discloses a previously hidden aspect of themselves.


While “coming out of the closet” is the most common variation of this idiom, there are several others that convey similar meanings:

  • “Come out”: This shorter version can refer to any kind of disclosure, not just related to sexuality. For example: “She finally came out as an atheist.”
  • “Out oneself”: This phrase puts emphasis on the act of self-disclosure. For example: “He decided to out himself as a recovering alcoholic.”
  • “Step into/outside one’s comfort zone”: These phrases imply that revealing something about oneself can be uncomfortable or challenging. For example: “She stepped outside her comfort zone and told her family she was dropping out of college.”


The idiom “come out of the closet” is often used in informal conversations and media outlets such as movies, TV shows and news articles. It can also be found in literature and academic writing when discussing issues related to identity politics or social justice.

It is important to note that while this phrase has become more accepted over time, it still carries some negative connotations for some people who may view coming out as unnecessary or inappropriate. It is always best to respect an individual’s decision regarding when and how they choose to disclose information about themselves.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “come out of the closet”

When it comes to expressing one’s true identity or revealing a secret about oneself, there are various ways to describe this act. The idiom “come out of the closet” is just one example. However, there are other phrases that can be used interchangeably with this expression. These synonyms include “reveal oneself,” “open up,” and “confess.” On the other hand, antonyms for this phrase would include “hide,” “conceal,” and “keep secret.”

The cultural significance of coming out varies across different societies and communities. In some cultures, it is widely accepted and celebrated while in others it may still be considered taboo or even illegal. For instance, in Western countries such as the United States and Canada, coming out as LGBTQ+ has become more normalized over time due to social progress movements. However, in some parts of Asia and Africa where homosexuality is not widely accepted by society or even criminalized by law, coming out can have serious consequences.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “come out of the closet”

In order to fully grasp and utilize the idiom “come out of the closet,” it is important to practice using it in various contexts. By doing so, you can become more comfortable with its meaning and usage.

Exercise 1: Personal Reflection

Think about a time when you had to reveal something personal about yourself that you were initially hesitant or afraid to share. Write a short paragraph describing your experience using the idiom “come out of the closet.” Share your reflection with a partner and discuss how this exercise helped you better understand the meaning behind this phrase.

Exercise 2: Role Play

Pair up with another person and take turns role playing scenarios where someone has to “come out of the closet” about something. It could be revealing a secret, admitting their true feelings, or sharing an aspect of their identity they have been hiding. Practice using the idiom in these situations and switch roles so both partners get a chance to practice.

Note: These exercises are meant to be lighthearted and educational. Please be respectful when discussing personal experiences or role playing sensitive topics related to identity.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “come out of the closet”

When using idioms, it is important to understand their meanings and contexts. The idiom “come out of the closet” is commonly used to refer to someone revealing their true identity or beliefs after keeping them hidden for a long time. However, there are some common mistakes that people make when using this idiom.

Firstly, it is important to note that this idiom is often associated with the LGBTQ+ community and coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Therefore, it should be used with sensitivity and awareness of its origins.

Secondly, it is crucial not to use this idiom in a derogatory or insulting manner towards those who have come out or are considering doing so. It should never be used as a joke or insult towards someone’s sexuality or gender identity.

Thirdly, it is essential not to assume that everyone has a closet they need to come out of. This assumption can be harmful and dismissive towards those whose identities do not fit into traditional categories.

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