Closeted and in the closet are adjectives for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, LGBT people who have not disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity and aspects thereof, including sexual identity and sexual behavior. It can also be used to describe anyone who is hiding part of their identity because of social pressure.
In late 20th-century America, the closet had become a central metaphor for grasping the history and social dynamics of gay life. The notion of the closet is inseparable from the concept of coming out. The closet narrative sets up an implicit dualism between being "in" or being "out". Those who are "in" are often stigmatized as living false, unhappy lives. However, though many people would prefer to be “out” of the closet, there are numerous social, economic, familial, and personal repercussions that lead to them remaining, whether consciously or unconsciously, “in” the closet. The decision to come out or remain in the closet is considered a deeply personal one, and outing remains controversial in today's culture.
In the 21st century, the related concept of a "glass closet" emerged in LGBT discourse. This term describes public figures, such as entertainers or politicians, who are out of the closet in their personal lives and do not engage in the tactics (such as entering a lavender marriage or publicly dating a person of the opposite sex as a "beard") that were historically used by closeted celebrities to disguise their sexual identity, but have not formally disclosed their sexual orientation on the public record — and who, thus, are technically neither fully in the closet nor fully out of it.
In the early stages of the lesbian, gay or bisexual identity development process, people often feel confused and experience turmoil. 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.
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.
- Homosexuality is becoming increasingly normalized and the shame and secrecy often associated with it appear to be in decline.
- 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.
The closet, however, is difficult for any non-heterosexual, non-cisgender identified person to fully come "out" of, whether or not that person desires to do so. Scholar Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, author of the Epistemology of the Closet, discusses the difficulty with the closet:
...the deadly elasticity of heterosexist presumption means that, like Wendy in Peter Pan, people find new walls springing up around them even as they drowse: every encounter with a new classful of students, to say nothing of a new boss, social worker, loan officer, landlord, doctor, erects new closets.
Recent attention to bullying of LGBTQ youth and teens in the United States gives an indication that many youth and teens remain closeted throughout their educational years and beyond for fear of disapproval from parents, friends, teachers, and community members. To remain in the closet offers an individual a layer of protection against ridicule and bullying; however, to remain in the closet typically takes a toll on the mental health of the individual, especially in the adolescent years as reflected in suicide rates among LGBTQ youths.
A 2019 study by the Yale School of Public Health estimated that 83% of LGBT people around the world do not reveal their sexual orientation. According to a 2020 survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 30% of LGBT people in the EU are very rarely or almost never open; the highest percentages are Lithuania (60 %), Bulgaria (54 %), and Romania and Serbia (both 53 %). In China, a 2016 survey found that 85% of LGBT people have not told anyone about their sexual orientation and 95% have not revealed it outside their family. In the United States, 4% of gays and lesbians and 26% of bisexuals are not "out" to at least one of the important people in their lives.
- Seidman, Meeks, and Traschen (1999)
- "The Glass Closet". www.out.com. 2008-09-23. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
- re-released in 2003 by University of Wisconsin Press, ISBN 0-299-19374-8
- Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. The Epistemology of the Closet.
- "Generation Q Pride Store brought to you by LAMBDA GLBT Community Services". www.lambda.org. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
- Pachankis, John E.; Bränström, Richard (13 June 2019). "How many sexual minorities are hidden? Projecting the size of the global closet with implications for policy and public health". PLOS ONE. 14 (6): e0218084. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0218084.
- EU LGBTI II: A long way to go for LGBTI equality (PDF). European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. 2020. doi:10.2811/7746. ISBN 978-92-9474-997-0.
- Huang, Zheping (2016). "Only 5% of China's LGBT citizens have come out of the closet". Quartz. Retrieved 25 August 2020.
- "Bisexual adults are far less likely than gay men and lesbians to be 'out' to the people in their lives". Pew Research Center. Retrieved 25 August 2020.
- 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)
- Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet (reprinted 1992).
- Epistemology of the Closet (reprinted 1992) by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, ISBN 0-520-07874-8.
- Dossie Easton, Catherine A. Liszt, When Someone You Love Is Kinky, Greenery Press, 2000. ISBN 1-890159-23-9.