Come out of the closet
Posted by ESC on November 18, 2004
In Reply to: First use of a phrase posted by JDH on November 17, 2004
: Does anyone know when the phrase "coming out of the closet" was first used?
I've found the phrase in a couple of phrase books.
Come out of the closet or come out -- means to begin to participate in the homosexual social and sexual life. It was originally "homosexual use" in the mid-1900s. From "Slang and Euphemism: A Dictionary of Oaths, Curses, Insults, Ethnic Slurs, Sexual Slang and Metaphor, Drug Talk, College Lingo and Related Matters" by Richard A. Spears (New American Library, Penguin Putnam, New York, Third Edition, 2001).
A second reference talks about the Gay Liberation Movement or Gay Lib "which encouraged homosexuals to 'come out of the closet' and to work for equal rights for homosexuals. Such new attitudes were reinforced by the American Psychiatric Associations's decision in 1973 to remove homosexuality from its diagnostic and statistical manual after finding that homosexuality per se was not an indication of mental illness..." From Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from Our Lively and Splendid Past by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982).
I am guessing that the phrase grew out of the expression "skeletons in the closet."