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Out Came the First Coming Out Play

 

THE COMING OUT STORY is the foundational myth of modern gay life. The term itself dates from outbursts of liberation activity in the late 1960’s and the militant slogan “Out of the Closets and Into the Streets.” Just as a communicant at a revival meeting is expected to stand up and testify for the Lord, activists demanded a declaration of one’s sexuality: to family, to co-workers, to the world at large. Yet, given the potency of the voluntary coming out experience for most individuals, it’s surprising how seldom this theme has served as a dramatic device. For all the reams of prose devoted to it, coming out is exploited by few plays as a fulcrum of their action.

“Outing” in our sense comes on stage with the homosexual law-reform movements. In several German plays of the early twentieth century, characters are “outed” involuntarily. From Ludwig Dilsner’s Jasmine Blossoms (1899) to Reinhart Kluge’s Who Is to Blame? (1923), the exposure of the protagonist’s homosexuality is effected by blackmail or vice-squad raids or the maneuvers of jilted lovers. It is a traumatic and embarrassing experience that blights one’s life. The upshot is almost invariably suicide. Although the goal of these plays was to enlighten the general public as to the sorry lot of those with “contrary sexual feelings,” the effect upon the homosexual individual was probably a determination to stay under wraps.

It is therefore surprising to find a play about coming out, in the current sense, on the Dutch stage shortly after the First World War.

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