Coming out of the closet is a term that indicates someone has reached a point in their lives where they decide to undergo a process to make their participation in BDSM a matter of public knowledge. See also, Out and Closeted. The term "coming out" gained initial popularity when used by the Rainbow culture to describe self identifying as part of the rainbow culture during the inception of the gay rights movement in the USA, starting as early as the 1960's.
A 1990 Kinsey Institute report stated that 5% to 10% of Americans occasionally engage in sexual activities related to BDSM. 11% of men and 17% of women reported trying bondage (Ernulf, K. E., & Innala, S. M. (1995). Sexual bondage: a review and unobtrusive investagation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 24(6). Even so, very few have come out to identify themselves as public knowledge of one's BDSM lifestyle can have devastating vocational and social effects (Persona non grata). As such, forcibly removing someone from the closet without their consent, even through negligence is considered an egregious assault on privacy and is often grounds for being blacklisted from a particular BDSM Community.
Increased public educational advertising and resources and avoiding coverage by sensationalist media may assist in less volatile reactions from the public when someone does decide to come out of the closet in the future, however, sexual rights and liberties of those who participate in BDSM are likely to have many benchmarks to reach before they can integrate into society without fear that their private activities becoming known will have negative consequences.
In 2003, the media coverage of Jack McGeorge  showed that simply participating and working in BDSM support groups poses risks to one's job, even in countries where no law restricts it. In the case of Operation Spanner a clear difference concerning stigma can be seen to the situations of being outed as a homosexual. The psychological strain appearing in some individual cases is normally neither articulated nor acknowledged in public. Nevertheless it leads to a difficult psychological situation in which the person concerned can be exposed to high levels of emotional stress.
The Process of Coming Out
In the stages of "self awareness", he or she realizes their desires related to BDSM scenarios and/or decides to be open for such; some call this an internal coming-out. Independent of age, coming-out can potentially result in a difficult life crisis, sometimes leading to thoughts or acts of suicide.
BDSM support networks are just starting to develop in most countries.
- The internet is the prime contact point for BDSM support groups today, allowing for local and international networking.
- In the US Kink Aware Professionals (KAP) a privately funded, non-profit service provides the community with referrals to psychotherapeutic, medical, and legal professionals who are knowledgeable about and sensitive to the BDSM, fetish, and leather community.
- In the US and the UK, the Woodhull Freedom Foundation & Federation, National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) and Sexual Freedom Coalition (SFC) have emerged to represent some interests of the BDSM community.
- The German Bundesvereinigung Sadomasochismus e.V. is committed to the same aim of providing information and driving press relations. In 1996 the website and mailing list Datenschlag went online in German and English providing the largest bibliography, as well as one of the most extensive historical collections of sources related to BDSM.
Coming out can be a wonderful step to help support the BDSM community and liberate yourself, however, because of the criminal stigma and lack of public education, coming out may have many unforeseen and long lasting consequences. Be sure to consider a potential coming out carefully and to have a very strong and enduring support network in place before you decide if this is the right step for you at this time as some lasting effects may not harm only you, but can have a direct impact on your loved ones and associates. If you aren't absolutely sure about whether or not to come out, consider speaking with some who have come out and also some who were forced out and see what you can learn from their experiences in order to best prepare yourself for what might come.
Consider using some of the information in this wiki as an educational tool to help explain BDSM to others that are curious if you decide to come out.
If you are new, consider making a new email account and not giving out your personal email when at BDSM functions and using a special name when you are there so as not to identify yourself too easily so that you can keep your anonymity until such a time that you can make a responsible and informed decision about coming out. Avoid posting pictures of your face, tattoos and other identifying information on kinky sites until you are sure you are ready for any potential consequences.