October 11, 2022 10:35 AM EDT

Ever thought about all the secrets your family keeps from one another? Jessi Hempel divulges just what happened when her family grappled with truths about queer identity, personal tragedy, and efforts to become their authentic selves in her debut memoir, The Family Outing, out this month.

Over five years, each person in Hempel’s family came out in some way, in the process transforming their family dynamics and journeys of acceptance. In 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hempel began interviewing her mother, father, and her two siblings in an attempt to “stitch together” their stories.

An experienced storyteller as a former magazine writer and host of the podcast “Hello Monday,” which chronicles the changing nature of work, Hempel gets personal about “coming out” and shares her unique viewpoint on the term.

Hempel says that for people like her who identify as queer, the term “coming out” has “a very linear progression. To ‘come out’ is to announce your queer identity,” Hempel tells TIME. “I think about the closet as something much more universal.”

Hempel emphasizes that she believes coming out is not necessarily a singular, huge event, even though it can feel that way, especially to a young person. Rather, it’s the constant growth and realization that defines the human experience, she says. “It is an invitation always to go deeper in your process of figuring out who you truly are,” Hempel says.

“The process of coming out is the process of living into your authentic self,” she adds.

Hempel says that she’s aware there are people who disagree with her about the “universality involved in coming out,” but she counters that the queer community should share the freedom of coming out with the rest of the world. “We’re always coming out in little ways, all of the time,” Hempel says.

In this video, hear Hempel talk more about what coming out means to her. Also read this excerpt from The Family Outing in TIME.

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Contact us at letters@time.com.

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