Everybody Should Come Out, Or Not

‘Tis the season for coming out… or not?

Fastrack, India’s leading youth fashion brand, just released an ad campaign encouraging kids to come out (and buy their clothing, I assume):

On April 26th, Madrid’s annual Day of Lesbian Visibility, Ángeles Álvarez, Spain’s only out lesbian politician and a member of the Socialist Party, asked other closeted officials to join her in the land of Out, saying, “It’s time to break the silence. It’s time to live our lives out in the open and grant ourselves the right to happiness. Only with equality and visibility can we effect change.”

Andy West wrote in The Independent, in response to Jason Collins‘ historical coming-out yesterday, that everybody should come out and if you think you can’t, you’re wrong, you actually can:

I believe every single gay person in the UK should come out, regardless of the reception they expect to receive. Yes it’s frightening but it’s also necessary. As long as gay men and gay women allow themselves to be forced into the wilderness by other people, there will always be prejudice against the ‘community’ as a whole.

Meanwhile, the ignorant remain swaddled in the pretence that their bigotry is acceptable. Future generations will continue to feel that they are something strange and shameful. Repressed homosexuals will continue to be warped and poisoned until they themselves become the very worst homophobes. Stand up and declare that you are gay. If not for yourself then for everyone else.

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Alternately, Dr. Ruth feels that nobody should come out, including Jason Collins, because “I find it very sad. That’s why I said that I have mixed feelings, that we even have to talk about it. In my opinion, this is a private matter and everybody has to be respected for who they are.” According to The Huffington Post, “Dr. Ruth said she fears that Collins’ coming out “will put pressure on other people to explain their sexual orientation,” calling sexual orientation a “private matter” and adding that she “[doesn't] want anybody to feel the pressure of having to say with whom they’d like to have a relationship or a sexual relationship.””

This is a bizarre stance for somebody who makes their living speaking publicly about sex to take, but I disagree with her opinion regardless. Public figures find this defense convenient, but it’s fundamentally flawed since those same humans seem to be fine with everybody assuming they’re heterosexual — which everybody does, even if you’re not actively in an opposite-sex relationship. So really, the only time your sexuality is considered “private” is if it’s homosexuality. The world-at-large believes everybody is straight until a person officially declares otherwise. I don’t.

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The latest human in favor of everybody coming out is queer comedian Margaret Cho, who’s been tweeting in response to an article by Lauren Rosewarne entitled A Margaret Cho Outing, in which Rosewarne expressed her dislike of Margaret Cho’s show “Mother,” which hit the Melbourne Comedy Festival this week. Namely, Rosewarne was unamused by a bit Cho did about John Travolta, which Rosewarne likened to “drag(ing) people out of the closet kicking and screaming.”

[Margaret Cho] belaboured how oh so flaming queer Travolta was. About how everybody in Tinseltown knows just how poofy Danny Zuko is. Of how she had to break the news of his supreme gayness to a naive Olivia Newton John… More than mere speculation however, Cho was outing Travolta.

Not funny and certainly not okay.

Tom Cruise and John Travolta and Hugh Jackman and pretty much every handsome Hollywood leading man has, at one time or another…

Maybe because they’re heterosexual, maybe because they’re non-practicing gay – or bi – or maybe because they just fear a bloody public backlash– but whatever their reason, actors like Travolta have asserted their allegiance to the Good Ship Straight. And I think we need to leave it at that.

photo by robin roemer

i love margaret cho (photo by robin roemer)

Rosewarne undermines her credibility as an impartial observer of homos, however, by also complaining excessively about the abundance of gay content in Cho’s show in general. Rosewarne notes that the 48-minute show length worked out well for her because she’s “heard quite enough about the importance of same-sex marriage – cue too-predictable hootin’ and a’hollarin from the audience” and feels that “there’s a story to be written about a billed show bearing no semblance whatsoever to the marriage-equality-ranty monologue that was delivered.”

Right.

So, Margaret Cho, in response to the criticism of her show’s inclusion of John Travolta Material, said the following on twitter yesterday:

I love Margaret Cho, and she’s absolutely right that “outing” is only considered wrong if you think there’s something wrong with being gay. Unfortunately for my brain, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about some kerfuffle over whether or not it’s okay for people to say that John Travolta is gay and that said kerfuffle has evolved into a referendum on “outing” in general. Like many queers, I don’t think “outing” is okay unless the person being outed is actively working against the LGBTQ community in some way, such as promoting anti-gay legislation or claiming to have been “cured” by ex-gay therapy. However, Travolta’s association with Scientology, which for many operates as “ex-gay therapy,” makes his case particularly tricky. (Also tricky: the fact that Scientology members are brainwashed, abused, sent to solitary isolation, publicly humiliated, psychologically terrorized, bankrupted, imprisoned, ostracized from their families and committed to forced labor! And that Scientology’s high-profile celebrity members exist to distract potential joiners from these realities! You can read all about it here and here and here.)

But also, Rosewarne needs to google “John Travolta gay.” Regardless of what the population-at-large believes about Travolta, or what his coworkers or people-who-know-his-coworkers (like me!) know about Travolta, Margaret Cho would hardly be the first person to “drag him out of the closet” publicly. His sexuality has been discussed again and again and again and again and again and again and again, with various degrees of accuracy, moreso than anyone else Rosewarne mentions. (And for the record, I don’t think Tom Cruise is gay.) In September 2009, Carrie Fisher tod OUT that “we don’t really care that John Travolta is gay” and in December 2010, when asked about it directly, Carrie Fisher told The Advocate that “…we know and we don’t care…I’m sorry that he’s uncomfortable with it, and that’s all I can say. It only draws more attention to it when you make that kind of legal fuss. Just leave it be.” Rashida Jones got in trouble this past August for arguing that big stars need to come out, especially movie stars, saying specifically – “Like John Travolta? Come out! Come on. How many masseurs have to come forward? Let’s do this.”

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At this point, I think the conversation about whether or not Travolta is gay or bisexual (hopefully it’s the latter, for his wife’s sake) has been had. So what it comes down to is the same thing it always comes down to — when is a person obligated to come out, when is it okay to tell a person to come out, and when (if ever) is it okay to go ahead and out them yourself? Salon.com had a nuanced reaction to Fisher’s “outing,” as did Movieline, which brings us back to the Scientology thing:

The argument goes that, if Travolta truly is gay, it’s up to him when to decide to come out, not Carrie Fisher… which is a fair argument if Travolta  A.)Wasn’t married to a woman and B.)Wasn’t a prominent member of a notorious cult that claims that homosexuality is a perverse illness that can be cured. There are plenty of movie and television stars who are gay but simply don’t talk about it; that’s not what Travolta is doing. He’s actively participating in a sham, a fraud that further perpetuates the idea that being gay is shameful and should be kept secret and tamped down.

L. Ron Hubbard, inventor of Scientology, calls homosexuality a “perversion” and characterizes it as “covert hostility” on his chart of human emotion. Gay church members, through aggressive auditing, hope to reach “level 1.1,” at which point they’ll be happy and straight. In 2009, Scientology higher-up Paul Haggis resigned from the church after 35 years of involvement, the final straw being its public stance against marriage equality. But when gay rights activists expressed disdain over Travolta’s casting as Edna Turnblad in John Waters‘ Hairspray, which they considered “an iconic gay role,” Travolta asserted: “There is nothing gay in this movie. I’m not playing a gay man. Scientology is not homophobic in any way. In fact, it’s one of the more tolerant faiths. Anyone’s accepted.” That’s not entirely true.

Beliefnet.com quotes Ohio State University professor Hugh B.Urban about why celebrities are so drawn to scientology:

But then I think the reason that celebrities would be interested is because it’s a religion that fits pretty well with a celebrity kind of personality. It’s very individualistic. It celebrates your individual identity as ultimately divine. It claims to give you ultimate power over your own mind, self, destiny, so I think it fits well with an actor personality. And then the wealth question: These aren’t people who need more wealth, but what they do need, or often want at least, is some kind of spiritual validation for their wealth and lifestyle, and Scientology is a religion that says it’s OK to be wealthy, it’s OK to be famous, in fact, that’s a sign of your spiritual development. So it kind of is a spiritual validation for that kind of lifestyle.

Ultimately, John Travolta isn’t the point, although I do think he’s an apt example of the kind of person we tend to give some room to when they’re not famous: he’s been involved in a very strange and intolerant religion for 38 years! Since 1975, when he was 21 years old! Margaret Cho can joke about John Travolta if she wants to — anyhow, the joke’s not on him, the joke’s on homophobia. Rosenware doesn’t need to find it amusing, either, that’s her right. When Carrie Fisher is asked a question by an interviewer, she’s not obligated to lie on that person’s behalf. But John Travolta is not of this world, nor is he the whole world, and his best movies happened decades before many LGBT youth were even born.

We can’t force anybody — or everybody! — to come out. But the cool thing about aforementioned LGBT youth is that they’re youth, and they don’t always need real people to make them feel better, they can get by okay on fictional characters, too, and that is something we — and by “we” I mean “the world” — do have some control over. Maybe John Travolta won’t come ever out as bi or gay, but it’d be cool if one of the action heroes he played had.

I don’t think we need John Travolta, I think we can just leave him be, and I’m not just saying that because I maxed out on my own personal attention span for any John-Travolta-related material midway through writing this article and never want to write or talk about him again. We don’t need him. We have Jason Collins. We have Brittney Griner, and Jodie Foster and Ellen DeGeneres and Lori Lindsey and Wanda Sykes and Portia De Rossi and Frank Ocean and Megan Rapinoe and Zach Quinto and Anderson Cooper and Amber Heard and we’ll have more, and soon, I think. We have Ángeles Álvarez and hopefully her speech inspired more politicians to consider coming out. And we have you, too, don’t we? We have you. Maybe not today, or tomorrow or this year or the next, but we’ll have you soon enough.

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Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1758 articles for us.

80 Comments

  1. Thumb up 18

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    I loved this. I completely agree that outing is only wrong if you think being gay is wrong. But it’s not that simple. Society isn’t as tolerant as that, and outing someone who is in an intolerant environment could potentially harm them, and dealing with rejection on that level from friends/family isn’t something everyone is ready to deal with.

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      So you agree but disagree completely. If outing a kid with bigoted parents is wrong, then being against outing is not homophobic. That is what Cho is saying. She is saying that anyone who opposes the practice of outing people because of the very real harm that can come from it is just a big ol’ bigot. It is incredibly fucked up.

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    Good article, I think it’s important that people (especially those in the spotlight) are out, that we get to see these brave faces everyday and it ignites the strength within us to live our lives “out” as well. I don’t know if I could be out today without some of the people you mentioned. Also, Rachel Maddow.

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    “I don’t think “outing” is okay unless the person being outed is actively working against the LGBTQ community in some way, such as promoting anti-gay legislation or claiming to have been “cured” by ex-gay therapy.”

    This. Period. Until you live in someone else’s shoes or are completely willing to accept responsibility all the possible repercussions of someone else’s coming out, it’s none of your beezwax. I agree Travolta’s blanket support for Scientology puts him on the borderline of “working against the LGBTQ community” but I’ve also never heard him directly make anything like bigoted statements.

    And when talking about trans people (or mentioning LGBTQ), I have a huge issue with non-trans people (much less straight/cis celebs) trying to apply their own coming out histories to the trans community… it’s way more complex, for some way more dangerous and has the potential for far more economic harm than most non-trans people coming out.

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      Word. I mean, I get that the more folks who are out (as gay, trans, bi, what have you), not just celebrities but regular people too, the easier it can be for others to come out. Like when I came out to my grandmother, who’s a big Dancing with the Stars fan, I was able to reference Chaz Bono when I explained to her that I was a trans man. (Though don’t get me wrong, I think some of the things Chaz have said seem misogynistic and reductionist, which can paint trans* folks in a narrow and not-great light.)

      BUT…I’ve also been outed, and it is not fun. I’ve also been on that thin, scary line between “do I pass or not? am I going to be subject to harassment and/or violence?” before–and I recognize that it’s even worse for far too many trans women, LGBTQ youth, etc. So I think you’re right, when it comes to outing there can be very real, very dangerous consequences, and folks should generally respect others and mind their own damn business unless specifically and explicitly given permission to share information.

  4. Thumb up 18

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    Being as I am still mostly in the closet, I would be very very unhappy with anyone outing me. I am in the process of coming out fully, but if the 2 friends who do know I am gay ever told anyone else, they wouldn’t be friends anymore. It is not anyone else’s to tell. It is my truth and my life. Being out impacts me, and while I see no foreseeable negatives to being out, I’m just not ready for everyone and their mother to know right this second. And luckily, my friends understand that.

    That being said, I am not hiding the fact that I am gay anymore. If someone were to ask me if I am , I would tell them yes.

    I have too many feelings on this one. =/

    • Thumb up 10

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      It’s funny how sometimes friends can take it upon themselves to let others know your orientation.

      A few months ago I started the process of coming out to friends and 1 family member that I knew would and will continue to support me 100% no matter what. Even though I felt comfortable letting a handful of friends know I made it explicitly clear that I was NOT ready to tell others. Yet when I was not around, and on a drunken night, my friends decided it would be appropriate to let an incredibly close friend know my feelings. It was not okay…and I’m still unsure of how it has affected my trust with them.

      After they told her I was subjected to questions about my sexuality from her for a good hour…all throughout the conversation I could tell she was uncomfortable and it ended with her saying…”Okay. You know I love you no matter what…but you also know I don’t think you’re gay right? I just don’t think you’ve found the right guy yet.”

      I have now had countless conversations with the friends I trusted so greatly about what my sexuality is and isn’t, who I’m attracted to, why I am attracted to them, and just in general why questions. They’ve also tried to push me to come out to more people.

      Basically this whole process of figuring myself out is a big enough clusterfuck of emotions…now it’s been coupled with getting friends involved before they were actually ready to know this about me.

      Maybe I’m not typing this coherently because I’m rushing…but what it boils down to is this:
      IF I TRUST YOU ENOUGH TO LET YOU KNOW PERSONAL THINGS ABOUT ME PLEASE LISTEN WHEN I ASK THAT EVERYTHING THAT COMES WITH THIS SITUATION BE ON MY TERMS! AND PLEASE, PLEASE, WHATEVER YOU DO DON’T FUCKING COME OUT FOR ME!!!

      When I’m ready it’s going to be known the world…until then can’t it just be known to the few people I choose?

      Oh well…I love you all.

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        I would have gone off on them! I have 6 very close friends, 2 of them know. I got lucky in the sense that the two people I told have been really great and supportive. I don’t think I would be able to trust a “friend” who gossips about me behind my back, especially when the gossip is something this personal.

        Good Luck to you! I hope you can get things sorted out with your friends!

  5. Thumb up 31

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    A really interesting take.

    My hatred for the notion that everyone should just come out already and the astonishing privilege which underlies it is unending, but it is something I will leave for another day as I think we all know enough about the statistics on homeless queer youth already (although I cannot stop myself from pointing out West’s delightful victim blaming; ‘allow themselves to be forced into the wilderness by other people’, yes, it is our own fault, of course). The idea that ‘outing is only wrong if you think being gay is wrong’ is incredibly facile.

    Something that I do always think is missing from these grand pronouncements on the importance of coming out however is the question: coming out to whom? How many times? It isn’t as though I can just call a press conference and have it over and done with. I don’t have a big gay button I can press so that everyone will magically know how much I love girls. Outies make it sound like you just need to wave the rainbow flag once and then this terrifying hurdle is over, go straight to glittery heaven do not pass go do not collect £200. I recently moved to a new city to pursue an MA; who needs to know I’m a lesbian? Do my tutors? All of them? One of them – who also happens to be my favourite writer of all time – is a gay lady herself, but do I need to discuss it with the misogynistic dramaturge? Do I need to announce it to my classmates, most of whom I will never see again after June? Should the librarian know? The guy in the shop where I buy my hot chocolate? When will I be considered ‘out’ enough to have done my duty to the cause? I’m not really femme, but I skew that way so people rarely read me as gay; does that mean I should get it tattooed on my forehead? Sometimes I wind up outing myself three or four times a day, accidentally or deliberately, depending on the circumstances. It is exhausting. I am not in any way ashamed of my sexuality, but the fact is whenever I have to have the ‘yes, I am gay’ conversation with someone new there is always that horrible moment of fear, of wondering if this will be the person who will use it to attack me. They would not be the first.

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      YES! This is a perspective I was not expecting to encounter until I came out. I work two jobs which each have incredibly different dynamics. One, where I and many others are out, and another (a government-ish office) where I’ve worked since before I was out… I don’t really enjoy it when people at that workplace allude to my assumed straight-ness, but I don’t feel entirely comfortable outing myself there for a variety of reasons.

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      This. I recently started a new part-time job at a restaurant after long-term unemployment and being 100% out in college and the teeny startup I was at prior. I keep accidentally outing myself just in the course of those random bored convos about dating, cute customers, etc. It’s gone over completely fine every time (and there are two gay males on staff who are well liked), but it’s super weird for me to actually realize that I’m still coming out over and over and over again. As someone who’s basically ultra femme lesbian and out at dyke events every weekend, it throws me off to say something about a girl and get a reaction of “OMG, wait, are you bi??” Um, no? Part of me kinda wishes there was some behind the back chatter with any I hadn’t told just so I can talk about girls without getting any reactions.

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        Also re: “I’m not really femme, but I skew that way so people rarely read me as gay” – I feel ya. From what I understand, I ping gay people’s radar pretty well, but straight people’s radar not at all, which kinda puzzles me and I tend to forget that just because 5% of the population can pick up on it doesn’t mean the other 95% can.

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          +1 to all of this. At times, I’m tempted to wear a sign saying “no, I don’t have a husband or kids, thanks for your concern!” because of the frequency with which those suppositions are made by others. Could be a regional thing living in the us southwest, but I’m beginning to think it’s symptomatic of the “straight until proven gay” assumption.

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          I don’t lean far enough either direction in my presentation which makes me really hard to read. So the maintenance guy at work is always asking about my boyfriend and I try to scowl until he gets that I’m uncomfortable because I don’t know how to come out on cue. Also this week my dog puked and I read on the internet that if she wouldn’t eat grass I should get her banana baby food and the guy that checked me out asked me why I was only buying one at a time and said something about not getting a ring first. People are jerks. I’m not seeing any guys and my only child was adopted and is covered in fur. It used to feel sort of safe not having people be able to just know my orientation, but it makes for a lot of strange and unpleasant interaction. I don’t guess I can demand everyone come out until I’ve got that down for myself.

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          Wow, what a rude thing to say to you! The complete lack of filters, much less manners, in some people still boggles me even after so many similar encounters.

          I hope your pup is ok now. :/

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          She is feeling much better, Thanks. She is back to campaigning for tummy time and sitting in the windowsill being a creep :)I usually appreciate unwarranted honesty, but I guess I just didn’t realize that purchasing baby food is indicative of being a hoe/housewife. That is pretty uncool.

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          Definitely the “straight until proven gay” assumption. I’m in Boston, which is what, 12% LGB? I feel like people should be more used to the “not all lesbians look alike” thing here.

    • Thumb up 8

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      “Sometimes I wind up outing myself three or four times a day, accidentally or deliberately, depending on the circumstances.”

      yes, this. for the most part i don’t mind. i like forcing people to reconsider their perception of what a “straight person” is or what a “gay person” is, ya know? but i also understand that i’m in a very privileged position wherein my financial stability, my safety, and my mental health are not at risk when i purposefully come out.

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        I think this is important, too, in terms of how often/who you come out to; having a community, queer or not, to support you if it all goes wrong. Offline I know a grand total of one other gay lady, who lives 300 miles away and who I do not know that well. I’ve lived in my new city for a few months now and I know no other queers here, barely know anyone in fact. It isn’t exactly a gay paradise. Sometimes I worry that because I didn’t really deal with my sexuality until after I finished my MPhil I’ve missed the boat on having that real life queer network.

        In the end, it is your choice as an individual, much in the same way as I would expect my heterosexual friends to decide who they do and do not trust with details of their personal life, be they sexual, emotional, medical or anything else.

        Also, I find it hilarious that people never peg me as gay so if I out myself to someone new and they’re like ‘really?’ their confusion confuses ME, because my head is basically a gigantic parade of Big Gay Feelings and I cant cope with the fact that my love of dresses with bunnies on them somehow makes my raging queerness impossible to see.

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      This! One totally unexpected thing about graduate school was suddenly being an environment where I felt I had to come out to hundreds of new people, something I’d never needed to do before in my life. I mean, the bus driver doesn’t need to know, but how about my study groups, my adviser, the classmates I’ll be spending 4 years with, my fraternity brothers (yes, I joined a fraternity, a co-ed professional one)–and what about my preceptors or my patients? I don’t really enjoy the process of repeatedly outing myself but feel a certain obligation to be visible since I’m in a health profession and some of my classmates are pretty conservative.

      And on a different subject, I’ve known quite a few people with good reasons for not wanting to be out to everyone in their lives. These aren’t always that visible from the outside, and I’ve learned to be cautious about assuming people want to be out or would be better off.

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      I’m about to go take an exam and my professor told use we get bonus points if we discuss micro performances and micro aggressions. So reading this thread almost qualifies as studying.
      And I also have trouble with the constant having to out myself. Family, friends, and school aren’t much of a problem but work and more casual social situations are. I wish I knew some magic formula of words that made it easy. Not to mention I wish there were some definite markers for people you should feel safe being out to and those who will make your life hell. At the end of the day, if being out is physically and emotionally safe for you, I think it’s a good thing, and I don’t think anyone should have to censor what they say. But it also isn’t my job to educate the entire world and it’s exhausting to go through life feeling like you have some duty to make sure that the barista, waiter, and that coworker you rarely see all know that you’re queer.

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      The job I currently have I am out. But in previous work places, I was not. In one place I accidently said, “my girlfriend,” and a within a week they had tried to get me fired and eventually drove me to quit. My close friends “know” but I’ve not really be forward with my parents or family. I was out to people at my school.

      But once I do make the “leap of faith” where do I stop at? it’s not like being an alcoholic where you may need to tell people that you can’t be at their birthday party because there will be alcohol there. I just sometimes struggle with my thoughts on if it’s really that important.

      Do I need to fly the flag for a few days for everyone to get the message?

  6. Thumb up 14

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    Let’s not forget that some people have a lot more to lose than others and thus have very real understandable reasons to stay in the closet. Like the teacher who was recently fired from her job when her mother’s obituary mentioned her partner:
    http://peoplesworld.org/catholic-teacher-fired-for-being-gay-draws-wide-support/

    “I don’t think “outing” is okay unless the person being outed is actively working against the LGBTQ community in some way, such as promoting anti-gay legislation or claiming to have been “cured” by ex-gay therapy.”

    ^^^I think this is exactly right.

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      I just want to add a teensy little note to your link that (I believe I read this somewhere) this teacher wrote the obituary and therefore outed herself. Her thought was basically, “I mentioned my brother’s wife in the article, why can’t I mention my own?”

      But then a parent sent the obit to the school, so did the parent actually “out” her?

      SO COMPLICATED! :(

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        Yes, I read that too. She said her family members’ spouses were mentioned in the obit and she thought ‘why can’t I mention my partner too.’ So it was her decision to include her partner in the obit, and she did out herself. Obviously she should not have been fired, but she was not outed against her will.

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    I’m really uncomfortable with people outing celebrities or just endlessly debating their sexuality, it’s just. ah. I can imagine (mostly straight) people I detested in high school mocking me by having those kinds of conversations about me and it makes me feel like my privacy is violated? I might not think there’s anything shameful about being queer, but that doesn’t give everyone the right to define my sexuality for me.

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    I agree with some of the commentors here about how “just come out already” is not always a viable option. Besides the whole issue of safety and consequence (as mentioned by Gina and Eifa), there’s also the problem of: who’ll believe you?

    I am reminded of a story I heard via an organisation in Australia aimed at supporting LGBTQ people from multicultural communities. There were these two Sudanese refugee women who had fallen in love, but weren’t sure how out to be about their relationship. Someone had suggested they come out, because they had to be true to themselves and of course the queer community will support them! Except…coming out was a BAAAAAD idea. They were ostracised by their refugee community and the queer community didn’t accept them. Now they’re isolated.

    As Eifa said, who do you come out to? How often do you need to come out? And would anyone believe you? I’ve often faced more trouble trying to convince people I was queer than having to hide my sexuality. Why is it that when people DO come out, we don’t support them?

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      Oh yes, precisely, beautifully (and horrifyingly) put.

      The question of ‘who will believe you’ strikes a chord with me, too. A few weeks before I officially came out to my parents, we were all on holiday at my sister’s and she wanted to look something up on my laptop. I handed it over without thinking, then immediately started sweating because I remembered that my default browser saved bookmarks along the top of the window at it was a load of stuff from here plus things like Bad Girls fanfiction and links to gay movies. I was so convinced everything was going to come crumbling down, but not only did she not notice, two hours later she was jokingly calling me a lesbian (I was watching the video to Pink’s sober) and then said ‘but there’s no way you’re gay, if you’re afraid of penis you will be totally freaked out by the other stuff’.

      Your honour, I rest my case.

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      This is pretty much exactly why I’d never out anyone, especially not on purpose.
      I went to uni in East London, and was in the LGBT society, which included a Muslim member. He didn’t talk about it much, but he was not out to anybody, and for somebody to out him would have been potentially dangerous and totally wrong.

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    I have a lot of thoughts about the whole coming out/outing people sketch but my main feelings right now are

    a) awwwwww. that last paragraph makes me feel all warm and fuzzy

    b) If I was in a closet with either of the girls in that video, I would not want to come out of it any time soon

  10. Thumb up 2

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    I agree with Eifa…..no one needs to know…it is the obsessive interest people have in you and like Eifa…no one can peg me too but I am gay…and I keep it private..if someone asks me and no one ever does..I would say yes, got a problem???? I tease everyone about everything… but then; I respect all the people in my small community whether dev. challenged or “normal”…we all get along together and we all value each other..and we all know each other quite well and there is no need to do anything but get along because we all spend the money in the same places. I think it is personal matter as to whether you want the world to know or; just your friends. I am me and no one else…I think labels are wrong anyway.

  11. Thumb up 28

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    I think straight people’s idea of being a gay person goes something like this:

    * Gaymo is troubled and sad, closeted and HIDING THEIR TRUE SELF
    * Big Homo undergoes Great Inner Emotional Conflict! They are transformed with self-love! They come out. This means everyone ever automatically knows they are gay forever
    * They are immediately handed a girlfriend/boyfriend and live forever happily ever after.

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      Haha, yup. If only that were true. Me coming out to myself as more of a lesbian than I thought I was was HORRIFYING – because it shattered a lot of my future, my relationships, just so much broken down. And it wasn’t that I was being the target of oppression or hate crime or whatever, it was just my sense of self being all over the place. And then to try and come out when people weren’t buying that I was queer to start with…urgh.

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        your name threw me off because I thought you were me. Also point me in the direction of said novels please. Because I too went from being bi to being sorta more lesbian, to ultimately being a lesbian who finds some men hot but can’t for the life of her think of being in any kind of relationship (sexual or otherwise) with a man.

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          Yeah, I’ve been seeing you around. I actually was wondering if I should change my screen name to dispel any confusion. :)

          The books I was thinking of were actually Annie on my Mind and Good Moon Rising by Nancy Garden — wonderful books, and I love them even though they’re showing their age now — and to a lesser extent Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters, which… well, I don’t think my brain and Ms. Peters’ writing get on well, but that’s beside the point. The fact being, all the protagonists have to come out to themselves, go through some amount of inner turmoil over it (to say nothing of the nastiness they get from more homophobic characters), but in the end all is resolved (or, hopeful anyway) because They Have Accepted Themselves And That’s The Most Important Thing. And, those three books specifically all have an implied happy future with the significant other character.

          It’s not that the implied message of that is so BAD really — especially not since the readers of those books are going to be questioning-to-queer teenagers like I was five or six years ago. But I wonder, nowadays.

          Oddly enough, the most validating “lesbian” novels I’ve ever read are Nicola Griffith’s books. (Which are NOT young adult, by the way.) Because her main characters are very much lady-loving-ladies, but they’re not coming out, or coming to terms with their own queerness, or getting treated as abnormal or ANYTHING. They go through all sorts of changes and personal challenges/triumphs that aren’t centered on the Wondrous Light Of Self-Acceptance, of sexuality or really anything else. They just… exist, and have lives, and fall in love and get their hearts broken and are scared and make mistakes and keep going. Somehow, that speaks to me more than anything I’ve ever read about coming out or equal rights or activism or… I think I’ve gone on a tangent here…

  12. Thumb up 11

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    “I believe every single gay person in the UK should come out, regardless of the reception they expect to receive. Yes it’s frightening but it’s also necessary.”

    I’m sorry, but I really disagree with this. I will always tell people to put their personal safety before The Cause, whatever that means to people.

    Hearing this kind of thing also makes me feel inferior a lot of the time, because I’m not out and it’s not safe for me to come out. Does that make me a Bad Gay? Am I not good enough? Am I some sort of coward?

    I’m really glad for those who can and do come out safely, but it doesn’t make me lesser that I can’t.

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      You are absolutely not a bad gay. I know people who were financially screwed by coming out and it isn’t always safe to do so. No one should come out until they are ready. Good luck with your journey – I hope you find happiness.

      I’m massively out and there are still times I have to do it again and again with a new team at work, and wonder what the repercussions could be. Sexual harassment? Being treated worse as a result? Passed over for promotion? All this has happened at work and yet I’m still out because I can afford to be, because it’s really too late anyway, I can’t go back in the closet and because I don’t want to live a lie. But that doesn’t mean that I have to announce it to everyone, everywhere I go.

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      My thoughts exactly. I am not out either, not because I’m ashamed, but because of either society around me or family. Once I’m on my own I’ll be out to everyone (except my parents, I’ll never come out to them). But my point is that many people don’t live in a gay safe condition where coming out would be peachy for them. Gay isn’t as much of a societal stigma anymore, but for some people coming out would mean losing their job at best. I live in Texas, if I’d come out at work, I could’ve been fired. If we expect everyone to come out we must work to make society an accepting place. Heck, there shouldn’t even be closets in my opinion.

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    Sara Bareilles’s new song, “Brave”, has been giving me these same feelings! According to her, it’s about wanting a good friend of hers to come out. It’s being called the new gay anthem. While I understand she has only the best intentions, she’s straight (as far as anyone knows) and doesn’t quite understand the ramifications of coming out.
    I am against outing anyone. Period. Gay hater or not. I think it’s cruel and ill-intentioned, and I just think it’s wrong. I also think it doesn’t accomplish anything good, and it makes being gay appear to be a bad thing. I lived in fear for nineteen years that someone was going to figure it out and out me. When I finally came out, people actually said that they didn’t believe me, that I couldn’t be gay because I was homophobic. I was never extremely conservative but I did try to distance myself from the gay community as much as possible so that no one would would group me with them. I understand their thought process. I feel for them.

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      1. I really love that song.
      2. In my opinion, I don’t think she is outing anyone, she doesn’t use anyones name. And I would hope that she told her friend the song was inspired by them before she ever put it on the album (although I could be wrong!!!!)

      side note: I kind of wish Sara Bareilles was gay…. maaaajor crush of mine =)

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        I like the song, too, as a song…it’s catchy, and yeah, I totally wish Bareilles was gay. I adore all of her music. And she’s smoking hot.
        And I don’t think she’s outing someone, it’s that she’s telling someone to come out. She talks about it in interviews. I don’t think she really has the right to do that.

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    The other problem I have with “outing” celebrity types is that it’s often based on faulty stereotypes about queerness – “oh, they have an ALH/act kinda swishy/etc etc so THEREFORE gay”. Isn’t one of the big points of gay rights movements and coming out to show that LGBTQ people have all sorts of looks, presentations, bodies, ideas?

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    I really don’t think it’s ok to ‘out’ someone else, no matter what the circumstances. My best male friend was obviously gay to everyone else who knew him (our friendship began when we were 14 over a mutual love of Tori Amos – red flag right there), but he didn’t feel comfortable enough with his sexuality until he met his male partner at the age of 20. His sister deliberately ‘outed’ him to his family in a really malicious way, and it caused a lot of trouble and unnecessary drama.

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      I can feel this. My little brother outed me to everyone in our high school before I even realized I was a lesbian. LIKE LITERALLY ANNOUNCED IT IN EVERY CLASS. I had a sexual experience with another female and good news travels fast I guess. I was sort of pinned as the “token lesbian” before I even came to terms myself and I think it might have even prolonged that realization. At the time I was dating boys and considered myself bi. It really changed the experiences I had my last year of high school.

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    I have lots of feelings about the ethics of outing people, but they’ve all been addressed by other comments here so I just want to say that I don’t remember the John Travolta bit from when I saw MC performing her Mother show a few months ago…and now I can’t stop wondering what else she added that I didn’t get to hear…of course, there’s always the possibility that it was in there after all but just overshadowed by much funnier stuff.

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    I sort of struggle with this concept. I figure, I am me no matter what the situation, and a lot of the time I don’t disclose all of me to everyone all the time even though I happen to like me quite a bit. It’s not that simple to be sure, what with all the internalized shame, the external discrimination, the joy of being open vs the joy of being contained yada yada yada. Lots of respect to the bold and the brave who do want to be consistently public about their sexuality, but oh do think kindly of the hermits and their more aloof sensibilities come Coming Out Day.

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    I’m throwing this out there, but it’s not something I’m sure about myself. I’m mostly just going argue with myself out loud for a moment because it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot since I read this article, and I have unresolved feelings about it.

    I’m not sure people working against the LGBTQ community should be outed. I mean, I completely disagree with their work. Absolutely. No question. But what exactly are we achieving by outing them? I can see the point when we’re talking about disproving someone who says they were “cured.” But what about all those homophobes just talking about what God supposedly thinks about queers, and the “gay agenda,” and all that jazz. Does it really matter whether or not they’re gay? Are we really hurting their message by proving they themselves are gay? Is it really helping all the queer kids out there to know there people making a living as self-loathing queers? I mean, I know one of the big reasons for greater LGBTQ acceptance is increased visibility. But are these the people we want everyone to think of when they think of gay people?

    I understand the vindication felt when a homophobe is outed. And maybe it was a wake-up call they needed to become happier people. I’m just not sure if those are good enough reasons or if it’s really helping the greater cause of LGBTQ acceptance.

  19. Thumb up 8

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    I love point that you need to take into consideration what people are coming out into.

    Equally important is taking into account what people are coming out AS.

    The whole “everyone must come out” thing assumes that everyone who is not heterosexual
    a) HAS a clear, defined identity/orientation.
    b)KNOWS what that identity/orientation is and how to articulate it.
    These are true for many people, of course. But I think that the comments above show that there are also many people for whom one or both of these isn’t true, especially when they are first realizing that they are something-other-than-heterosexual. It can be so damaging to people in this already difficult place to tell them that they must begin to clearly articulate their sexual orientation when they’ve only just begun to question and understand it.

    I came out to my family because I felt like I had to for political reasons. I was still so unsure of and uncomfortable with myself. It was so awful for me, and I could have been spared a lot of it if I’d just waited. So clearly I have a personal stake in this haha.

  20. Thumb up 16

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    For the love of christ, when and whether you come out and who you come out to and how you come out to them are NOBODY ELSE’S FUCKING BUSINESS BUT YOUR OWN. Queer people need to stop blaming our less-out brethren for homophobia. Being closeted does not cause homophobia; homophobia causes people to be closeted. Let’s stop shaming queer people for surviving in whatever way they can. You don’t know other people’s lives, okay? I have friends who live in stereotypically queer-friendly regions whose families are still complete assholes about their sexuality. I live in one of the gayest and most liberal cities in the entire U.S., and in the past year a friend of a friend was STABBED while walking down the street here holding hands with his boyfriend. LITERALLY STABBED. WITH A KNIFE. So don’t you fucking dare handwave the danger and go “oh my god just suck it up already, you’ll be fine.” ~Oh but if you come out to people then they won’t be homophobes anymore!~ Maybe they’ll change their minds eventually, but it won’t do you much good if they stab you first.

    Before I was as out as I am now, being pressured to come out and being condescended to for not being out did not actually make me more likely to come out. It just made me more likely to avoid queer spaces, which sucked because they were a great and much-needed resource and haven for me…when they weren’t full of people sticking their pious queerer-than-thou noses in my business.

    Also, since when is outing only wrong if you think being gay is wrong? Is rape only wrong if you think having sex is wrong? Is stealing only wrong if you think giving to charity is wrong? Is breaking and entering only wrong if you think visiting your friend’s house is wrong?

    Of course not. Because consent makes all the difference.

  21. Thumb up 15

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    I’m not out. Not to my family, not to my friends. I’m not yet mature enough, or educated enough, or just plain comfortable enough to be able to defend my sexuality to some pretty hostile people. I haven’t got the words, or the guts.

    In a perfect world, I would’ve been out for ages. I don’t live in one of those, though, and so the cult of “coming out” sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable in spaces that are meant to be safe for me. I feel guilty for not being out. I feel like I’m half-assing it somehow, like if I’m not out I’m not really as gay as someone with rainbow flags affixed to their windows. Since I come from an extremely conservative background and already struggle with some internalized homophobia, this doesn’t help the whole self-loathing queer thing.

    I want to come out, but I don’t want my parents to stop paying for college because that Northern liberal school turned me gay. I don’t want the families I babysit for to decide I shouldn’t be changing their little girls’ diapers. I don’t want the guys I knew in high school, now frat brothers, to decide they need to persuade me of the value of a penis. I don’t want my parents telling me that if I feel that way, fine, but I should remember I’m called to a life of celibacy. I don’t want to be sent to a “pray-the-gay-away” camp.
    Because these are things that have all happened to people I know and care about.

    I’m so proud of and happy for the people who are able financially, emotionally, and mentally to scream their gayness from the rooftops, but that’s not me yet. Save me a bullhorn; I’ll get up there in my own time.

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      Consider your bullhorn saved. Come out when it’s safe for you; you’re the best judge of that and no one else. There’s nothing wrong with being gay, but there is also nothing wrong with taking care of your own emotional and personal safety.

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      Julian, I completely understand your position. I’m in a similar place here. I’m only out to a few close friends and the queer community in my college. I won’t even consider coming out at my work place or to my parents. I’m just not emotionally, financially ready to do that.

      People in the queer community in my college are all extremely outed and proud, and my best gay friend tells me that I should be ‘proud’ of who I am. He doesn’t understand that I come from an extremely homophobic and conservative environment. I was raised in a church, I went to camps where teens took a pact to have sex after marriage. I was constantly told that homosexuality was abnormal and disgusting. My own parents occasionally make anti-gay remarks about homosexuals burning in hell. Having grew up in that environment, it is extremely hard for me to discard all my internalised homophobic values. It’s a long process and I’m still working on it.

      Coming out is great and liberating, but I really don’t think anyone should be forced be take that step until they are ready. If I come out I will be instantly disowned, I will no longer have a family unless I confess my sins and convert to a life of heterosexuality. I will be fired from both of my jobs, which I badly need as I am still studying full time.

      I’m not saying people shouldn’t come out. I’m just saying you should only do it if you are in a safe environment or you are mature enough to due with the emotional/physical abuse, or you can support yourself financially.

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      I totally agree- more often it’s the son or grandchild or sister coming out who changes people’s perspective and fights homophobia, not the celebrity. Yes, celebrities hold a lot of value in our society and they can be major role models to all the baby gays out there. But I feel like more often, like Riese mentioned, the characters they play can have more impact. Let’s ask for more from the screenwriters and directeurs out there- to keep representing gays (and work at doing it better!) instead of getting all worked up and telling someone else how to live his/her life story. Honestly, I think there is no excuse for hurling the homophobic label around at people who may or may not be gay/want to be known as gay. I understand Margaret Cho’s anger- the criticism of her show seems petty and a little mean -but I think she, and we, should be careful with calling people homophobes or labeling things hate-speech too flippantly. It’s reactionary and it contributes to the poor communication and a negative social discourse on gay issues.

      Let’s keep making safe spaces and ‘saving bullhorns’ for people that are coming to terms with their story and celebrating when they do/can.

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    i think it’s a little hard, because exactly as you guys say – there áre some trouble with coming out, as wonderfull and important as it might be. First of all, it forces you to label yourself and constantly dealing with other people labelling you. This can be difficult especially if you are very young and still don’t really know yet. also i don’t like the term “coming out” because this implies that everyone (including yourself) assume that your straight. I personally never identified as straight and therefore don’t really see how I “came out”?
    Of course, it is awesome when celebrities and wonderfull queer people go out and tell people, I just don’t like the term and what it implies.

  23. Thumb up 6

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    I think it’s important to keep reminding those that are able to live their lives openly, that they are part of the highly privileged minority of our community.

    When more than 50% of the worldwide population of the lgbt community (and let’s face it, that percentage is actually far higher in reality), would face:

    Social isolation
    Financial ruin
    Loss of career
    Loss of family (including children, grandchildren, pets etc)
    Homelessness
    Emotional abuse
    Harassment (not limited to sexual, street, emotional)
    Violence
    Sexual violation
    Death

    The few that are lucky enough to live mostly freely, don’t get to put pressure on the vast majority of the community that are in highly precarious and dangerous positions.

    I’m not saying those that are out, automatically have an easy life or that they haven’t had their own, sometimes tragic struggles and challenges.

    But being able to live openly, happily, safely does make those people part of the tiny, lucky minority.

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    I think outing is wrong purely because we don’t live in a perfect world. Declaring your sexuality to be queer in some form is a dangerous move for a lot of people and it is an individual decision.

    However, I am an activist. I spend a lot of my time ensuring that everyone in my university is aware of queer people, queer issues and that other queer people know that there are people who support them. That is a lot of work. To be perfectly frank, if you are closeted and not living at home/in a place where serious harm will befall you, we are not playing for the same team.

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      I totally understand. Right now I’m living at home, and under no circumstance can I come out. It’s a nightmare trying to hide who I am, everytime my parents are quiet or call me to talk I have a sick feeling in my gut thinking that somewhere I’ve left an obvious clue. That being said, when I transfer to a big college away from home, I plan to leave my closet at home (where I will need it for the rest of my life).

  25. Thumb up 4

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    I think the whole “outing” a person thing is bullshit. I’m closeted and I want to stay that way. Well I don’t actually WANT to stay that way, but when my boss is making comments to her brother like “those stupid homosexuals just need to shut up.” I’m going to keep my mouth shut & my head down.

    sorry but not all of us have the money & power to take down every evil bigoted corporation, OR the luxury of trying to find a queer friendly job. (I live in the capital S South so good luck)

  26. Thumb up 6

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    An open letter to anyone who thinks it’s ok to out someone.

    Please stop saying it’s my “duty” to be out and proud. Stop implying that not coming out must mean I suffer from some kind of deep seeded self-homophobia. Sure, things are getting better and I (probably) won’t be attacked for outing myself, but let me tell you what does happen.

    The promotions stop, coworkers stop asking to hangout after work. There is no explosion, violence or prison, just silence. Suddenly I stop being just myself and become myself the lesbian. People assume things about me that may or may not be true. They think they know all about me, because they have this neat little box to put me in inside their head. Straight friends I’m out to already do it.

    “Oh,” you say, “But how will that ever change if you don’t come out?” Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but my life isn’t some inspirational movie about overcoming injustice. My life is about surviving; surviving until the next paycheck, the next raise, the next promotion that might mean I don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck anymore.

    Maybe someday I’ll be out at work, but when I’m stable. When I have enough saved up to protect me if I’m let go, or the promotions stop. So, please, for all the kids who have it so much worse than me, the ones who are beaten, berated and murdered, stop saying there is something wrong with the closet. Our fabulously gay ancestors designed it to protect us. This is a safe place we can exist for awhile until it’s safe to come out.

    Until then, don’t pretend this is some picnic I’m on where everything is fine. I’m the level headed voice in homophobic conversations about others. Conversations that would be about me if I were out. Straight girls think it’s fun to make out with me to attract guys, not knowing it’s killing me inside. I’ll always be alone in here.

    So stop. Stop outing people because you think we have some moral obligation to the cause. We are not martyrs. We are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and parents, just trying to survive inside the closet.

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    I am currently firmly ensconced in the closet and if someone outed me right now it wouldn’t be terrible, but it’s something that I want to wait to do. I don’t want someone to decide for me. Either way I’m drunk and I have feelings that I need to share! Thanks wine.

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    I guess I’m lucky really. As a child, my parents did all they could to make sure I wasn’t prejudiced. They told me about the different types of sexual orientation, they taught me that there was nothing wrong with any of them. When I was ten, my mum told me about her girlfriends. I was intrigued, I was surprised, but I accepted it. My dad told me he was bisexual when I was thirteen. It was around then that I began to consider my own feelings for my best friend. She, too was openly bisexual, and, six months later, we were together. We were picked on at school, but we both had supporting families, and we stuck together. Six years of hassle, fights, and verbal abuse later, we are still together, people can say what they want, we know we are normal as everyone else. I have always wondered it I almost had the perfect lifestyle to be a lesbian. I never really had to come out, because I always had said that I like both genders, and acceptance from my family made it all easier. If I had to give one piece of advice to other teens who have realised they are lesbian/gay/bi/trans/anything that society sees as wrong, it would be find someone, anyone, on or offline who you can trust, and remember that the only problem is everyone else, but they don’t matter anyway.

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