Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Are we past the "coming out" stage?

You used to hear about the process of coming out of the closet all the time. Ellen essentially devoted an episode of her show to how hard it is to come out, MTV documentaries were made that focused on it, and popular movies were made that treated the act of coming out as a form of liberation. Statistics about teenagers being kicked out of their homes after they came out to their parents were repeated frequently by gay rights groups. The question, "How old were you when you came out?" was asked to gay people all the time. No one ever asks that anymore. Is there an unspoken agreement between those who try to shape public perception of gays that focusing on the act of coming out places emphasis on gays in a potential victim position rather than as "normal" people?

Nowadays, it's a lot harder to sympathize with closeted gays who act unable to handle telling their families. If you're gay, unless you are financially dependent on ultra-conservative parents or you live in an area where you would have realistic concern for your physical safety, many people will see your refusal to come out as a reflection on you rather than as a symptom of persecution. It used to be that closeted gay people were seen as evidence that gays were socially oppressed.

Perhaps ignoring the coming out process altogether is the best way, then, to put social pressure on gays to come out.


Blogger Wickedpinto said...

I'm hetero.

But I know "bi-sexuals" who are actually gay, but they are treating "bi" as a door opening. (I'm only talking about the environment of my upbringing) and, Here? in this HICKED out NEAR suburb of Chicago, you do NOT want to be gay in public. You can likely come out to your family, but you can't expect your parents to tell the truth about you in this place, or at least say something like "Yeah, my son is doing so well, and he has a WONDERFUL boyfriend" That just doesn't happen here.

Like I mentioned, I'm a bit crazy, and a portion of that crazy is based on the fact that I have been to 7 nations on 4 continents, and noone around me has been ten feet. Even though we are within easy driving distance of a major city, I'm surrounded by anti-semitic, racist hicks, who don't know a damn thing that isn't spoon fed to them.

So. . . .SOME should have a problem coming out 100% open, but I think they should all trust their families, unless they are cultish followers of the random dogmatic faiths.

11:17 PM  
Blogger Chris Althouse Cohen said...

"Like I mentioned, I'm a bit crazy, and a portion of that crazy is based on the fact that I have been to 7 nations on 4 continents, and noone around me has been ten feet."

I have no idea what that means.

Anyway, like I said, if you have genuine concern for your safety, that's a legitimate excuse. In every city I've lived in (Madison, San Francisco, Boston, and Austin) you can't really use that one, but I've known many self-pitying closeted guys who acted "unable" to come out.

1:50 AM  
Blogger Wickedpinto said...

"Like I mentioned, I'm a bit crazy, and a portion of that crazy is based on the fact that I have been to 7 nations on 4 continents, and noone around me has been ten feet."

You've traveled. I have done the things I described, but the people I grew up with haven't done a damn thing. That is what I mean by that. They married the girls they impregnated at a young age, they never drove outside of the quad states (WIS,Ill,IN,MICH) They've never thought about a foreign language, they've never thought about a society that doesn't fit their childhood image of what life is (hickish) They are noones, who only find power by offending others.

The reason I say "I've been to 7 nations on 4 continents" is because I have, and I say "you ain't been 10 ft." because I'm being generous. Hicks are HICKS becuase they think that their little 10' world is the whole world, and it isn't.

Hicks in their 10' world think they can insult assualt and attack everyone that they come across.

no matter my size, no matter what, I don't allow that.

That is what I meant Chris.

2:10 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Christopher, this is a tricksy topic. I've given it thought enough to know that I harbor some prejudice against people who use the closet as a safe place to hide from social disapproval, rather than from actual danger.

The cultural coming out you describe is a positive development in the queer movement, one that is less political and more personal. It asks straight people to mull what it's like to hide one's essential self, and as you say, changes the paradigm from victimhood to normalcy. But it's not as if that cultural coming out solves the issue for each new generation; it just makes it more hospitable. Even so, context is everything.

Every kid growing up and figuring out he's gay or she's lesbian will eventually have to decide who it's safe to talk to. Coming out happens over and over. I'm 46, and there are still situations where I realize I'm coming out--moving to a new neighborhood, starting a new job, getting a hotel room and saying "a single king bed, please." Sometimes it's uncomfortable, and even a bit scary, down here in the deep South.

But I still have little patience with people who are closeted. I suspect, with some, that they have internalized shame, and that irritates me. Others are clearly maintaining their social class. The New Orleans aristocracy is hidebound in tradition; there are men and women who have their tricks on the side, but keep their family status and social roles by passing as heterosexual in their primary identities. They can't abide the idea of giving up their place in the country club and the carnival krewes (Mardi Gras organizations dating back to before the Civil War). Both of these examples perpetuate the kind of secrecy that was more common when I first started coming out, in the late 70s, as a teenager. I just accepted then that people lived double lives, but now I'm repulsed by the acquiesence to shame.

11:19 AM  

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