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Author Topic: The Closet  (Read 2077 times)


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The Closet
« on: February 25, 2007, 08:06:38 AM »

Quote from: "Feral"
There is no "right" to the closet. If you are in it, it is not by your choice. You were forced into it as a child, and you are being held captive by a hypocritical, homophobic society. Now is the time to plan your escape. The power to do so is inside of you, and only you can unleash it. Stop sitting around blaming your parents, your school, the government, the media. Stop whining about your existence and wallowing in self-pity. Stop wishing yourself dead. If you are already out of the closet, it is your obligation to help all those who are still being held prisoner.

That's from Michelangelo Signorile's "Queer Manifesto" of 1993. Alas, the Signorile seems to have included it in one of his newer books, so versions on the web of the entire manifesto are vanishing like snow in a chinook. You get the picture though.

We all know what "the closet" means. You are either "in the closet" or you are "out" of it. You are either "closeted" or you are not. You have "come out" or you haven't. It's simple, really ... except for when it isn't. In it's briefest sense, being in the closet means not saying you're gay and this almost always requires positive assertions that you are straight. It's not exactly a once and done thing, this 'coming out.' Depending on how quickly gossip flies where you are, you may well need only tell one or two people that you are gay ... but in most circumstances you're going to get to eventually tell just about everyone you come in contact with. It is quite possible to not be "out" to yourself. It's also possible to not be out to your parents or the rest of your family. You may not be out to your friends, your classmates, your neighbors, or your co-workers. Generally, unless you take drastic measures, you aren't going to be out to total strangers. Coming out is really quite a lot of work, and most people have a comfort level at which they stop.

And these days most all of us do stop at some point.

That point is usually pretty interesting. It's OK for your brother or sister to know but not your parents? I remember that one. Your friends rather have to know or they wouldn't be real friends, but it would really be a good idea if the guys down the hall in your college dorm didn't find out? I remember that one too. It's almost never rocket science to figure out why: fear of reprisal. You're afraid of what "they" would do if they knew.

If you're a teenager, coming out to your parents can be a really good way to end up on the street -- the statistics say it happens fairly frequently. My own experience says the same thing. Physical violence is always a very real possibility especially if you're young -- it used to be more common than it is now, much more common. Verbal abuse is also a real possibility, and I'm sad to say that on this score matters do not appear to have improved much at all. If your boss knows you're gay, he might fire you. If the voters know you're gay, they might not vote for you. If some stranger on the street knows you're gay, he might stick a knife in your back or swing a baseball bat at your head (my recollection of such news stories suggests that it's not really an either/or proposition -- both methods can be employed in the same attack). Certainly there are always excuses to terminate the coming out process at some point.

Note that I used the word "excuses" not "reasons."

Certainly there are situations where it would be downright stupid to insist upon being out. You need to get out of those situations -- they are inherently unsafe and deliberately remaining in an unsafe situation is insane. What's more, as Signorile so bluntly points out, "If you are already out of the closet, it is your obligation to help all those who are still being held prisoner."

That would be the point, I imagine, of most gay activism. We try to get hate crime laws passed so that strangers on the street will be less likely to stave in our heads with convenient blunt instruments. We try to get anti-discrimination laws passed so that bosses will not be able to fire us for being gay with impunity. We try to get diversity programs and Gay Straight Alliances in schools to at least limit the amount of bullying that takes place. None of it is enough. GSA's exist in perhaps 10% of schools in the US and bullying proceeds apace. While some states have anti-discrimination laws, most do not and a federal measure has repeatedly failed to pass in Congress. Hate crime laws are also rare, and the federal version is so limited in scope as to be meaningless to most gay people.

One might think that the situation would be different in Canada or the European Union where most of these measures have been in place for some time. Depending on just what you want the word "better" to mean, you'd be right. Unfortunately, hate crime laws don't keep the bat out of your head, they just criminalize the act (when they're enforced). Anti-discrimination laws permit you to sue if you get fired, but they don't keep you from getting fired in the first place and they aren't that hard to get around. This is not a reason to stop trying to get such laws, and it's not a reason to stop trying to get such laws enforced where they do exist. It's a reason to do more -- much more.

And if you really want society to change then why do you straight acting guys continue to remain in the closet? I hate to tell you, but you're not helping the gay community either!

Hey I don't owe anyone a damn thing. No one was there for me when I grew up and was struggling to figure all this out.

(It's from a message board I haunt -- no purpose would be served by linking to it, or by identifying the posters.)

Here lies the problem we face as a people. No ... no one was there for him. Someone should have been, but wasn't. I wish I could say the author is in his 50s -- he isn't, he's in his 30s. Damn few people were there for me either ... for any of us. There should have been. But before we get too dreadfully maudlin about it, we should take a moment to wonder just who it is that is supposed to "be there" for the kids today. The answer is obviously "us," after all, who else is there? That, for whatever reason, we were let down in ten thousand different ways as we were growing up is no reason at all for us to re-commit the crime.

If you are already out of the closet, it is your obligation to help all those who are still being held prisoner.

Not some of them ... ALL of them, starting with the ones nearest you. You cannot be there if you are strapped into the invisibility of the closet. I knew with a certainty that I was a homosexual when I was 13. I was quite certain that I was the only one for just miles and miles. I was dead wrong too. When I was thirteen the kid who sat at the next table in study hall was just as certain and just as mistaken. So were two of the boys in my gym class. So, too, was one of my teachers. (The things one will learn when it's far too late to make a difference.) It seems to me the very least any gay man can do for the 13-year olds today is exist, to be visible. Indeed, I've read that our increasing visibility may just be the reason so many gays are now coming out in their teens. We really are everywhere -- why is it that in many places even today our youth grow up with the idea that they are alone? Now naturally I think gays are morally obligated to do far more than just exist, but it is a start. This obligation increases if you are prominent, public, powerful. Those who can do more must do more.
"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
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