The phrases “in the closet,” “coming out” and “outing” are euphemisms for lying about your sexual orientation, or telling the truth about it. They’re phrases I dislike, because they allow people to rationalize away the fact that “staying in the closet” is a fundamental dishonesty. It’s much easier to say, “I’m not out yet at work,” than to say, “I’m telling the people I work with lies about my sexual orientation.”
The gay and lesbian community has created a whole culture around the concept of the “closet,” going as far as creating a pop-psychology theory about the “process of coming out” and naming national magazines and websites after it. (Out Magazine, PlanetOut)
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that it takes time for people to learn about, understand, and accept their own sexuality when it’s different from the norm. I went through it like everyone else, and it’s understandable that we want to help people who are going through the “great awakening.”
The problem is that the “closet” culture we’ve created allows people who are well aware of their sexuality the opportunity to be dishonest merely to avoid the stigma attached to being gay.
I say once you’re aware of your own sexual orientation, it’s time to tell other people unless you have some compelling reason not to. The older I get, the less tolerant I get of people who are lying about their sexual orientation for no good reason.
And there are some good reasons to lie:
- If you are in immediate danger of losing your life.
- If you are in danger of losing your children.
- If you are very poor and losing your job will cause you to be out of food, clothing or housing.
- If you are very young and telling the truth will get you thrown out into the streets before you are able to care for yourself, or bullied by your peers.
Many of the gay and lesbian people in this country who lie about their sexual orientation are not doing it for one of these reasons. Many of them are lying because they are afraid to face the hatred; afraid they won’t fit in. Black people have to face the hatred every day; they don’t have the luxury of being cowards.
As much difficulty as I have with the concept of the "closet," I get even more bent out of shape when people try to claim that their gay relationships are a "private matter" because that often reduces their relationship to a sexual one, rather than a loving, romantic one, which is the way the right-wing would like it to be.
When a straight person introduces their partner to anyone, they use the words "husband," "wife," "fiancé;" they naturally announce their emotions to complete strangers and don’t think twice about it. Straight people declare their love by getting married in front of family and friends and send announcements of their wedding to the community paper.
The "private" aspect of any relationship is the sexual, intimate part of a relationship between two individuals; the part that takes place behind closed doors. Heterosexual people have a "public" aspect as well; an aspect of their relationship that is the emotional, "love" part, and that love that is shared to some degree with the couple’s friends, family, and community. When other people know about their love and participate in it, they support it and strenghten it. That’s why the public part of their relationship is important.
Gay people rarely have a truly "public" part to their relationships, they may be honest to friends, and some family, but when it comes to holding hands in public or telling new acquaintances about their relationships, they censor themselves. Their relationships are often limited to the private, to the "bedroom." Because of this, gay people and straight people alike tend to think of gay relationships as merely sexual, rather than sexual and loving.
I know one of the first objections gay people will bring up is that we shouldn’t define our relationships by those of straight people. It’s true that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to that model; but we can draw some conclusions about human behavior by looking at them. Not all gay people want traditional, committed relationships and families, but some do and they shouldn’t be denied the opportunity.
"But… I’m Not Lying, I’m Just Not Telling People"
Oh, baloney. There’s no way to "not tell people." Within the first few weeks of getting to know someone, they’re going to ask you questions about your personal life that you have to answer. Sooner of later, you’re going to have to state a pronoun. If you choose to censor your answers, or be evasive, bingo! You’re lying.
I Don’t Want to Help You Lie
The closet culture we’ve created fosters a conspiracy of dishonesty within the community as well. People who are lying about their sexual orientation assume and expect those who are not lying to help them. They speak in conspiratorial whispers, rather than normal conversation tones. They look around before relating information, speak in code ("Is he family?" "Does he sing in the choir?") and expect others to do so, all with a bit of glee: "we’re putting one over on all these stupid straight people aren’t we?"
If people are lying to stay in the closet, and if I help them by perpetuating that lie, then I am as dishonest as they are, and as much of a coward as they are by going along with them.