Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Do Gays Have a Duty to Come Out of the Closet?

Several bloggers and columnists have suggested that gays have a duty or obligation if you will to come out of the closet.  If that is true, I admittedly failed to meet my obligation for many years and all I can plead is that growing up in the late 1950's and 1960's the climate was simply too hostile and being gay was still classified as a mental illness through most of my college years.   That said, today represents a different world - almost a different universe - from the era of my youth and college days  than and I do tend to agree with those who are chiding those still in the closet or "out" except to family and friends and co-workers.  A piece in entitled "Will Portman and the Duty to Come Out" looks at the issue. Here are excerpts:

This is why coming out is a duty: Every time a gay or lesbian person demands acceptance, they make it easier for others to do the same. We have the power to change people's political and personal attitudes toward gays simply by being present and known to be gay; we can only exercise that power if we come out.

San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk got this right in 1978, when he admonished his fellow gays and lesbians to come out of the closet in order to build opposition to a ballot measure that would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools: "Come out to your relatives. I know that is hard and will upset them but think how they will upset you in the voting booth."

This obligation is only stronger now that social acceptance of gays and lesbians is higher, meaning the cost of coming out has declined. And it lies particularly with those in positions of privilege and power, who have the resources to withstand negative reactions. Coming out was stressful for me like it is for most people, but let’s be real: Announcing that you’re gay in a wealthy family in a progressive suburb of Boston as you’re about to enter Harvard University is a pretty easy hand to play. I could hardly claim a hardship that would justify staying in the closet, especially with Frankie’s example before me.

Coming out may have been more daunting for Will Portman because his father was a Republican officeholder with an anti-gay voting record; or maybe he had good reasons to expect his dad to react in exactly the way he did. But while his father’s position may have made coming out harder, it also made it all the more obligatory, because of the possibility it would lead to the outcome that we saw last week. He was given an unusual opportunity to use his coming out to materially change the prospects for gay rights and gay acceptance in America, and he took it.

What the writer says is true.  That's not to say that coming out is necessarily easy.  My coming out journey was a living Hell at times and trigger two serious suicide attempts.  But I survived it and I know for a fact that since coming out I have changes some previously closed minds among clients and others.   Andrew Sullivan is a bit even more in your face with those who remain in the closet to family, friends and co-workers (and believe me, I know people in this situation):

I remember one HRC dinner back in the day when I was asked to speak. I asked people who were out to their families, friends and co-workers to put their hands up. In a well-heeled, tuxedoed, bejeweled crowd, only about a third put up their hands. I asked who were not out – and another third went up. I then said, in words I reiterate today to anyone in the closet writing checks to gay groups, “Why don’t you leave right now and come back when you’ve done something for gay rights?”  If you’re reading this, and your hand went up as in the closet, my question stands. 

Andrew has a serious point.  All I can plead is that although I failed in fulfilling my duty in the past, I am working diligently to make amends.   The boyfriend and I are 100% out 24/7 and, yes, it caused a stir when we were announced as a couple as new members to the Hampton Yacht Club.  But guess what, we made some people rethink their prejudices and there is no turning back.  I make no apologies for who I am or how the Creator made me.  Is it scary at times?  Most certainly.  But, the more of us that take this approach, the sooner we will have full equality and the sooner LGBT teens will stop feeling that ending their lives is their best alternative. 

1 comment:

milindoe said...

I go to the opposite side as far as any obligation to come "out."

Knowing you're gay is one thing. Accepting and embracing it is another thing altogether.

Like you, I came out late in life. I attempted to fit into the social norm by getting married at the tender age of 20, and pushing out three children over the next 7 years. Divorced at the age of 32 and a single mom, I had to push that size 18 issue down into a size 10 niche in my psyche until I was ready to confront it.

Single parenting 3 kids for 14 years didn't give me any time for self-reflection. It didn't even give me time to sit on the toilet for 5 minutes uninterrupted!

Even once I accepted who I was, I couldn't face what could be in store for me if my kids, who were my whole world, turned their backs on me.

Coming out is a process. It has to be in that individuals time and on that individual's terms. It has to be for the individual, not for the larger GLBT community because, when all the dust settles, it's not the GLBT community that provides for an individuals spiritual, psychological and emotional needs -- it's family and friends. And we need to be very sure that our family and friends are on board with us before we feel safe enough to be who we are. The cost of coming out hasn't declined -- it's still the same.

I'm not saying I'm right and you're wrong -- I just think everyone has different views and different needs.