Being Out

In the comments of the Stealth Mode entry, RJ raised a good point: to what extent are we obligated to be out? Is it okay to slowly open the closet door? Or are we obligated to kick it off its hinges?

This is not an academic question for me. There is some chance that in the near future I will be doing public speaking on a semi-regular basis, about subjects that have nothing to do with sexuality. Am I obligated to disclose? (And what it is it that I would disclose, exactly? It is not as if I know myself.) My inclination is not to disclose anything, and let my fey mannerisms speak for themselves. But that is cowardice again.

The truth is that I demonstrate cowardice on a regular basis. Even though I participate in activities held at the Lurkville LBGTQ community centre, there is a strong argument to be made that I am still fairly closeted. I did not explicitly disclose my sexuality to people at my former workplace. I don’t own a single rainbow-coloured item of clothing. In 2011 I made a public declaration of non-straightness because a celebrity told me to. At that time I made a promise not to lie about my sexuality if asked directly. These days I sometimes go a bit beyond that, but usually I do not go much farther.

I have dropped enough hints (eg by mentioning the LBGTQ community centre) in my personal life that many people around me have confirmation that I am not straight. But that is about it.

What obligation do we have to be out? Dan Savage says we need to be out so that straight people realize that they know people who are not straight, and thus can normalize us instead of viewing us as the Other. This normalization has won us greater acceptance in broad society, and has made my own existence as a non-straight person much easier. So being out is a mechanism to “pay it forward”.

On the other hand, the marginal utility of having one more person out is small. In my case, it might be negative. Nobody wants me on their team any more than Buddhists are happy that Sam Harris meditates.

I don’t want to be anybody’s role model, but this is probably the most compelling reason to be out. There is some chance that other people struggling with their sexualities will see that I exist, and that (somehow) this will make them feel less alone. Honestly, I am not very good at being LBGTQ. My love life is nonexistent, I am a neurotic mess, and I am a prudish contrarian. But maybe that is okay? There are some people who claim that being gay and being Republican is impossible, and I strongly disagree. As much as I may disagree with their politics, visibly out gay Republicans probably help gays with Republican tendencies feel more safe. I endorse people (even Republicans) feeling more safe. So maybe me being out would make other pathetic, prudish, neurotic non-straight people feel safer? Maybe.

Then there is the argument for self-actualization: that being out of the closet makes you happier and helps you live a more authentic life. I am all for living an authentic life, but I am not sure this argument holds much water for me overall. Being non-straight has not done me much good so far, and internally I have probably accepted myself to the degree I am likely to in my life. Coming out more seems of little benefit.

I think this entry has ended up arguing that being out and visible is not that important. I don’t feel comfortable with that conclusion at all. Something in me wants to vehemently claim that being out is super important, and that we do have obligations to the broader LGBTQ community by being out. Unfortunately, other than the argument for paying it forward, I am having trouble articulating why it is important.

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4 thoughts on “Being Out

  1. I think it’s important to be out. I also think there is a time and place for everything. I don’t own any rainbow-colored clothes. I don’t have stickers on my car. I support LGBTQ causes and attend the pride celebration every year. All of my neighbors know I’m gay. There are a number of gay household in the neighborhood so I’m not alone.

    I don’t think you need to disclose unless it relates to the topic being discussed. If you’re discussing invasive native plants in the landscape does anyone care that you’re gay? If you’re discussing crimes against the LGBTQ community disclosing will help your audience understand how you relate to the topic. I guess it comes down to the topic, the audience and how safe you feel being able to disclose.

    I guess I should disclose to you that my name is Richard, not Robert. For some odd reason, I’ve been called Robert many times over the years.

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