“Hey Eugene, do you have a girlfriend?”
“No, I don’t. I bat for the other team”
“What’s this he’s talking about, baseball?”
“No, that means I’m gay.”
“Hey, Eugene really likes joking doesn’t he!”
The above occurred between an older relative and myself. She was from India, which has a much more conservative culture. Aunts always like to ask about girlfriends. I decided to answer truthfully. The awkward silence that followed was a form of denial, if not fear of broaching the topic.
What am I trying to say here? For one, that if you’re going to fight for something, it may as well be for who you are. Two, when you come out with an unpopular opinion/identity and you are of sound character, you will be respected, even if at the beginning people may cast aspersions or dislike you. And three, you dignity as a human is worth more than causing uncomfortability.
So how do I get from this to an “obligation to come out”? Let me just preface this by saying that I know perfectly well that queer people can, have, and are killed, beaten, tortured, and maimed for their sexuality around the world, and for them, the obligation to come out doesn’t apply to them. They ought to read this and see how the principle would apply in their daily lives.
But the underlying principle is that people have a preconceived idea of a category, and if you can’t change their mind through rational argumentation, then the next best thing, if not better, is to convince them through living a better life. That’s all you’ve got left, and I think that it’s even more effective than rational argumentation.
Let’s say that that category is ‘gay’. People, who come from certain backgrounds, or who simply don’t know better, think of gay people as drug abusers, or pedophiles, all these terrible things. That’s because the category isn’t gay, it’s ‘all forms of unacceptable/immoral social conduct’. And so if you see one sign of unacceptable conduct, you think that all the rest will closely follow. Here’s the thing: this becomes true when there’s a denial of one sign within a person. Let me give you an example.
There is, as many people have now pointed out, blatant child abuse in the Catholic Church. And there was blatant covering up of this too. Why? Because the higher up you go in the church hierarchy, the more likely the people are to be engaged in disorderly conduct – homosexuality, pedophilia, etc. It is an ‘open secret’ in the Vatican, according to Frederic Martel’s new book. But everyone covers for the other’s transgressions so that their own secrets are protected – “if you let me drown, then you’re coming with me” kind of an attitude.
Both homosexuality and child abuse are condemned and illegal in the catholic church. The reason why you find both in the Catholic Church is because when you find an organization or a group of people which accepts, cloisters, and hides those belonging in the unacceptable category of social conduct, others who are truly harmful who also engage in unacceptable social conduct (pedophiles) are drawn to the institution in an attempt to protect themselves.
Quick point to make: some may critique me for going after the Catholic Church when it’s the case that sexual abuse of children occurs at similar rates in other religious institutions. To this I would say that you hold the people you trust to higher moral standards.
How could that problem from before have been solved? I think that if the gay, homophobic cardinals had stopped denying that they were gay, and instead had integrated their sexuality into their lives, it would have prevented them from going out and actually having gay sex all the time, for one, but for two, it would have prevented the catholic church from becoming a safe space for sexual abusers.
I think something similar occurs in a culture where too many people don’t come out. People deny it, then put on a show of being straight as well as hating gays so that they are not suspected of being gay. When they are caught red handed for sleeping around with other guys (because sexuality is not something you can simply ignore exists), they have no choice but to do the bidding of the person who uses their secret.
If they came out and stopped lying to themselves and to other, in action as well as in philosophy, then I think the consequence would’ve been less misbehaviour, but also a clarification of the category of unacceptable/immoral social conduct. The same goes for individuals. If individuals come out and they live properly, then I think it would result in people being more accepting of gay people because then the gay person doesn’t become the shadow in the dark. it doesn’t become the boogeyman. It doesn’t immediately get associated with the rest of the unacceptable/immoral social conduct.
I think I now better understand the idea of diversity in films, or at least of characters. It attempts to do something very similar to that which you would do when you come out while you’re a morally acceptable person – that of normalizing so called unacceptable conduct. One key difference though is that one is sorta propaganda, the other is more honest.
Anyways, this was a very long way of saying that you should remember that if you come out, people’s perception of you will indeed change, but not as much as people’s perception of the category which you’re afraid to identify with – homosexual in this case. It will likely change to the positive in the long run. If it doesn’t, and if people would rather change their perception of you for the worse instead of changing their perception of gay for the better, then you might just be better off without them.
Lastly, by not coming out, you make it more difficult for the next person who’s in your shoes who’s coming out. I don’t mean to guilt trip anyone into coming out, because it is difficult, and as I pointed out before, can be a life or death situation. I mean this last point to be an argument that’ll stand by your side. Courage, like cowardice, is contagious.