Leaving Narnia: Outing in the 21st Century

With the current crop of high-profile celebrities who are out and proud it is often easy to assume that the gay community has pretty much achieved equality in 21st century society which accepts us as being just like every other pleb on the planet: begrudgingly getting up in the morning to go to a job we slightly resent, populated by colleagues who run the gamut of BFFs to prize tosspots; not to mention all the usual bullshit that goes with having friends and a family. This is turn would lead to the conclusion that perhaps the closet is becoming a thing of the past.

Alas, this is not quite the case.

While it is certainly true that high-profile LGBT visibility has increased of late in TV (Glee, Southland, Torchwood, Coronation Street, Brothers & Sisters) and movies (Brokeback Mountain, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, The Kids are All Right) often with positive and even novel depiction of members of the gay community, there are still many closet doors firmly shut within our ranks. This may be due to the fear of rejection by their nearest and dearest, or the perceived (and sometimes real) negative effects coming out will have on their career and lives.

As such the subject of outing gay people is still very much a hot topic within the gay community. Some time last week I was reading an article about this very issue which ended with a poll asking its readers what they thought about outing people. Naturally I voted, after which you were able to view the running results;  I have included a screenshot below of the results at the time I voted. Incidentally I voted for the fourth option: “only if they cause harm to the LGBT community”.

Vote results as of 19/04/11

I’m not going to lie, I was rather surprised by the large majority that voted for “We shouldn’t”, i.e. under no circumstances. If I was to give people the benefit of the doubt, I would say perhaps they didn’t read all the options when they voted, as this was the first option; the results are listed in the same order as they were provided. However, I think this is being willfully naïve, especially as the thick-end of 3,500 people had voted by this point in time. Perhaps part of the reason for this result could be that a number of readers are from the older generations who have personal experience of the problems that can occur from coming out and so are naturally more reserved about the outing of people in general.

While I whole-heartedly agree that most gay people should come out on their own terms and in their own time, surely arseholes like religious leaders, politicians and their ilk, who rally against us, attempting to deprive us of basic human rights, but all the while engage in man-on-man lovin’ on the side, should be called out for it? While it doesn’t reflect positively on our community in the short-term, unfortunately it’s a rule that is proven true time and again: our biggest detractors are often a self-loathing member of our community.

I would suspect this mass-voting for “under no circumstances” answer is spurred on by the shame and fear that is still very present around being gay. Indeed, I was watching The Wright Stuff recently (a panel-discussion show which airs weekday mornings on British television) where one of the segments was about schools asking children of 11 if they were gay or not, and whether this was an appropriate course of action. Mid-way through the chat they took a phone call from a guy who was my age (late 20s) saying that even though he knew he was gay at 11 he was still having issues with accepting who he was now, which I found quite sad not to mention bizarre considering how this country is pretty gay-friendly when all is said and done.

I guess part of the reasoning behind this could be with the aim of normalising the realisation that you are gay at an early age. I myself was also aware I was gay by the time I was 11 years old, though didn’t come out to anyone in person until I was 19. Being in the closet is a horrible place to be, especially at a boys-only school like I was. It was simultaneously heaven and hell; like being trapped in a vast cake shop filled with delicious cakey-goodness but not actually being in possession of a mouth…what?! I remember having “conversations” in Sixth Form about a preference for Britney or Christina when they were both first out, though it was more along the lines of who would you prefer to shag, not as I was thinking and hoping for: who is the better artist. Even now that’s still a tough one; Christina clearly has the superior voice, but Britney has the better material. Anyway, I’ll save that discussion for another post perhaps…

While I can understand not rushing out to tell all and sundry that you’re here, you’re queer and they better fucking get used to it, to still not be personally accepting of your sexuality seemed most odd to me. If I was to put my knee-jerk, angry atheist hat on for a moment (it fits so well and I like to wear it at a jaunty angle), I would say he probably comes from a religious family, most probably something like Catholic, who instilled this sense of self-loathing that has made him internally conflicted about a core part of his being. On a side note, why is anyone listening to a pyjama-clad coffin dodger like the pope anyway? A guy who is so far removed from reality living in his lavish palace of ill-gotten gains, he has no business telling anyone what they should or shouldn’t be doing. Additionally, I’m sure there is something in the Bible about “he who is without sin may cast the first stone” … Something about a cover-up of paedophile priests comes to mind…

An issue I took with the poll (rather than the results) was the last option: “We shouldn’t because even if they have “gay sex” not everyone identifies as LGBT”. What a massive bag of bullshit that is. This whole business of “not doing labels” is utterly ridiculous and childish: “Just because I love bumming, doesn’t mean I’m a gay”. Fuck. Off. To say you “don’t identify as gay” is as meaningless as a woman saying “I may have a big pair of norks and a front bottom, but I DON’T IDENTIFY AS FEMALE, GOD DAMN IT! STOP TRYING TO LABEL ME!”

There are three options: you’re attracted to the opposite sex? You’re heterosexual. You’re attracted to the same-sex? You’re homosexual. You’re attracted to anything with a pulse? You’re a slut bisexual. It’s really not that hard, people, there are no other possible combinations, unless tomorrow they discover a third gender and in which case, I apologise in advance.

I digress…

The argument is often made that well-known people, celebrities for want of a better term, should come out (at the latest) once they are a success, as they would become role models for young LGBT kids, additionally normalising the perception of gay people to the wider world. Last week, UK gossip site Holy Moly made a very transparent insinuation that Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe was another of these closeted stars. While this is certainly not the first time I’ve heard this suggestion (the gays talk…often a lot of shit it has to be said) I wouldn’t have much of a problem if he is taking the David Hyde Pierce path of “my life is an open book, I just don’t let everyone read it”, since more importantly he is an out-spoken supporter of the gay community, even giving his time over to film PSAs for charities such as The Trevor Project which aims to help prevent suicides in LGBT youth.

A more appropriate target would be someone like Tom Cruise who is widely rumoured to be gay, even suing a gay porn actor a number of years back for claiming he had had a gay relationship with him. Even if you say the old adage of “there’s no smoke without fire” doesn’t apply here, his over-reaction was slightly offensive to the gay community, to put it mildly.

As more people do come out, the closet will no doubt become more and more unnecessary. These days an ever increasing number of people are friends with or related to a member of the gay community; these relationships naturally start to demystify the gay community to the world at large. I think the world of television is also a very important tool for showing how normal the LGBT population really is, particularly perhaps in the soap world. Much as I love shows like Glee, they exist in a cartoon, hyper-actualised world, where realistic characters are not really the raison d’être of the show; I mean, come on, a wheelchair-bound kid playing on the football team? *Kath Day voice* No way, Jozay!

Soaps, on the other hand, deal with the day-to-day humdrum, admittedly alongside a heightened reality, though they are arguably a better place to portray us homos, as to many people the characters in a soap are like their extended family, and I don’t mean everyone who watches soaps blurs the line between actor and character, leading them to yell obscenities at the actor in a supermarket; clearly those particular people need sectioning, or alternatively in this current economic climate perhaps just a good hard slap?

I’ve mentioned them in a previous post, but I have been particularly delighted to see the inclusion of married gay couple, Christian and Oliver (“Chrolli”), in the German soap “Verbotene Liebe” (Forbidden Love). Speaking from my own point of view, what I often feel is missing from gay couples in shows is a sense of tenderness and romance, both of which this particular couple has in spades; not so much at the moment mind, as they are currently in a rough patch, though certainly when they were a new couple and leading up to their wedding, their story was a joy to watch.

It would be nice to think that one day soon the closet will become a thing of the past, where actors who avoid “the question” are genuinely doing it for pretentious artistic-integrity reasons as opposed to fear, where the people who hate gay people are village-idiot-type social pariahs and not self-loathing individuals, and that being out is so commonplace and accepted that kids come out in puberty without fear of repercussions. In many ways the trepidation within the community to out people is understandable since we are the ones with something to lose and know how destructive it can be. Obviously in the long run you get to know who loves you for who you really are and remaining in the closet is far more destructive to your personal mental health than just being honest with and true to yourself.

Apologies for the slightly schmultzy, afternoon-movie-esque guff that last sentence was reminiscent of – kumbaya and namaste!

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