It seems lately that “coming out,” the term for declaring yourself to be some sexual orientation other than straight, is the thing to do. Just last week both journalist Anderson Cooper and R&B singer Frank Ocean came out in some way or another.
Thinking about it, it seems such an odd thing to do, this announcing to the world that you are not heterosexual. Certainly straight people don’t announce that they’re not gay. Which may be precisely why some LGBTQ folks feel they have to come out. Their coming out may be a way of destabalizing or decentering heterosexuality – intentionally queering the space.
But then I read an article (part two) by Darnell Moore on The Feminist Wire today which questions whether LGBTQ folks should “come out” at all. If we shouldn’t instead “invite in” those we care about and those with whom we want to share this intimate information about ourselves.
According to Moore, before WWII, “coming out” used to be seen as a “coming into” gay society rather than any sort of political act in response to the heterosexual norm. It was more debutante ball than long dark hallway. Only in the 1970s did coming out become a political act and begin to function as a way to overcome heterosexist oppression. Since the 70s, that act of protest has slowly turned into a requirement rather than a choice.
Where is the space for agency, or one’s volition, desire and choice to name oneself as s/he deems appropriate?
Coming out is now so important for “the LGBTQ movement” that “the movement” forgets that real people can get really hurt if they are not ready to disclose their non-straight sexuality.
‘Coming out’ and its many derivatives (i.e. (Inter)National Coming Out; coming out Campaigns; outings; etc.) seems too closely connected to the decimation of ‘the closet’ (a Stonewall-esque political aim) and less on the building up of LGBTQ persons and particularly those LGBTQ persons, whom for many reasons like socio-cultural, neighborhood, religious, or familial contexts, may find the process of ‘coming out’ to be more harmful than helpful.
From there, Moore spins off into the direction of “inviting people in” rather than coming out. The idea is that when you invite people to know things about you, you retain agency over yourself.
‘Coming in’ functions as a means of hospitable sharing, a choice to disclose to those with whom we may feel safe disclosing to, a choice to disclose when we feel ready to do so, and an opportunity to subvert heteronormativity by refusing to other ourselves, that is, to self-disclose as a means of compliance with the unspoken demand placed on all non-straight identified individuals to name ourselves as sexual minorities out of fear of being named ‘straight’ and abnormal.
In some sense, I think Moore is playing a game of semantics. By coming out to my parents, I invited them in to share my world. I was already out (as out as I could be living under DADT in the Air Force), so telling my parents was an act of inviting them in.
It was also necessary. They were coming to visit for my birthday and I couldn’t very well hide the fact that my girlfriend at the time was living with me and our schedules were too crazy to permit taking the time to “unqueer” my room.
This is where I disagree with Moore. I think it’s necessary to be out rather than optional.
- When I visit the gynecologist, I am not particularly close with them, but they need to know that although I do not sleep with men I am sexually active because it helps me get appropriate health care;
- I have talked to my wedding caterer twice now, but in that first conversation he asked me if my husband wanted any special food and so I told him it was a same-sex wedding. I live in the south and I don’t want a (possibly) awkward confrontation on my wedding day when he suddenly discovers that it’s two women;
- When I was single, it was more efficient to let men know right off the bat why I was not interested rather than them think I was playing coy.
Earlier today, I asked Facebook, by way of a status message, if coming out was still relevant or if discovering you were LGBTQ and then living your life authentically was enough. Two opposite responses I got were interesting.
Jess felt that coming out possibly meant furthering stereotypes of GLBTQ folks as fickle in their sexuality:
I have always had the issue with what to come out as… And with the fear that it would change again and further the stereotype that we don’t know what we want… I say live your life authentically!!!
And then Candice who had to re-come out:
I think it’s still relevant…I had to re-come out to some folks when I started dating Jon, which was a really weird experience. I tried to get by without the re-identifying, but it just didn’t work that well.
I totally understand that I am in a privileged place to be able to come out as a lesbian and live my life as I see fit. I don’t struggle daily with wondering who knows or doesn’t know. I believe in living my life authentically, which for me includes my sexuality, but I also think it’s politically necessary for people to know that I am not straight.
Moore says that coming out only reinforces the binary of “straight/gay, normativity/alterity” and that the more radical thing to do would be to create a “personal/political space that we are no longer forced to come out from, but available for us to invite others into. I just don’t believe we’re at a place in history yet that allows us to skip the coming out/inviting in step altogether.
What about you? Is coming out still relevant, or does Moore’s concept of inviting in resonant better with you? Comments and thoughts are welcomed and encouraged.
Any amount is helpful, we’ve got until the end of July to raise the money…we’re up to $237 which gets us two sets of fingerprints a piece, covers the cost of the federal and state background checks for both of us and gives us money for one of the name change application. We’re still looking to cover the other $120 for the second application and some money for dinner… We’re looking to raise $375 – only $138 to go!