Having been out on some level since I was 15 (it had a lot to do with a cute boy who I called up and "asked out".... oh, those were simpler days), and, as you likely know, it isn't always easy. Or seemingly worth it. Or even rational.
Consider that coming out is basically taking on a label to make oneself politically legible and visible - coming out didn't make me like boys anymore than I did before, but it sure did stop a whole lot of people from assuming I was straight and suggesting women to date. And it got me some cooler friends. Besides that, I've lost a couple of jobs, been threatened with violence, upset my parents, and gotten even more annoyed when people suggested women to date.
So when I saw this New York magazine story earlier this week, the one about the closeted, rich, white, liberal men in New York City and the man whom Pam Spaulding said was closeted "because he wants to maintain the heterosexual privilege that comes with his marriage to his wife," my first thought was "Ummmmmm, yeah?"
Considering that, when adjusted for occupation and several other factors, the Task Force found that gay men make about 83% what the average straight man does, I really can't blame someone for being closeted. This UCLA study found that same-sex couples of either sex made about $12,000 less than their straight counterparts and were about 23% less likely to have a college degree. In fact, GLSEN found that LGBT-identified high school students were about twice as likely to not have any sort of post-secondary education on the mind.
And that's just when it comes to economic success. Queer-identified people are still more likely to be victims of violence, more likely to to be turned away from homeless shelters, more likely to be ostracized from their families. For what? A label?
These thoughts were swimming in my head as I read the New York magazine article. I suppose that a good reason this man should come out is that he can have a more open relationship with the men he sleeps with instead of just hitting Craigslist for a hook-up. Well, it sounded a lot like my sex life anyway, the sporadic internet hook up late at night when I finally get done with whatever it is that I'm doing. (Somehow this is going to throw me into the category of a bad gay, but let me just defend myself by saying that when I hook-up, it's quirky, fun, connecting, and satisfying. Did I just come out to be labeled as a bad gay?) In fact, when reading coming out narratives for research at one point during my three years of self-imposed celibacy in my early 20's (due in large part to major body image issues), I found that those who hadn't come out were often leading much more exciting sex lives than I ever had, more exciting than I probably ever will.
So we're back at the main question of "Why come out?" It seems to be inviting a whole lot of trouble for not so much return. Of course, there are other ways to measure that return in terms of ethics and honesty, comfortability with one's identity, and slightly more psychic coherence, but those material disadvantages to coming out can be quite strong. I remember hearing an Ellen Degeneres speech several years back after she just came out saying that if you're not out, it's just because you're ashamed of yourself. I went to see Judy Shepard speak a couple of years ago, and she said that if you should come out even if you fear losing your job because if you lose your job, you can just go out and get another one.
Of course, the previously mentioned statistics apply even more to those who aren't counted in them, as people who aren't comfortable with being out to a pollster asking about their income are unlikely to have more control over their lives than those who are able to be out to the pollster, and control is more often than not linked to money in this country.
Well, I'm not planning on jumping back in the closet at this age, even though the system punishes people who are out and I don't see that changing anytime soon. And while that label is something outside of me imposed upon me for sexual legibility, I probably understand Lance Bass, who just wrote this up for his coming out anniversary:
So it was a year ago that I decided to let the world know who I really am... and I swear it has been the most amazing experience. Scary at times , but in the end the best thing I have ever done.
From the mouths of babes....