As long as our culture is homophobic, many gay people are going to feel they have to come out. It’s an act of courage, self-defense and self-respect.
But I don’t think we think often about what we do when we come out and about what it means. Few people think about the fact that straight people don’t come out, although my children and grandchildren—all straight—individually came out to me several years ago. I take it that one difference between my children and grandchildren, on the one hand, and me, on the other, is that we continue to live in a mainly homophobic society, and it is necessary for me to declare myself against that bigotry and to take a political stand. While children and grandchildren aren’t required by the politics of their time to take a stand, they came out to me and to C, my partner, because they love us.
A diary by STEVEinMI’s in Daily Kos today discusses the effect of coming out on the people around Steve in Michigan who are not necessarily gay. Another diary from Daily Kos, from Billeh, quotes Harvey Milk: “Gay brothers and sisters, you must come out. Come out to your parents … Come out to your relatives. Come out to your friends, if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors, to your fellow workers, to the people who work where you eat and shop. Come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake.”
The trouble with all this is that Harvey Milk and Steve in Michigan are both telling me I must come out. In a free society, in which it is just as easy to be gay as straight, it should be a personal choice. I am aware we don’t live in a free society, and it is not just as easy to be gay as to be straight, but we shouldn’t forget that a free society is our goal. In a truly free society, my sexual orientation is an entirely personal fact. All of us ought to remember that, while we give money to candidates and to HRC and work to get out the vote. The more we are successful, the less permanent will be our present patterns of thought.
There’s going to come a time when people don’t have to come out and don’t have to think about the good of all mankind and can think only of themselves. That’s what we’re going for on such a personal subject.
It’s also true that, even today, the language we use doesn’t fit the present reality of people’s lives.
There is a lot more to this subject. I will post Come Out! (2) and Come Out! (3) tomorrow and on the weekend, all as part of celebration of National Coming Out Day.