In the last day or two, I have been buying kids clothes, gifts for grandchildren, and this has caused me to think about kids coming out. Many people think that most kids are going to grow up to be straight, and they continue to think that until the boy or girl tells the world something different. The “something different” is the moment at which the boy or girl, now grown up, tells us all, “I’m gay.”
A good many men and women have made that announcement during 2015, and Towleroad has put together an article about 63 notable people who came out during 2015. These are athletes and politicians and performers and activists. Interesting article. Aside from the intrinsic interest of these people’s stories, we confront questions about them. We could ask, how do their lives differ? What do they have in common? What can we learn?
Out of the 63 who came out, nine had been married. These were spread out over a range of ages, half under 40, but one eighty-two (Joel Gray), one sixty-six (Caitlyn Jenner), one 59 (Stein Erik Hagen, a Norwegian billionaire), a Lutheran Bishop, age unknown, who had been married 40 years (Kevin Kanouse), and a boxer, age unknown, who has a twenty-three-year-old daughter (Yusaf Mack). The point here is that the closer these folks get to my age, the more understandable it is that they were married (Joel Gray, Kevin Kanouse, Stein Erik Hagen, and Caitlyn Jenner) and came out late, but four were under forty, and they had gotten married too. Half of the ones who got married were born after the Stonewall Riots. I think, sometimes, that as we get more and more of our rights and as the culture becomes more and more sophisticated about these matters, we will face less homophobia, less abuse, and people will not be so compelled to escape hostility by resorting to marriage. If that happens, it will happen sometime in the future, but it has not begun to happen yet. According to this list, people who know they are attracted to their same sex are still getting married to their opposite sex.
This list on Towleroad was not, I take it, put together by a group of reporters who interviewed each of these 63 men and women. We are given the ages of only some of these people, and we are not told which ones have been married. We are not given the same information about all of them, and it would be understandable if a person was to just skip the article. (We also don’t know how the 63 were chosen.) It’s frankly fluffy stuff. But even in its corrupted state, it invites some tentative conclusions. Mike Pucillo, age unknown but clearly a young man, a former Ohio State All-American and Division I National Champion Wrestler, says, “I’ve always known [that I was gay], I guess.” This is true for many people. They’ve always known they were different and they knew how they were different, even if they didn’t have the word to put to it. It is not that people—most of them—come out because they suddenly discover in adulthood that they are gay. They come out because, finally, sometimes years and years after they first sensed they were different, they now feel free and safe enough to act on that difference. Fear. MaCoy McLaughlin, a freshman college soccer player, North Idaho College, says, “I was petrified of the possibility that my family, the people I love the most, would change even though I had no reason to think so.” What seems often buried under these people’s stories is the fact that they sensed they were different, and they were afraid those around them—their families, their close friends, their teammates, fans—would no longer love them if they found out.
The point here is the nature of coming out. For years the gay community has said that those who don’t come out, those who are closeted, are lying to themselves and that they are afraid. The closet has always been, for the gay community, the place where the gay person who lies to himself and who is afraid has put himself. That’s terrible. The reason we have closeted gay people is that many parts of the world—both in the US and around the world—are not safe for gay people. It is not that gay people are not courageous or that gay people are “lying” to themselves. It is that gay people are faced with great danger, and they have the right to choose the moment and the conditions under which they are going to fight or if they are going to fight. They have that right, and the larger community does not have the right to say that they “are not being honest with themselves.” I have written often about how members of the gay community get this wrong. Here, and here, and here, among them. The word “closeted” carries a weight of negative baggage that ruins the word. The people in 2015 who are protecting themselves from abuse and who are being careful with whom they share information about their sexuality, can be said to be “private,” but not “closeted,” which carries the connotation of “lying.” Whether private or public, the LGBTQ person in 2015 is decorated with signs of his or her courage, and those of us who have already defined ourselves owe them support and sympathy.
Most of the people on this list on Towleroad are young—they seem to be under thirty—and I presume the whole problem of coming out will gradually fade away in the decades to come. but it may not, and we don’t know. In 2015, LGBTQ people still have to come out. On the other hand, these 63 people make another thing clear:
“As many know, coming out seldom happens once, but is rather something that one does repeatedly throughout life.”
The article does not emphasize this, but it does state this once, and it states it clearly. The point here is that in the real world—that is, if you do not live in a Shakespearean comedy—“coming out” is not the end of the story any more than marriage is the end of any story, unless you’re Benedict and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. All of us know that coming out does not end anything, and saying so is not an accurate depiction of our lives. We have to come out again and again, each time we discover we are in new circumstances, each time we have changed a little, each time we find ourselves among new friends, each time our old friends change. Each new coming out happens at a moment appropriate to the individual and for reasons unique to that individual.
It is high time, forty-five years after Stonewall, that we achieved a more nuanced sense of what “coming out” means. Towleroad’s article helps in that direction.