Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Today I Wear Purple

Today I am wearing purple.

I am proud to tell my colleagues, friends and strangers on the bus that I stand in solidarity with my queer brothers and sisters.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the cultural narrative of "coming out." Events like Coming Out Day and the great meaning that is placed upon that moment of announcing one's sexuality to friends and family come to mind immediately. I am sure I am not saying anything that queer folks or feminist scholars haven't already heard, but I think that the epistemology of the closet is deeply problematic. (Of course, I pay homage to the amazing Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in the use of my language here).

Our cultural understanding of queerness and of homosexuality is based on the notion that they are inherently dishonest unless they are announced fully and openly. In order for one to "come out," one first must be "in." This narrative constructs "the closet." There is a distinct dichotomy set up in this process, wherein one must be either gay or straight. Our cultural understanding of sexuality is either/or. Gay or straight. Boy or girl. In or out. That is it. And of course that is troubling as it leaves no room for anything else, anything in between, anything queer.

Can one be understood to be both in and out, boy and girl, gay and straight? These combinations are deeply confusing to Americans because, even in the language itself, they are contradictory and nearly impossible to reconcile. Still, people do live in those grey areas and sometimes in those combinations. To ask someone to come out is to assume that they are in and that being out is better.

What I hope to say here is that I understand Coming Out Day and I understand the It Gets Better campaign, but I don't know how helpful they really are.

I wish I could tell all of the queer youth in the world that life gets better and people become more tolerant, but that is not always the truth. I know some amazing gay men and women who have overcome seemingly impossible odds to become happy, healthy, successful people. But I also know people for whom it has not gotten easier: people who stay "in" out of real fear for their lives, people who have lost their jobs and their families, who faced public ridicule. And the people who don't easily fit into any of the available categories have no meaningful way to "come out."

These are complicated issues which deserve deeper investment and understanding. I don't know if it will get better, but I fight with every fiber of my being for the day that I can say that it is safe to be gay or straight or anything in between or completely outside.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In fact, I full-out disagreed with the "coming out day" campaign. When have straight people ever been asked to declare their sexual preferences to the world? Your comment about the understood implicit lie in not coming out as a LBGT individual is true.
I understand the idea of creating a campaign to build solidarity and create a voice. People are often surprised to learn that I am BI as I "don't look lessy or confused". So it's great to shatter preconceived notions. BUT the idea that to be proud you MUST be loud is completely contradictory to the goal of establishing equality between the sexual orientations... personal preference is at the root of it. no?
- A