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    Everybody out

    Joe and I disagree over outing, but his approach is measured and thoughtful, and he’s capable of discussing the issue without going into hysterics of the those-bitches-deserve-to-FRYYYYYYYY! variety.

    This is how he’s put it most recently:

    Similarly, it’s time we all stop buying in to the “straight person assumption” and with it the whole notion of “outing” as a violation of privacy. Let’s recognize that the damage done by a life lived in the closet is harmful to all of us.

    Joe approvingly links to Louis Bayard, who wrote this in Salon.com:

    But I do believe that every man or woman who courts public office must be held to some public standard of honesty–of coherence.

    The decision to come out is personal. So is the decision to run for office. Why should the second choice be privileged over the first? Why should homosexuality be privileged over heterosexuality? Why should a same-sex partner (Foley has apparently had one for many years) be any less a subject of discussion than a wife or husband?

    Perhaps I’m just too cynical; or perhaps that second paragraph is really as bafflingly illogical as I think it is. Politicians tend to trot out their families while campaigning because they help their image and make them more electable; mouthy, socially inept wives and bratty children have been the bane of campaign managers for generations. Being openly gay is still a great way to make yourself unelectable in many districts. If both partners agree to keep their relationship secret (or at least not to make an issue of it) or an unattached gay candidate just doesn’t discuss his or her dating habits, I can’t see where the lack of “coherence” is.

    Besides, if we move from theory to practice, we need to decide who has the power to determine who deserves to be outed; and as is so often the case, those most eager to play Enforcer are those whom we can least trust to exercise prudence. It’s all very well to say that being a practicing homosexual while supporting anti-gay policies is hypocritical, but it simply isn’t true that all of us can agree on what’s “anti-gay.” I’ve been out for a decade, but I’m against hate crimes laws and gay marriage as it’s currently being campaigned for, and I just do not concede that that’s hypocritical.

    Do gays in powerful positions who live closeted lives hurt the rest of us–I mean, in some intrinsic sense by not contributing to the visibility of gays as ordinary citizens? You can make a case that they do. But there are lots of private decisions that hurt other people. Parents who don’t teach their children manners cause harm to the children themselves and, conceivably, to everyone who encounters them for the rest of their lives; even so, we don’t take kids away from their parents unless there’s serious and immediate harm being done. It’s a plain fact of life that we can’t always intervene in people’s lives to stop them from doing things we disapprove of. We can only shun them or try to persuade them to change their behavior.

    Added later: Eric has another post about the outing angle, to which Connie has added a comment. Surprise! I think they’re both worth reading. Eric:

    For those who didn’t grow up in a gay ghetto, sodomy laws existed until fairly recently in a number of states, and while they weren’t enforced, they reflect a tradition which was once mainstream. To deny this is to deny reality as well as history. Times were changing gradually, but the “old guard” still exists, and it fought hard to keep the sodomy laws in the minority of states which still had them. For the most part, this old guard has to content itself by spearheading opposition to same sex marriage.

    While that’s what leads gay activists to denounce opposition to same sex marriage as “bigotry,” the fact that 70% of the public (including the leadership of the Democratic Party) also think the country is not ready for same sex marriage seems to receive less attention.

    However, admitting opposition to same sex marriage, mainstream though it is, is these days an easier way to be called a bigot than voicing opposition to affirmative action.

    The result of all this is that homosexuality remains the sensitive topic it has always been. A new taboo has quickly arisen to replace an old taboo.

    Too many gays and supporters of gays take an approach to “debate” that involves deliberately raising homosexuality as an issue and then flipping out on people who actually say what they deeply believe and feel about it. One would think the hazards of such an approach would be obvious: people who feel baited tend to tune out and assume their interlocutors are incapable of winning an argument without stacking the deck. I sometimes wonder whether there are people who remain closeted simply because the effort to demonstrate that they don’t have the approve-of-me-or-else attitude that the public faces of gayness so often project is just too exhausting.

    Added still later: This via Michael:

    Middlebury College is this year for the first time giving students who identify themselves as gay in the admissions process an “attribute” — the same flagging of an application that members of ethnic minority groups, athletes, alumni children and others receive, according to Shawn Rae Passalacqua, assistant director of admissions at Middlebury. His announcement surprised many of those who attended the session, and who said that they had never heard of a college having such a policy. (Officials of the Point Foundation, a group that provides scholarships to gay students, especially those denied financial support from their families, said that they had never heard of such a policy.)

    Passalacqua said that gay students bring “a unique quality” to the college, which he said tries hard not “to be too homogeneous.” Of 6,200 applications last year, 5 students noted their gay identities in their application essays and another 50-plus applicants cited their membership in gay-straight alliances. Passalacaqua said that Middlebury admissions officers were also likely to look favorably and give an admissions tip to “straight allies” of gay students — not just out of support for that view, but because a college benefits from having people who are “bridge builders.”

    Yeah, because, you know, if there’s one place in America it’s difficult to find gay youths, it’s the hoity-toity universities and liberal arts colleges. As Michael says, “In my opinion, [a measure such as this] will do nothing more than lend credence to the cries of the far Right that we’re demanding special treatment.” He was too diplomatic to point out the disgusting condescension involved in talking about gay students as the spice that gets stirred in with the Normal People to keep the place from being too homogeneous. Or in giving points to straight students who play the “some of my best friends are gay!” card. (The scholarship, on the other hand, strikes me as a nice idea.)

    5 Responses to “Everybody out”

    1. Alan says:


      Similarly, it’s time we all stop buying in to the “straight person assumption” and with it the whole notion of “outing” as a violation of privacy. Let’s recognize that the damage done by a life lived in the closet is harmful to all of us.

      Wait, wait. In what sense is outing someone unready to come out not a violation of privacy? What exactly is the definition of “violation of privacy” if it’s not revealing something one wants to keep private?

      Anyway, it seems to me that the above argument is similar to the viewpoint that people who approve of court-enforced same sex marriage have. That is, forcing a viewpoint that only so many people share on an unreceptive majority. Like you said, being gay is unpopular in much of the country. Only time can change these kinds of viewpoints, not sudden, abrupt change.

      Besides, it’s just common decency to respect someone’s privacy, sheesh.

    2. Connie says:

      Do they get to sew the attribute to their clothing?

    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      Alan:

      “What exactly is the definition of ‘violation of privacy’ if it’s not revealing something one wants to keep private?”

      Right. If a relationship is a matter of public record, then that’s different. But otherwise, people are responsible for what they’re willing to reveal about themselves.

      Connie:

      “Do they get to sew the attribute to their clothing?”

      I’d bet that even if the college administration did ask them to sew pink triangles into their lapels, half of them wouldn’t get the original reference. Maybe they’ll design a variation on those tacky stick-on name tags: “HI! My name is _______, and I contribute to diversity by being a _______!”

    4. Connie says:

      ROFL… I hadn’t quite thought through the full image of a bunch of folks sitting together, sewing little pink triangles on their clothing, completely ignorant of the reference.

      Good thing it wasn’t morning here or there’d be coffee allllllll over my monitor.

      If I was an evil person I’d start selling them.

    5. Sean Kinsell says:

      That could be your new business venture: Diversity Wear. All-natural fibers, all-natural groupthink.

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