Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Spark of Wisdom: The Closet is not an Asset

This is a guest post from Sparky, of a Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

The closet, one of the most enduring and unpleasant aspects of being GBLT and a source and consequence of so much GBLT oppression. It is also a subject of no shortage of privileged, clueless and purely homophobic commentary from straight people.
I honestly have lost count to the number of times - perhaps especially in progressive circles - where I have seen homophobia and transphobia dismissed or diminished because of the closet. The idea that GBLTs can hide (and, let's be clear straight off, not all of us can. And all it takes is us being PERCEIVED to be GBLT to face hatred) - so prejudice against GBLTs isn't all that bad, right? It's not as bad as "real" oppressions - because all we have to do is hide, right?
It is used to diminish homophobia and transphobia - and it actually makes the closet, which to so many of us is an utterly toxic place that brought us no small amount of misery - seem like some kind of ASSET.
The closet has it's cost. Being able to hide (in as much as we can) comes with a terrible price.
The closet, being able to hide, comes with the demand TO hide. If we actually presume to be us then we are "flaunting ourselves" or "ramming it down people's throats." We can hide, they say, so why don't we? Why don't we wear the mask to spare the straight people the sight of us? Why do we parade ourselves, our vileness so? It is seen as being RUDE to simply be.
The closet comes with a denial of our existence, a doubt that we're even what we say we are. Hiding what we are comes with a disbelief that what we are even exists. Being trans is still considered and listed a mental illness far too often. Being gay was considered as mental illness by the WHO as recently as 20 years ago.

How many times do people talk about the "gay lifestyle?" How many times do bigots prate about "homosexual behaviour" that it's not about people, it's about actions? How many times do they doubt our identity? how many times do they treat what and who we are as a kink or a fetish? An inclination? A hobby? A vague preference?
How many times is our very being diminished and demeaned as some kind of act of rebellion? Our identity reduced to the actions of a teenager acting out? How often is it presented as deliberate sin? As a deliberate attempt to shock, appal or insult the world? Because it's all our actions and it's all about them and how it upsets the straight world - never about us and who and what we are. Our identities, our beings are lost in the closet and they only see deeds not people.
How many times has the closet lead to GBLTness being treated as learned behaviour?

How many times do we treat GBLT people as being almost diseased? Don't stand near them, you'll catch it. Don't talk to them. Don't mix with them. You can't be associated with them.

How many times are we portrayed as preying on children? As recruiting children? How many people see us as a threat to kids? As paedophiles? As abusers?
How many times has viewing being GBLT as a behaviour lead to horrific and horrendous laws that continue today? 

It is through an ignorant view of the closet, of a diminishment of being GBLT to actions rather than identity, that allows respected media outlets to ask "should gays be executed?" as some kind of reasonable question. It is an ignorant idea of the closet that makes it still acceptable, in law, in so many supposedly modern places to discriminate against someone, deny their rights, fire them, evict them - just because they are GBLT. And this is LEGAL and acceptable.
It is this ignorant view of the closet confusing people with actions that allows laws that criminalised - and criminalise -  being GBLT, to imprison GBLT people and even execute us - and raise no more than vague disapproval at best - let alone being decried as the acts of genocide they are.
The closet has lead to ex-gay therapy, to exorcisms and aversion treatment (the latter of which involves inflicting pain repeatedly whenever the patient succumbs to their "deviance"). Even the least violent of these are grossly destructive to us - and the worst of them are the stuff of nightmares. To "cure" us, the authorities have subjected GBLTs to being injected with powerful emetics, have suffered electroshock treatment, to horrendous abuse and deprivation.
GBLTs have been attacked to "cure" them, they have been beaten, they have been tortured and they have been raped. To change us. To "cure" us. 
The closet has lead to vast numbers of therapists, doctors, counsellors and any number of people who are supposed to help us instead blaming all of our problems on being gay or trans. When we're at our most vulnerable, at our greatest need for help, those who are supposed to help us can turn on us and kick us down still further. The closet has lead to endless misguided, cruel and downright evil attempts to change us, to "cure us" to "fix us".
The closet means even our own families doubt and revile us. It makes one of the hardest moments of many GBLT's lives the moment when they turn to their parents to tell them who and what we are. It makes speaking to our parents - our parents! - a moment of pure dread and terror for so many. And so many of those parents respond with shame and guilt and pain and abuse. The closet means our own families can be our most unsafe spaces. Our own flesh and blood can be our fiercest enemies.
How many times do parents feel shame? How many parents ask themselves what they did wrong? How did they make their kids GBLT? How did they fail? How many parents worry - did they mother him too much? Should they have let her play with that GI-Jo? Should they have made her wear dresses? Did they breast feed too much/not enough? Did he hug him too much/not enough? I've heard all these and so many more - the laments of parents who think they damaged their children - who view GBLT children as damaged - because the closet will not let them see us as people.
The closet causes us to hate ourselves. It causes us to grow up in shame and hate and self-loathing, wanting to be other than we are, wanting to be free from an "affliction." Wanting to be "fixed" wanting not to be a "deviant" or "sick" or "sinful." It drivers us from our homes, it drives us to self-harm, to substance abuse - and to suicide.
The closet causes us to live fake lives. To wear a mask so long and so tightly that we cannot take it off. It leads us to create false families, to constantly wear a disguise to never ever be ourselves. It makes us create fake marriages, fake families and entire life built on a faced. An entire life where you have to spend every waking moment being something you're not and pretending and acting to everyone around you. An entire life where for some the truest they can ever be to your own being is seeking hook ups in a public toilet!
They can't confide in their nearest and dearest, they can't even stop the act in their own homes. And they have to maintain this every waking moment for decades - decades of never ever being yourself. I've said it before, but it is honestly something that horrifies me beyond description. But this is the hell the closet forces them into, the hell they then feel they have no choice but to live until it breaks them, they fall out of it (or are found out) or they die.
And the closet is used to blame us for being a victim.
It is our fault when we're attacked. Because we should have hidden. We shouldn't have been there. We shouldn't have been wearing that. We shouldn't have touched each other. We shouldn't have kissed each other. We shouldn't have walked like that. We shouldn't have talked about that. We should have realised who was hearing us. We should have realised being outside a gay bar was dangerous. We shouldn't have made eye contact. We shouldn't have done anything that may be seen as flirty. Did we wink? Did we smile at them? Did we look a little too long? Did we brush past them? Did we touch them?
It's our fault when we're discriminated against. If you hadn't told the boss you were gay you wouldn't be fired. The office wouldn't be bullying you, excluding you, making your life a living hell if you'd kept your gayness to yourself. The landlord wouldn't have refused you if you'd just said you were friends or room-mates. The hotel or shop or pub wouldn't have closed it's doors to you if you had just hidden better. Why did you have to put that photograph out? Why did you let your partner pick you up from work? Why didn't you keep your mouth shut when they made that joke? Why didn't you make up a fictional partner? Why didn't you lie? Why didn't you avoid that discussion? Why didn't you just keep your whole life secret?
LGBTs seeking asylum in the UK, coming from countries like Iraq, Iran, Nigeria and so many others are being SENT HOME because, as far as the Home Office is concerned - all they have to do to avoid being tortured to death is HIDE.
Because people think we can hide, it is our fault when we don't and we get grief because of it. Or when the act slips and we are revealed - and attacked in that new scrutiny. We are blamed for our own oppression because we don't hide who we are. Even alleged progressives reveal a shocking amount of straight privilege and outright homophobia over and over "anti-gay attacks aren't as bad as "X" because GAYS CAN HIDE!"
Do you know how HARD it is to hide?
To go through every minute of every second of every damn day constantly checking everything you do, everything you say. To judge every action in case it conforms to a stereotype? To check every word to see who may overhear? 
To stand near your partner but be afraid to kiss them, to touch them, to stand too close, to make too much eye contact, to make sure you watch your body language. Make sure you don't give any indication, make sure you don't give yourselves away.
To never be part of a community or workplace or social event or ANYTHING because you have to conceal such a major part of your life? To check every conversation to make sure you don't mention your loved one, your family, your home. To make sure your cover story is tight, to even make up some kind of straight fantasy life and hope like hell it passes muster and isn't found out - because if it cracks it's YOUR FAULT for not hiding enough.
To wear clothes, arrange your hair, dress your body, present yourself in a way that feels like a disguise. To make sure you don't do anything that could be perceived as GBLT. To not be you ever. To constantly suppress who you are. To constantly deny it. To constantly pretend this isn't you.
And you have to do this all the time. All the damn time
The closet is not an assert. The closet is not a bonus. The closet does not diminish or reduce prejudice, oppression or persecution. The closet is the reason for so much of the crap we face. The closet is a toxic blight on so much of our lives. It is not to be treasured - it is to be mourned