Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Reactions to Anderson Cooper Coming Out

This is a guest post from Sparky, of 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.

Anderson Cooper has recently come out of the closet and, like many people, I’m extremely happy for him –  it is always wonderful to hear of another GBLT person coming out and being free to be open to be who they are (insofar as that is possible and within the unfortunate limits many of us live within even when Out). There have been a lot of posts celebrating, supporting and otherwise Doing It Right in response to this – which makes me deliriously happy. It’s actually a lot better than I’ve seen in the past when Mat Bomer, Don Lemon and Zachery Quinto came out.

But there were problemsboth then and now and there are some comments that make me cringe for various reasons – so, as I often do when cringing, I’m going to poke them. I’ve spoken before about the closet and the misconceptions people have, but this is extra on top of that.

Is Anyone Surprised by This?”

Or similar expressions that “everyone knew”  so why bother, right? Wrong, on many levels. First, and not least, because “everyone knew” is so very often wrong. As far as information sources go “everyone” just plain fails far too often. Quite aside from anything else “everyone knew” is often based on stereotypes, on assumptions or just on the back of someone daring to keep their life secret and not public fodder. It also encourages our culture of assuming you have a right to know, when you want to know, on your schedule – with all the intrusive questions and snooping that comes with it.

It also is probably not about you or your surprise, oh headline reader. Maybe it’s about the GBLT community and how it’s always good to find another fellow traveller, especially someone in a public position that has been so long denied. Maybe it’s about self-empowerment, about proudly and publicly declaring something that, for so long, has been considered shameful. Maybe it’s about taking ownership of one’s own sexuality without everyone dissecting it.

Why Didn’t They Come Out Before?”

Because they didn’t want to? Simplest answer, really. Coming out is rarely simple and often fraught with problems – and you do not know someone’s personal circumstances. You don’t know if they have homophobic family, friends, religious leaders or whatever primed to make their lives hell. You don’t know the politics of their work place (and the cost of being GBLT and in the public eye). You don’t know what level of self acceptance and discovery

In short, you’re ignorant as hell, so you don’t get question the timing of the decision.

They SHOULD Come Out

Nope, no-one “should” come out. First of all, can we blast the idea that if every GBLT person in the world comes out tomorrow that all bigotry against us will just disappear? It hasn’t worked for a single other marginalisation, it’s not going to work for us. Yes, it helps, it certainly helps to have more of us visible, both for reducing us as the alien, scary “other” and to give us someone who is publicly one of us to look to. But, as I’ve said above, this can come with a cost.

No-one has a duty to be a martyr.

Why Do They Need to Tell Us?”

Because we should all be a great big secret, right? Never mind that this completely ignores the way the media pokes and stalks any celebrity they suspect may be GBLT like a flock of circling vultures or a pack of ravenous jackals. After endless speculation, isn’t it understandable that people want to set the record “straight”  (or not)?

But yes, they need to – because it’s important to them and is a major part of who they are. And, in our heteronormative society, if you don’t make it clear you’re GBLT, you’re assumed to be straight. Yes, it’s wrong and no, it shouldn’t be that way – but it is. This is probably quite literally a problem straight people can’t understand because your sexuality is assumed. Nor can you understand the pressures of the closet or even the personal distaste that can come from being assumed to be straight after so much shaming and pressure to pretend straightness.

But ultimately, they say because it’s not a secret – and it’s not “flaunting” to be who we are.

What a waste!

Nope, no, no and hell no. This entire annoying habit of straight women to declare it a “waste” or “shame” that a man is gay is homophobic and wrong.

Oh I would totally slash him!" "Yaaay I have a new OTP!" “Phwoaar I want to watch

Coming Out is often a life changing extremely powerful and personal moment, a moment that requires support and congratulations. Even when it is not, it is still powerful, important and due respect as befits someone public embracing their identity. “Yay, a new fuckpuppet! Bring on the fetishisation!” and drooling all over them is not even close to an appropriate response – it’s dehumanising and tells me you don’t view GBLT people as people, but as objects. Gay and Bisexual men tend to get the “slash fiction” response while Lesbians and Bisexual women tend to get the “I want to watch” creepiness. Stop, please, just stop.