Tuesday, April 30, 2013

In the real world Coming Out is a risk

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. 

So another famous person comes out of the closet and there are many reactions. Some of which are great, some of which are awful for obvious reasons, some of which are awful for less obvious reasons – and there’s one that always annoys me: someone who wants to know what the fuss is about

This comes from two sources. Either the homophobe who finds all this GBLT stuff so very icky and would rather we hide it and not be so open and icky everywhere. Or the oh-so-progressive ally who wants to show just how NORMAL being GBLT is to them that they don’t understand why anyone cannot be so totally blasé about the whole GBLT thing, why they’re surrounded by GBLT people, have a full stable of GBLT friends and barely even notice sexuality or gender identity any more, they’re just so enlightened, precious.

I’m sure we’ve seen the lines:

 “Why is everyone making so much of a fuss?” “Why is it relevant?” “It shouldn’t matter whether people are GBLT or not”

No, it shouldn’t. It shouldn’t be a big fuss. We should live in a world where a full range of sexualities and gender identities are fully accepted and integrated into our daily lives. We should live in a world where straightness and cisness isn’t assumed. We should live in a world where we could go into any industry, any element of the media, every place where human beings live anywhere on Earth and be confident in finding a full range of sexualities and gender identities happily part of society as full and equal participants.

We should also live in a world without people starving to death, people dying from diseases that can easily be cured and one without Tories, Tea Partiers and the alien creature on Donald Trump’s head that’s feeding on his brain. We should also live in a world where I didn’t see a picture yesterday of a gay teen who was starved, beaten, had his arms broken and was forced to eat faeces before he died.

We don’t live in this world, alas. We live in this world. The real world – yes it’s a very unpleasant place but it’s discouraged to take more than brief holidays away from it.


In the real world there are vast swathes of just about every aspects of life where we don’t exist at all. Entire media forms where we’re less common than an honest man in the Houses of Parliament or a decent man in the Vatican. And like seeing a penguin waddling through the Sahara, seeing a GBLT person in these places is noteworthy and unusual.

In the real world there are places that are actively hostile to us. And by that I mean more actively hostile than the rest of the world – so angry sabre tooth tigers as opposed to the angry rotweilers that greet us everywhere else. Seeing one of us enter these spaces is a cause for celebration since it means the Dreaded Gay Agenda is Advancing and we’re one step closer to crushing the straight world under our Fabulous Pink Jackboot! *ahem* I mean, that’s another avenue open to us that was considered closed and forever out of reach.

In the real world we are underrepresented over and over again, not just in visibility but also in power and influence. We’re ignored, we’re dismissed,  we’re considered unimportant and we’re often, at best, forgotten by the straight, cis rulers of this world or, at worst, actively attacked and driven out. Any expansion of our presence is an expansion of our influence, every expansion of that is an expansion of our defence in a world full of cis, straight people who have frequently tried to exterminate us. Yes, that sounds awfully dramatic, but it’s true. For vast swaths of history, straight cis folk have tried to kill us en mass. Any advancement that makes us more visible and more influential in making this not happen again is something I cling to. Yes it seems silly to have “working not to be exterminated” on the to do list – but not nearly as much as it is depressing.

In the real world our youth have to struggle to find role models like them. In the real world our youth are taught there are professions, careers, places, cultures, societies, they can’t be part of, shouldn’t be part of and should never aim for. In the real world, our youth are still considered aberrations, corrupted, ill, sick, broken. In the real world, seeing more Out, proud and successful GBLT people will be a light that shines to them, a goal to aim for, a shelter to hide under.

In the real world, our parents are often ashamed of us. They blame themselves for failing when they created us or when they raised us. They blame us for shaming them, for spiting them, for failing to fit the model they planned for us. Both they and we need to counter that assumption of failure, of shame, of brokenness.

In the real world Coming Out is a risk. Coming out risks being violently attacked. Coming out risks being fired. Coming out risks being persecuted and attacked and ostracised by colleagues. Coming out risks being abandoned by friends, being disowned by family and being attacked by your religious leaders. Coming out is brave. Coming out is still an act of courage worthy of acknowledgement.

In the real world, Coming Out is still often very much a part of a long passage of self-realisation, self-questioning and analysis of how you will lead your life and how you want to live and what you will tolerate and accept. For many it is a moment of massive realisation and growth worthy of celebration and comment.

So… all this “who cares?”  response when you see us making a “thing” out of someone coming out? People care and they care for good reason.