Why Being Out Matters

Steven Harper PiziksEvery time the media report that a celebrity or sports figure has come out as LGBT, a tsunami of backlash rushes across the country.  What follows is a small sampling of actual commentary from different coming-out news stories:

“This isn’t a story. Why does the liberal media keep shoving the gay agenda down our throats?”
“No one cares about this.”
“So now ‘being gay’ is cool enough to be mentioned every single time that an athlete comes out….what a freaking lousy media we’ve got in the USA.”
“I’m straight. There, I said it. I wonder if Obama will call me and congratulate me for having the courage to reveal my sexual preference. “
“He isn’t a real player.  He’s second string and wont even play a game.  Why are they reporting this junk?”

Most of these comments prove the very point they’re trying to refute.  When you’re in a hated minority, the first step is for society to oppress and crush and eradicate.  Being called a member of the group is a terrible insult.  The group has to fight in order to get recognition and protection.

Once the minority group has managed this, however, it becomes socially unacceptable to harrass or denigrate the group.  This is where we are with LGBT people now.  Same-sex marriage is legal. It’s no longer acceptable to use “faggot” and “gay” as all-purpose insults.  (However, it’s still legal to discriminate against LGBT people in many places based on their orientation.)

Denied the ability to discriminate or harrass, the bigots move to the next stage: minimization.  You get rid of the group by saying they don’t matter, that no one cares, that its members aren’t important.  This is where we are now, as you can see by the comments above.

The bigots don’t understand–or want to understand–that these news stories are hugely important.  Human beings are built on the monkey-see, monkey-do principle.  The young Whoopi Goldberg saw Nichelle Nichols on STAR TREK and realized that a black woman doesn’t have to be a maid, for example.  LGBT people also need famous or powerful role models.  I grew up without any.  LGBT people were invisible when I was young.  No one I knew or heard of was in a same-sex relationship, let alone a marriage.*  There weren’t even fictional examples–my local library carried absolutely no books with gay characters in them that I could find, and I looked.  The card catalog had no entries under “gay fiction” and only two entries under “homosexuality,” both of which referred to books about aberrant psychology.  (This was in the early 80s.)  I think it was pretty smart that I figured out the general terms for myself, considering the paucity of information.  Role models?  Not one.

Meanwhile, heterosexual role models abounded.  Every movie, TV show, book, sports star, and musician emphasized a het romance.  They still do.  It’s so pervasive that everyone in the world assumes everyone else is straight unles told otherwise.  When I tell people I’m getting married, the first queston out of their mouths is usually, “What’s her name?”

Seeing a successful person who is like you has an enormous impact that heteros take for granted.  Hets have their pick of role models in every field.  But when people spit on you, jeer at you, make casual, cutting comments about you, fire you, threaten you, and assault you because of who you are, you start to wonder if anyone in the world like you manages to get along and even thrive.  Seeing a famous LGBT person makes you say, “Holy cow!  He’s like me, and he did it!  Maybe I can do it after all!”

So yeah–the media need to report on every single LGBT celebrity, sports figure, musician, and business mogul.  That kid who’s wondering if he’s going to make it out of the “Hey, faggot!” hallways of high school will realize that someone has already blazed the way.

*When I was in my mid-twenties and attending college to get my second Bachelor’s, I attended an LGBT party and ran into a girl from my old neighborhood. We were both startled to see each other.  Like I said–invisible.

–Steven Harper Piziks

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Why Being Out Matters — 11 Comments

  1. I thoroughly agree, and I rejoice at every young adult book that includes LGBT people as regular people whose orientation happens to be LGBT.

    I *did* see gay people occasionally in books when I was a young reader, and pretty much all of them were depicted as comical figures, or as sick villains, or pitiful weirdos. Except for the coded books, but there was no one among any of my teachers or professors so busy dissecting “man against nature” and so forth to help me decode.

    • When I got older, I also finally found LGBT characters in books, and readily got tired of them being villains and victims, as they were inevitably portrayed. Why didn’t LGBT people ever get the happily ever after ending to their romances? I hated, hated, hated it, and when I wrote the Silent Empire with Kendi and Ben as central characters, I swore I would not make tragedy of any kind over their relationship.

  2. The ‘phobes certainly do express their (somewhat) covert discrimination through minimisation, true, but I also think the heterosexual majority, like any majority group, simply don’t “get” the significance of recent social and legal breakthroughs for the LGBT community, because they’re used to their majority experiences as the norm. Being straight isn’t a struggle for them, it’s just part of their everyday landscape, which they mostly ignore. So being faced with a different, vocal and persistent perspective can seem like a barrage.

    I also think the majority doesn’t realise that all the coming-out celebrations and the recognition of role models isn’t for their benefit/approval at all. They haven’t twigged on to the fact that this isn’t their party, and they’re not the guests of honour. That’s a tough thing for people to swallow, who are used to having their interests as the center-piece of any situation.

    It’s a learning process. But there is progress.

  3. Should we interpret this post as (also) being about you getting married? If so, heartfelt congratulations!