11 April 2007

Getting Out More In Public (Part One)

I recently read an article called "The Glass Closet," published in the May 2000 online edition of Out Magazine. It elaborates on a topic I addressed in my previous post, "Why Do You Like It So Rough?" I posted a comment in response to the article, but as so often happens when I react to online opinion pieces, the comment never appeared. I guess I'm just too damn controversial! I shared my aborted comment with Dr. Jerry Maneker, who eagerly suggested I let him post it on his blog, christianlgbtrights.org. I did, he did, and now here it is topping my own blogroll! First, let me tell you about the article.

Entertainment journalist Michael Musto wrote about closeted Lesbian and Gay celebrities who've taken advantage of a more open climate toward diversity. While officially closeted, they live in a fairly open manner, living with same-gender partners, patronizing Gay establishments, etcetera. However, they draw the line at discussing their LGBT status in public! It's considered an outrage and an invasion of privacy should a reporter ever broach the subject. It's a modern case of the Emperor having no clothes on as he parades around the city square, with nobody in the crowd being brave enough to remark on his bouncing genitalia! Musto feels this hypocritical practice creates a stigma around LGBT status and compromises objective journalism. I agree totally! Here's a quote from him:

The glass closet is nothing new in Hollywood. Back in the 1920s and '30s, leading man William Haines was Gay in everything except magazine interviews . . . in the '70s, performers like Paul Lynde and . . . Peter Allen similarly went as far as seemed possible, hinting around at their sexuality and even making appearances at various Gay spots. But they could be certain the squeamish media wouldn't push things any further by addressing that, so they remained flamboyantly, ambiguously glassed off. And today, the press still gives a free pass to people like "Good Morning America" weather anchor Sam Champion and CNN presence Anderson Cooper, helping to keep their glass doors shut so they can lead Gay social lives while carefully skirting the issue. The media has a field day with all kinds of oddballs, but (Gay public figures) get "protected," even though Cooper has been seen in Gay bars in New York, and Champion sightings have long been reported from Fire Island to the Roxy.

Surprisingly enough, the concept of being 'semi-sort-of-out' has even infiltrated the ranks of the Republicans. Pioneer outing journalist Michelangelo Signorile feels that "in the Republican Party now, the glass closet is OK. It's like, 'just don't talk about it or announce it.' It's progress, but it also still makes being Gay something you really shouldn't talk about."

It's true that stars are free to put up whatever walls they want in order to maintain boundaries with the public. But even at their most controlling, Straight stars never seem to leave out the fact that they're Straight in interviews. Whenever a subject tells me, "I won't discuss who I'm dating" or "I resent labels," I generally know not so much that they're passionate about privacy but that they're Gay, Gay, Gay.

I wrote in the fifth part of my most recent blog essay that journalists who refuse to broach a public figure's LGBT status, even when the context of the story demands it, are showing bias. I suggested that they throw their claims of journalistic objectivity out the window, because their willingness to engage in a conspiracy of silence puts the lie to such claims. This is basically the same thing Michael Musto is arguing. Reading the online reactions to his article, though, it's obvious that many (presumably Gay) people do not agree! Here's a sampling of what some of them had to say:

I think that there is nothing wrong with this glass closet if you have a high-profile position.

I think there's something wrong! If people in high-profile positions continue to cooperate with bigotry by hiding in a glass closet, then the bigotry will always exist. Nobody's challenging it! If you're comfortable with the kind of status quo where LGBT orientation can be used to stifle one's career mobility, then I guess you can live with that, can't you? I can't! And I hope a growing number of LGBT strivers can't, either. Changing workplace discrimination always involves some discomfort and risk. Is it worth it? Ask the National Organization for Women. Ask the National Council of Support for Disability Issues. Ask the United Farmworkers Union. Ask the NAACP!

I find it ironic that a magazine that advocates people choosing to live whatever lifestyle (sic) they want without criticism or prejudice is blasting people for doing just that. It's their life, their choice, their decision (about) who to tell, what to tell (and) when to tell, and you're pressuring them to conform to your schedule and agenda. Report on those who embrace their lifestyle (sic) openly, and leave those who choose to keep it personal alone.

I hope I'm not the only one who detects the underlying hatred and heterosexism in this comment! Let me highlight the red flags: The way he refers to LGBT identity as a "lifestyle" . . . the way he uses the word "choice" when talking about LGBT identity . . . the way he suggests that LGBT folks should "keep it personal" . . . and the way he talks about LGBT identity without actually saying the words "Gay" or "Pansexual" or "Lesbian" or "Transsexual"! This is a textbook example of how taboos are erected around Gay topics.

What's the big deal if someone doesn't want to come out professionally? I've never understood this. And who gives you the right to "out" someone? Being a Gay man, one would think you'd be more sensitive about this issue. Everyone has their time.

If we wait until all LGBT folk are willing to be honest about themselves "in their own time", we'll be rotting in our graves before we see any real change in societal attitudes toward us! What gives celebrities or anybody else the right to think others should keep their secrets for them?

This is incredibly disrespectful to those people who are in the closet or are not publicly open yet. Let them do it in their own time and way. You do not get to choose when they come out.

What an absurd accusation! Nobody who "outs" a Lesbian or Gay public figure chooses when that person comes out. The person in question can always deny being Gay, if they're so determined to be perceived otherwise! That person can still decide to be honest with the world "in their own time and way." However, nothing obligates other people to be dishonest or silent about the truth until that time comes!

Musto's assumption that the only way to be certifiably Gay is to make a public statement is misplaced. Many of us make no attempt to disguise the fact that we're Gay, yet don't make a fuss over it, either.

(Certifiably Gay? Goodness gracious me!  I didn't know there was a certification process . . . I'd better find out how to get my certificate!) Michael Musto never said closeted celebrities should be obligated to make a public statement. He never said they should "make a fuss over it." He merely said they shouldn't bristle, dodge, or lie when questions about their orientation are asked. Actor/comedian Neil Patrick Harris recently demonstrated how such questions should be dealt with. When the subject of his possibly being Gay arose in a public forum, he acknowledged it, and in a most dignified manner, I might add. The following quote comes from People Magazine:

(I) am quite proud to say that I am a very content Gay man living my life to the fullest.

Ah, the invigorating smell of personal integrity! Since then, though, Neil has firmly closed the door on reporters who want to harp on homosexuality. He recently told entertainment reporter Whitney Pastorek:

As much as I respect advocacy, I don't feel that my job description is "advocate." My job description is "jester."

He may be motivated to amend his job description in the future, but if he doesn't, that's fine. All of us can't be Larry Kramer! Living with integrity is the most important form of Gay Rights activism, and Neil Patrick Harris has already set a sterling example.  Now, here's a sterling example of internalized homophobia from another of Michael Musto's readers:

While it's true that those still living (in the closet) are cowards, "outing" them is an invasion of privacy, and wrong!

When reporters asking heterosexual celebrities about their wives and children starts being perceived as an "invasion of privacy", that's when I'll agree with this statement, and not a minute sooner!

"Getting Out More In Public" continues with Part Two.