Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Closeted in the 21st Century

It still happens and not just in junior high school. LGBT people live double lives even today. My sister called me the other night so I could watch Jodie Foster come out publicly at the Golden Globe Awards. Anderson Cooper declared his gayness just last year. If it is still difficult for actors and media people to live proudly in the open, there must be a high degree of prejudice surrounding regular folks.

I have been completely out since 1970. Saying this is not meant to toot my own horn. In many ways this decision has caused me a whole boatload of suffering from outright job loss to social ostracism. I didn't want to be a token lesbian for the world to see, but I felt that I had to be. My rationale was that if I had learned anything from past persecution such as what took place during the holocaust, it was that huge groups of people can really despise you and those same huge groups can be wrong. I didn't ask to be born on the other side of the bed, or to be Jewish for that matter, it just happened.

The queers I have met who remain closeted are good people. I am in no position to pass judgement on anyone. An African-American woman I used to work with took two full years to come out at work even though about a third of her coworkers were openly gay and experiencing no problems. It was more difficult for her to make this move because, in her culture, there tends to be more religion and less support. She is in a more vulnerable position.

 A new friend I met in an predominantly heterosexual but alternative environment is a clandestine lesbian. Her language of origin is not English and she is from another part of the world. I respect her very much but still have trouble with this decision, perhaps due to some failing of my own.

I am certainly well aware of what it is like to be openly other in a society that prizes conformity and uses ridicule and contempt as weapons to maintain it. 

I wonder how straight people will learn of our rainbow of diversity if the most introverted and frightened among us remain hidden? Don't these closeted ones realize that Audre Lourde was telling the truth when she said, "Your silence will not protect you?" And Lorde was African-American and, according to her "biomythography," "Zami: a New Spelling of My Name," openly queer since the fifties.

Perhaps my need to have everyone be living openly is a selfish analysis. I can neither assess another's life decisions nor the cost of speaking out for individuals whose experience is different from my own. The best I can do is help to create a world of, not just tolerance, but acceptance, a place beyond the sad, and outdated artifacts of guilt and shame. Until then, I'll just keep in mind that, at any given time, we all do the best we can.