Sunday, January 20, 2013

How We Think About Coming Out

Gay brothers and sisters,... You must come out. Come out... to your parents... I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives... come out to your friends... if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors... to your fellow workers... to the people who work where you eat and shop... come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade to Eugene      --Harvey Milk

Coming is commonly considered a rite of passage for all lgbt people. We regard it as a  singular act of courage and truth telling which is said to set us free. It's sometimes it can be as large as bringing conversation at thanksgiving dinner to a screaching halt or as small as only being able towhisper the truth to yourself in a mirror. But however it's always takes courage and still more to to bring that truth out to others. We know...because many of us have been there with our heart in our hands waiting for parents or friends to respond to our finding the courage to tell them about ourselves...each second of silence feeling like hours.

Many of my readers may have watched my husband Jay's opinion video of Jodie Fosters kinda coming out speech at the Golden Globes. It got so much heated and angry backlash that Jay got called all kinds to things from selfish, to a bully, to a couple of death threats. To me...the response to Jays Criticisms of Jody Foster were way out of proportion to what was actually said about her. Not that Jay was the only one to have some strong opinions about the topic...many notable and well respected voices also had some raised eyebrows including radio host and Huffington Post editor Michelangelo Signorile. Yet,  anyone who had something critical to say about Jodie Fosters speech was vilified and got the full wrath of the internet. Now...while you would expect that her fans would want to defend her...the response was so large and heated that it made me wonder if something else was behind their reactions beyond the effect of celebrity. Perhaps Jay had touched on a nerve that many of us are sensitive to...what we believe coming out is and what we impart to the person doing it?

Many of you may be tired of hearing about the whole Jodie Foster thing...and to be honest, I am too. Even though I may use Jodie as an example at times, would like to take this issue out of the realm of any one persons circumstances and take a look at the act of coming out itself....and then, if being a celebrity alters how we view it. Is coming out something so personal and intimate that no one is allowed to have opinions about it?

For myself...and again, in my opinion only...I do believe that coming out of the closet is not only an act that can lead to better emotional health, I also believe that it is something that can make the world a better place for all LGBT people. The more the world can see us and know us as we are, the less those that hate us can spin lies about us. Those lies only find fertile ground to grow in because there is such a great void of ignorance  about the lives of LGBT people. That void then becomes filled with the lies of people who want the public to believe we have a shadowy agenda to ruin marriage and recruit children...all of that complete B.S. However,  it is harder for someone who understand that those things are not the truth until they come to know someone who is LGBT. Then they come to understand that none of what NOM, or Tony Perkins, or any anti-gay talking head says is true. In this way more people come to understand their LGBT cooworkers or neighbors as people worthy of dignity, respect, and equal treatment under the law. The act of coming out not only helps that person live ultimately helps all of us. this is what I believe to be the essence of Harvey Milk's quote above.

but that doesn't mean that coming out automatically makes our lives better....nor does it mean that being able to say the words "I'm gay" translates to self acceptance. Often times coming out is just the first step on what can become a lifelong journey. Some of us  have enough confidence to blow the doors of the closet on the way out...others stick one toe out at a time and them retreat back in until they can again find their courage. Each persons path is different...and I think that's why more than a few people felt taking Jodie Foster to task for her comments about those who are already out as needing a "fragrance, a press conference, and a reality show" to honor their outness were jumping down her throat for her opinions instead of supporting her for finally being out. I admit, her remarks bugged me too and as some have pointed out... Anderson Cooper, Jane Lynch, and Ricky Martin did none of those things. Still, instead of being offended, others saw her words as the marks of a woman struggling with the some of the terrible effects that fame has had on her being stalked by a man who tried to kill a President just to get her attention. But regardless of how we each chose to view those remarks, there is no denying that the fact that they were being given as a coming out speech changed how we viewed them...and her.

As I watched her on stage her nervousness was palpable. That is a pretty significant thing to note about a woman who is no stranger to camera's and public attention. I could almost feel it come through my computer screen as I watched. But as she told her awkward joke about coming out single all I could see was a woman struggling to find the courage to speak ...and on a deeper level, as I watched her nervousness as she fumbled for the words, I felt as if I was coming out again with her. That's how easy it is to identify with the fearful hesitancy of  "Am I really gonna do this?!" .....The butterfly's in your stomach, the shakiness in your knees, the sweat on your palms, and the terrible thoughts of rejection and danger that I had come to think could happen as soon as the words left my mouth. All the while, trying to get the words stuck in my throat to come out. Many may not agree with me on this, but that's exactly what I saw in her...and felt with her. Her words would not have been mine...I think they were ill chosen and hurt a few people...but I can't help but see the obvious apprehension she radiated and wondered if she was just all making it up on the fly. It's no wonder to me that regardless of how much I may not have liked the content of her speech but I can acknowledge that it took some courage for her to get up there and say it...or that others would see her in a sympathetic light.

Many argue that she has been out since 2007...which is both true and not true. Even then she let people know she was gay by thanking her partner...that is another kind  of coming out by not just coming out and saying it. 
It has been asked a day when so many less famous stars are coming out of the closet, does such a well respected and established actress still avoid saying directly that she is gay? Could that point to a lack of self acceptance or a degree of internalized homophobia on her part? Why if she has been considered to be out since 2007 did she not say anything about prop 8?...or bullying and suicide? How is it possible that one of the most powerful women in Hollywood still can't say "I'm  gay" without hinting around it. my husband put it...when out community is under attack and we are fighting for our rights, at what point can we as fans ask or expect them to step up on behalf of us all?

Now...this is where the internet blew up.

Some regarded coming out at something no one can judge. It is simply too vulnerable...too personal a moment and the person doing it seen as taking a courageous risk. Other's pointed to the glass closet of Hollywood and Jodie's personal history of being harassed and terrorized. Still others simply saw her in a sympathetic light as someone they looked up to for her work and went on a counter attack meant to nuke her attackers and salt the earth on which they had been born. The response was intense and it taught us a little bit about how others hold the act of coming matter how it happens it is regarded as a largely untouchable moment.

From memory of past news events I found this be true, even when the person coming out has actively done things to hurt the community the gay community. There was a great deal of controversy surrounding the movie Outrage...which attempted to shine a light on the hypocrisy of certain politicians who were gay in private and used their power and influence to appose gay rights in office. Among those outed were Senator Larry "widestance" Craig and then Governor of Florida Charlie "the perennial  bachelor" Crist. That movie sent some people into a frenzy who felt that outing anyone against their will....EVER....was morally wrong, even when that person was actively using their influence to literally hurt others or themselves. Coming out and being sensitive to the privacy of the individual was seen as more important than the harm these men were doing to the gay community, while still having sex with other men.

And then there is good old Ken Mehlman...remember him? He worked to help elect George Bush the presidency in 2004 as his campaign manager. This was the year in which George Bush expressed his support for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex  marriage and Ken was right there with him managing his campaign. He has since apologized and expressed regret for his action at that time but Ken Mehlman stands out as an example of someone who done palpable and demonstrable harm to the gay community....but once he came out and it seems as if the way we saw him changed. While some(like myself) saw it more as political opportunism...others called it a "coup" for gay rights and immediatly given a job lobbying for marriage equality as a voice within the conservative party.

Now...It's not my intention to re-demonize Ken Mehlman or reopen the rancor over Jodie foster but more to ask the question about how these examples speak to how we regard coming out and how it changes the way we think about the one who does it. Clearly people had some very strong feelings about the act and a dim view of anyone who's feelings on the matter were percieved as impinging upon the one coming out.

My opinions on the issue of coming out are these:

When I was coming to terms with myself and being encouraged to come out, I was told that not only was it an act of telling the truth...but also that it was an act of love to the person you are coming out to. We come out to the people we care about most simply because they are so important to us and we want to know us completely and with honesty. But...coming out is also many other things...scary, wonderful, risky, awkward, freeing, and vital thing we all need to do if we want to live lives that are authentic, open, and honest. We each of us deserve the right to live our lives without having to hide who we are or who we love as if those things are shameful. And as much as the truth can set you free it also comes with real risks that each individual has to come to terms with....among those the fact that our families and friends may not accept us as gay people and we may lose our relationship with them. They may even decide to do us harm. No one can make that decision for someone else. But for those that do take the risks, sometimes our loved ones surprise us in wonderful ways by loving us just as we are. But we have to take the risk in order to know. 

Also, coming out is not easy, we all do it imperfectly, there is no one right way to tell someone something to personal and essential  to who we are...oftentimes we are using all our strength and courage just to get the words out of our mouth. And....Coming out does not change who we are as people, it only reveals who are more completely. Furthermore, as I have already stated above, the more people that come out and live out, the more it makes less room for ignorance and bigotry to thrive.

Personally, I don't think anyone has an obligation to come out...holding people to that standard would force many to come out when they are not ready. Who among us doesn't remember the weeks or months of terror as you even contemplated the idea of coming out? It's something we all do in our own time and at our level of comfort....I told my dad in a letter and received tears but also love in return....I told my mom face to face only to get rejection. Sometimes you just never know how it's going to be. Both of those instances required a great deal of building up the courage and being ready to deal with what happened. I had to make that choice on my own and it took a lot of time to be ready. However, if I had stayed fearful of coming out...would it have been a bad think for one of my friends to challenge my beliefs?...I don't think so. That said...I am glad I did find the courage and my life is a million times happier today because of it. 

When it comes to celebrities. I want them to come out.....I hope they will come out. I cheer when they do because I know that it puts the lie to the idea that gay men and women need to hide because there is something shameful in being who we are.  However, making the claim that they have a "responsibility"to takes away their choice to accept the risks inherent in doing so. That's a choice most of us are afforded why do they lose it because they are celebs? The fact that many gay celebs are coming out when It has such risk to their career is something to be applauded and encouraged...but it is also made more valuable because they chose it.

On the flip side...while I don't believe that I can or should be able to somehow force a famous person to come out or participate in some form of someone that is a consumer of what those people put into the public sphere...I can sure as hell ask that they do or question why they don't. We vote with our attention and our wallets all the time, how is this different?  If we don't like what Chick-Fil-A does we don't shop their. If I think Ted Nugent is a right-wing gun nut I don't listen to his music. While celebrities do have the same right to privacy we would want for ourselves and sexuality is largely no ones business buy our own, once someone does come out in a magazine or on TV aren't they really opening a dialogue with the public? I think so. That's why I found peoples uber defense of Jodie so puzzling...she came out on a nationally televised program, that's about as non private as it gets.

Finally....while coming out is often a courageous act, but that doesn't by itself elevate someone to a hero status...nor does it mean that their past still doesn't have influence on who they are or how we receive them. From my point of view Ken Mehlmans coming out and apology was a good first step...but only that. The gay community had simply been hurt to much we had a right to expect more from him than just and "I'm gay now" and an apology. In that regard I feel like the work he has been doing for marriage equality now, is of way more impact than his coming out itself. 

I do not believe  that we have the right judge how someone chooses to come out unless it's someone who has hurt us in some way. But.....neither do I view a person nervously admitting that they are gay as not responsible for the words they used while doing so. Many people were bugged by Jody Foster taking a swipe at a 7 year old girl as if she has something to be ashamed of because she was a reality tv star. She was just a little girl much like Jody was when her parents first put her into the spotlight. So, as good as it is that Jody Foster is out to the world now...It would be nice if she actually explained exactly what the hell she was talking about when she made it sound like other out celebrities were somehow fame whores who should  have kept their orientations more private....or that being a reality tv personality was something to be ashamed of. Coming out of the closet doesn't really exempt her from that, and I think had she not been coming out at the time, peoples opinions about herd delivering those same words would have been received very differently.

But these are only my opinions and we know what they say about those. In the end I feel like we do need to be sensitive about how hard it is to come out...but the act itself shouldn't change how we perceive the person doing it. But it seems as if their is a very sensitive place for coming out and how we control the release of that information within the heart of the LGBT community. Sometimes our feelings about this run so deep that we simply respond from a place of pure unrestrained emotion instead of taking a second to think it through or to acknowledge that someone else's point of view may be just as valid as our own. Is this because we are remembering what it was like for ourselves to be that scared and vulnerable?   Or do we look at the act itself as having it's own inherent virtue?  Can we have this conversation without reverting to anger? 

What do you think?

Until next time dear readers.....


  1. I wanted to thank you both (Jay and Brian) for coming out and this website. This is helping so many people. I have not seen anything else like it. I wish I would have found it years ago as it would have saved me so much heart ache and pain. Imagine if you both stayed silent???

    I volunteer for suicide prevention work for LGBT youth. I urge them caution in coming out if they may be kicked out of their house or harmed either emotionally or physically by their families. Some are not making it as seen in the high suicide attempts within the LGBT community.

    As someone who has been there I understand. Family and religious rejection can be lethal to children and adults.

    Thank you both for all this. It is good to have some real super heros for a change.

    Truth, Wisdom, Love and Sincerity, to ALL mankind.

  2. Oh I don't know about super heroes...but thank you anonymous stranger :)

  3. I agree with what you said, Bryan.

    At first, I did not understand Jay's criticisms or rather disappointments towards Jodie Foster's coming out at Golden Globes. After watching her speech, I applauded her for her bravery to speak at such a national event - she seemed nervous yet courageous. She started acting since she was 3, and she probably did not know she would bear this "responsibility" to the public.

    Now, as someone who is still trying to figure out one's identity, it does help me a lot when I see famous people coming out. It makes me think... maybe I am not so abnormal. Having them as examples and role models does impact people in that it breaks down a lot of preconceptual notions and barriers towards LGBT people that the public has. From this, I understand Jay's frustrations. I would feel upset if I were in Jay's shoes. However, I can also understand Jodie Foster in aspects as to why it took so long for her to come out. Sometimes you think that the best way to 'solve' the problem is by avoidance, though you know it is not true by heart, you feel as if you have no other options. You are basically escaping from the problem. I believe it was her mistake.

    No one is perfect. We just have to live from our mistakes and try not to make the same mistakes again.

    Great post, Bryan :) And I think I have a crush on you haha!

  4. I get Jay's frustrations with judie's coming out even if I don't think they are all fair to lay at her feet. The thing that bothered me most about he speech was her nasty swipes at other's she made during the speech.

    I don't agree with assertions she had some sort of duty to come out let alone to have come out any early then she decided to because I do fell that when to come out is a very personal decision that can only be made when the person making it is ready. Because it would not have been right for someone else to decide when it was time for me to come out other then me, and that was a very lengthy process.

    The other thing that I cant fault her for is the vagueness and lack of using the word gay, as I could not make my self say that word the first few times I came out. I did not even use the word when I came out to my mom or brother, I just lead them to drag out of me that I was 5dating a guy. (My first boyfriend) luckily they both took it well and where supportive. I did not use the words I'm gay until I came out to dad a month latter With the supportful prodding of some friends, that one did not go well at all.

    So the only thing that I really fault her for is attacking those that had already come out in her speech, it to me almost come off thought as if coming out something that in a way she was shoved into against her will, hence the bitterness.

  5. Great post Bryan.
    I guess I was lucky because when I came out to my family it was such a non-event. My coming out was received with love. I felt like such a fool that I didn't have the courage to do it ten years prior.
    I still cringe when I hear people like Bryan Fischer or Tony Perkins spew garbage like "homosexuality is a dangerous unhealthy lifestyle!" We all know that living a lie in a closet is unhealthy and stressful to the human body and the soul. It is a toxic environment that has claimed way too many lives... Let's hope the closet's days in our society come to an end soon..

  6. I am a survivor of incest. That may seem irrelevant, but hear me out.

    All my life I heard that gay people were more likely to molest kids and that kids who were molested were more likely to be gay. Being a teenager is confusing, and adding gay to the mix makes it harder. Imaging what it was like for me, a person who, to this day, still wraps himself tightly in blankets at night time because it made "things" less accessible to prying hands.

    I'm out of the closet about being gay, but I only talk about incest in safe zones. My mind knows that the two aren't connected, but deep down in my heart of hearts, I'm full of shame. I don't know how I got the courage to first come out. I'm glad that I did, but knowing how I felt before I came out, it's hard for me to judge others who don't feel like they can.

  7. Dear Zeromoogle,

    Thank you for sharing your comments. It takes courage to share your story regarding incest. You also make a good point of not judging others who are not ready to come out. I think the article supports this too. Coming out is a unique and individual decision. There is no formula. I am only an expert on my own life.

    As somebody who use to be in the closet I understand. However, I was suffering in silence. It was the people closest to me that were destroying my self-esteem with anti-gay remarks (so-called friends and family). However, I found the courage to come out. It cost me friends and family. However, that was nothing compared to be able to stand in my own truth.

    One more comment for what is is worth. As a survivor of a suicide attempt I found that the only real way for me to heal that experience was to volunteer for suicide prevention. This was the single greatest thing that really helped me heal that horrific experience. But It took time before I was ready to do that.

    I have found that my greatest sense of joy is to to be of service by going back and helping others who are experiencing the same thing.

    Thank you, Zeromoogle.

    Thuth, Wisdom, Love and Sincerity, to you.

  8. being from the south and still living there, the gays(et al) have been part of the landscape for years so long as we did not slap people in the face with our respective parts, publicly, and were able to blend in we have been tolerated, marginally. the act of coming out is very significant and i think understandably held sacrosanct- but it is like not speaking ill of the dead. the person was the same person they were in life, to our limited knowledge, the fact of their death does not make them somehow a saint (and as a priest, ghost-shmost my divine will be done)as showing the world that you will live free of their bullshit does not make you more than you were. it does make you more what you always have been. and we are all accountable one way or another for our acts whether we want to admit it or not. words are as much an act as any swing of the blade or any pull of the trigger and likewise a hug that goes on forever or a gentle kiss.

    zeromoogle: much love and many blessings- there is a thing offered find the courage to take it. whatever it is is good-though difficult
    (i just go with it, i have no idea and i will gladly aid anyway this stranger can but this is nothing of mine that i speak of)

  9. I think the majority of us knew that something was up with Jody even before anyone "outed" her and before she said anything. She is a fiercely private person - as much as she can be under the circumstances. I think to some extent we have to live and let live on this. Remember how cute she was in Freaky Friday, Candleshoe, Bugsy Malone, Foxes, and on Kung Fu and the Partridge Family? I caught all of these things on reruns and such.

    As nice as it would have been for her to educate other about having a loving lesbian relationship, it was not what she wanted to do with her life, and now that relationship is over. At least we have Ellen as an example of someone who everyone likes and who is gay.