This week is starting with the coming-out of Joey Graceffa which, for me, is indeed a major event for the gay community. His coming-out is pretty common in terms of what he says about being gay in itself. He has, like many of us, come to terms with the fact that, notwithstanding the expectations and rules of the outside world, his sexuality does not and will not define who he is, what he does. It’s just a matter of heart. However, it is important because it was seen by, at least, his four or so million subscribers.
What interests me is he mentions the fear of being outed and that’s what I want to address because it is also a major issue within and outside the community.
For all of us, coming out is much more than saying out loud to the world or just one person that we like to “get it up the arse”. This is, first and foremost, the most visible, public outcome of months, years, maybe decades of struggles with your inner self during which you are realising more or less slowly that you don’t belong to what is considered and shown as “the norm”. Not matter how tolerant your family and society you grew in might be, homosexuality is still not a norm. It has still not reached the same status of normality that heterosexuality has always had. Being gay is still tainted with many positive and negative prejudices.
So you are something else but what does that mean? What does that involve? It was easy to have girlfriends when I was a boy because I could just be like my dad and mum, like the people on TV, in books and everywhere. But what does it mean to be gay? Does it change my way of being altogether? Will I get AIDS too? I remember being terrified of it because I heard gay people get AIDS. I don’t know why or how exactly at the time but I was terrified of being sick because I would just think one of my classmate was rather cute.
Do I always choose the girls when playing video games because I am gay? Am I a feminist because I am gay? Do I own a pink tie because I am gay? Am I a good baker because I am gay? Am I close to my mother because I am gay? Are straight men never doing or being any of the above? Was I conditioned…am I still conditioned solely by my sexuality above all else? Am I just a programmed thing whereas straight people enjoy the freedom of choice, being born free of their sexuality?
Even I, who grew up in a non-homophobic family, am still struggling trying to define who I was, who I am and therefore what my place within the society could and will be. I never had to worry about what my family would think or do but I am one of the exception. Some…many people, in fact an important majority of LGBT people does not have the support of a family who treats you exactly the same as your straight relatives and they are not born in a country where mentalities are changing. People are still being hung and murdered by their own parents so coming out for them is not just question of finding out and defining who you are, it is also a question of survival. How much of the people you love you will eventually lose. How many of them will reject you, will hit you, will go as far as killing you , blinded by their faith or their eagerness to save face and remain part of the murderous community.
I never faced death. I was born in Versailles, the posh and influencial, well-educated Western suburb of Paris and yet, I did experience stones and cigarette burns on my neck and that’s when people just assume I was gay so I don’t know if I could ever be as comfortable as I am today with my sexuality if someone else had just officially outed me when I was not ready. I would have withdrawn, rejected my true nature because people would have started filling my head again with their definition of who I am supposed to be: “You are gay so you have to do, be, think, fuck and act this way”. I feel like my life would have been limited to certain jobs, certain places, certain people and I would have never been able to say: Yes, I am gay…What has it got to do with teaching German grammar?”
Outing someone without their permission is therefore not just an act of disrespect, it has deep psychological consequences that can go as far as life-threatening for we don’t know the ins and outs of someone’s private life, whether they are famous or simply a neighbour’s kid or even of our own family. There are actually very little cases of accidental outings. Most of them are acts of revenge, retaliation or simply and purely of destruction of the other and we, the LGBT community, must be able to draw from our own struggle to understand the scale of coming-out so we can protect people who are not yet ready to do so but also support our peers who wish to keep it private without shaming them, calling them “cowards”, “closeted”, “half-baked gays” and reducing to second-class gays.
If the message is that sexuality is a private matter irrelevant to public life, coming-out, the act of making one’s sexuality more or less public, shall remain a personal decision and not become a matter of social pressure.
And this goes for famous people as well. I do not buy to this tabloid-like rhetoric that they have a responsibility to be role-models, to expose their private life, to speak for the community, to educate the world. That they deserve, they should, they have a mission to have every single of their word analysed, every single of their moves followed, every single of their interviews dissected by all parties to serve the purpose each are pursuing.
I don’t believe, like some said with outrage, that Tom Daley coming out last year means he should have boycotted the competition in Moscow because of Russia’s treatment of gay people. He’s a diver and coming out has not made him a speaker for the whole community. He has not said he wanted to be a speaker for the community, he never pretended that what he did or said was a reflection on the whole gay community (whatever that is). He just felt the need to tell people that he had come to terms with a long struggle. I don’t expect him to be a speaker just because he can dive. This would be desperately foolish of me. Coming out should not force him to give up on trying to be the world’s best diver. It’s a choice he should be able to make one way or the other without being treated like a second-class gay.
I talked about his coming-out previously and why I think we still need people like him to do so. Because they are banalising being gay to irrelevance, they are showing that who they are and who they fuck are not linked and that the prejudices we are all trying to see out of are actually irrelevant, whether they are good or bad. You can be, do, think, believe anything and be gay.
However, not matter how much I believe how useful and a blessing these coming-outs are, I am appalled by the (frankly angry sometimes) endless calls, even from within the community, to famous people to come out so they can put on the supergayhero cape, fight discrimination and be role models to the rest of the world. I read newspaper where columnists are asking, even demanding famous footballers, rugby players or tennis players to “finally!” come out because they think it would stop homophobia in their respective sport. We need some high class gay footballers to come out so we can show all the idiots you can be good at football and get it up the butt. That’s the message I read, even in papers like the Guardian or Le Monde.
Why is it their responsibility to display their sexuality in order to change mentalities? Why is it the responsibility of individuals to publically talk about what kind of gender they fuck so that reactionary idiots stop abusing them? Why is it that the victims have to reveal even more of their private life so their executioners stop trying to murder them? Was it for the victims to prove themselves, to prove they don’t deserve the hits and insults to begin with?
If some people want to do so, it is a major commitment and responsibilty. We should therefore encourage them but if people do not want to do it, we should respect and accept it. After all, we have already had hundreds if not thousands of famous people in all walks of life who came out and are proving homophobes wrong on a daily basis. Some of them by just being themselves, others by taking a bigger step and campaigning, talking, raising awareness. How many more famous gay people will have to say “I like sucking dicks” before the papers and the community are satisfied? All of us? Is “out loud and proud” a prerequisite to being a “real gay”, the way “real Catholics” are only the ones going to church?
If homophobia remains strong in football or other aspects of life, it is not because gay footballers are “closeted cowards” but because there is a systematic, willful failing by the state and the relevant institutions to educate. It’s not because the famous gays have failed their community by choosing to keep their sexuality a private matter, it is because we still expect the victims to be solving the abuse they are suffering from on their own. “Your fellow gays are being abused, it’s your responsibility to come out, help them and lead by example” is basically the mantra.
Not a single gay person, famous or unknown should be forced to make their sexuality public for whatever reason or purpose, good or bad, because coming out means coming to terms with a whole new vision of the world. This is not just the beginning of a new life but the end of another. It is like being forced out of your parent’s home by some strangers because they decided it was time for you to do so. What if you are not ready? The consequences can be and are often terrible and irreversible.
It is time we acknowledge the deep struggle a coming-out is putting an end to.
It is time we acknowledge that coming-out never means life is from then on going to be easy and that it can actually open the way to more existential questions if not the actual Pandora’s box.
It’s time we acknowledge that no degree of fame will ever make that struggle easier and that we need to stop begging for famous people to come out thinking they are going to solve the problem of homophobia by exposing their sexuality.
It’s time we stop forcing people to come out or simply stop outing them to begin with.
It’s time we praise and respect the ones who choose to keep their sexuality a strictly private matter as well as the ones who are using it to fight intolerance because both are serving the same purpose: to make homosexuality irrelevant to who a person is.