Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Do I have to be out

How does coming out fit into our identity? The question of coming out raises the issue of private and public personas. How much of our life is private and how much is public. This public side of our identity is the stuff we show with most people. Obviously, the private side is the part of our self that we keep "close to our chest."

There are many reasons for not disclosing sexual identity. For some people it's about safety. I've worked with people in the corrections field who suggest that coming out in prison is not a safe place. Then there is the current military policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" which highlights the consequences of coming out. And still today, in some countries, coming out risks a death sentence.

Some people choose not to be out for other reasons such as privacy, financial or familial. Others believe we have arrived at point in history were the need to be out simply doesn't matter anymore. We've made so much progress as a group that we simply don't need to push the issue any further.

On the other hand, there are people who encourage everyone to be out. There is often an implicit assumption that being out is a healthy expression of a LGBT identity. The assumption is you need to "embrace" your sexuality. Being out is a statement that being gay is OK. A major step toward personal growth is the affirmation of all aspects of a person's life.

Then there is the idea that being visibly out is a public statement and as a result helps to encourage public acceptance thus creating a safer environment for those who come out later. The modeling behavior attempts to provide support and encouragement of this aspect. In my opinion, the stories shared over the last few similar articles highlight the benefits of coming out. In those stories others found support and encouragement for their process.

Being out is also a political statement. Since at least the 1950s, individuals have stressed the political aspect of being out as a confrontation to the straight world. Stonewall and the subsequent 30+ years of Pride Celebrations reflect coming out as a political claim. Harvey Milk and the 2008 movie is a recent expression of the political impact of coming out; his witness transformed the political reality of both San Francisco, and eventually the world. Obviously we're not done with the political nature of equality; coming out is a contribution in small and large ways to ongoing political discourse. As a group, the more visible we are, the less they can ignore us.

This post is a start of the conversation. What are your thoughts? Should a person be out and why?

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