Stepping Back Into the Closet On Occasion

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    Dec 04, 2009 3:23 PM GMT
    On Tuesday, I was at an occasion with a group of people who were new to me. I'm a writer, and I was giving a reading at a small school, for lots of people who (like everyone else in the world) hadn't read anything I'd written. One of their teachers brought me to campus.

    The people I was reading for were friendly but also seemed pretty conservative. Some of what I was going to read had content that would have identified me as a gay man. It was not explicitly sexual, but it was related to desiring or loving men.

    Looking at the audience, it just didn't feel wholly safe reading those texts, and I found myself stretching, contorting, and choosing texts that put my sexual orientation on the back-burning. It was there, but you had to be a very good listening to figure it out.

    I read for 40 minutes, and I bet 3/4 of the students didn't know that I am gay.

    Have you ever stepped back into the closet like that? Even if you've been out for years (I've been out since 1989): purposely pretended to be straight, in order to avoid . . . well, stressing yourself, awkwardness, the social dynamics that might be involved in coming out again?

    I don't just mean not talking about your sexual orientation, I mean purposely avoiding it: using slippery pronouns, being intentionally vague, not saying things you would normally say.

    If you have had this experience, what do you think about it? It left me feeling a little dishonest and a little cowardly. On the other hand, I'm not always up for potential confrontation or awkwardness. I've given lots of other readings where it felt safe: 99% of them, in fact. This one--I don't know why--just didn't.

    So, yeah: I guess I'm asking people who are out, do you feel like you ought to be out 100% of the time? And if you don't meet that goal, how do you think about those times you don't?
  • Timbales

    Posts: 13993

    Dec 04, 2009 3:35 PM GMT
    It's a gray area. As an author, you chose to censor yourself by choosing works that didn't divulge your personal feelings. But on the same token, you are a writer and have committed these feelings to paper for others to read as they wish. I wouldn't say you stepped back into the closet, it's not like you mislead anyone, just didn't express certain aspects of yourself.
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    Dec 04, 2009 4:02 PM GMT
    I do think that is important to be honest about who you are, because it will benefit you in the long run. I don't think you need to advertise it to the world, but when asked about your life it is better to go with honest responses. However, I do understand that it is not always possible to be open about being gay. Each person has to decide what they feel comfortable with in order to make that determination. For some there is still the very real threat of violence and or loss of employment, so it is important for you to assess your own situation.

    It was important for me to come out to everyone including at work. This did not happen immediately; it took some time for me to feel comfortable with this decision. The end result is that I am happier now that I do not need to choose my words carefully. I am also able to educate the heteros in my life about gay people. I honestly feel that I have had a positive impact on people.

    I do think there are circumstances where I tend to go back into the closet, or will offer ambiguous responses to hide my sexuality. Those are generally situations where I do not feel safe. There have not been many times, but it has happened. You have to pick and choose your battles. Sometimes it is not worth getting into confrontation that will end badly all around.

    I did feel deceptive and cowardly when I was not open, because I tend to be hard on myself. I realize now that this was just part of a journey that many of us need to take towards self acceptance. It is not our fault that there is a very real threat to our safety and livelihoods, so we should not feel ashamed about the resulting insecurities. Nevertheless, these insecurities should be managed so that they don't result in destructive behavior. Either decide to be open about your life in your own time, or live without shame about your desire to avoid conflict.
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    Dec 04, 2009 4:07 PM GMT
    Well I came out to my rents this thanksgiving but its back in the closet when I go back to New Mexicoicon_cry.gif Damn DADT
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    Dec 04, 2009 4:29 PM GMT
    Where do you draw the line between being honest about who you are and flaunting your sexuality before people who really have no reason to know either way?
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    Dec 04, 2009 4:48 PM GMT
    I'm as out as circumstances allow at all times. Around here in the Fort Lauderdale area that means no exceptions, although neither do I flaunt & push it when it's simply inappropriate to the situation. I mean, does every restaurant server need to be told "Did you know I'm gay"?

    But I have lived in places where dangerous situations could arise for me. When other people control the agenda, I see no reason to sacrifice myself to make a point. I intend to live and fight another day.

    Yet I'm hardly a closeted coward. I've twice been in the lead motorcycle escort of the Twin Cities Pride Parade, 3rd largest in the US, riding my bike before hundreds of thousands of spectators and TV cameras, not ashamed to proclaim who I am.

    And that same bike led the first, small gay pride parade in Fargo, North Dakota, just me all by myself out in front. A community where I lived and we didn't know if we'd be shot at, assaulted or what, in a town where our gay club got bullets through it's windows a number of times, and cars outside were vandalized. Where the mayor refused to give us police protection or a parade escort, and to block-off our route, so that every intersection was a hazard.

    I reveal myself as it pleases me, not as it serves to enable my enemies to hurt me. And for that I reject the label of coward or non-supporter of our gay cause. Rather, as former military I recognize it as good tactics. I follow whatever furthers my ultimate aims, because what I was trained to achieve is winning, not losing.
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    Dec 04, 2009 4:53 PM GMT
    What? You didn´t have "Oh hey!" tatooed on your head?

    Pfff.
  • Neon_Dreams

    Posts: 352

    Dec 04, 2009 4:56 PM GMT
    Calvin saidWell I came out to my rents this thanksgiving but its back in the closet when I go back to New Mexicoicon_cry.gif Damn DADT


    I moved to NM two week ago from Las Vegas. It does not seem to be very gay-friendly here. As a result, I am "partially in the closet". I keep my sexuality private here and I'm not sure how to feel about it.

    Why do you go in the closet when in NM? Is it really bad here or is it all in our heads?


    Joe
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    Dec 04, 2009 4:58 PM GMT
    No its more of the DADT and military life, so I'm putting myself back in that state of mindicon_confused.gif
  • coolarmydude

    Posts: 9190

    Dec 04, 2009 4:58 PM GMT
    Yeah. For me it's called work.
  • Neon_Dreams

    Posts: 352

    Dec 04, 2009 4:59 PM GMT
    darryaz saidWhere do you draw the line between being honest about who you are and flaunting your sexuality before people who really have no reason to know either way?


    I...don't...know. Trying to think this out.


    Joe
  • somedaytoo

    Posts: 704

    Dec 04, 2009 5:28 PM GMT
    Sounds to me like you made a responsible choice.
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    Dec 04, 2009 5:32 PM GMT
    Red_Vespa saidI'm as out as circumstances allow at all times. Around here in the Fort Lauderdale area that means no exceptions, although neither do I flaunt & push it when it's simply inappropriate to the situation. I mean, does every restaurant server need to be told "Did you know I'm gay"?

    But I have lived in places where dangerous situations could arise for me. When other people control the agenda, I see no reason to sacrifice myself to make a point. I intend to live and fight another day.

    Yet I'm hardly a closeted coward. I've twice been in the lead motorcycle escort of the Twin Cities Pride Parade, 3rd largest in the US, riding my bike before hundreds of thousands of spectators and TV cameras, not ashamed to proclaim who I am.

    And that same bike led the first, small gay pride parade in Fargo, North Dakota, just me all by myself out in front. A community where I lived and we didn't know if we'd be shot at, assaulted or what, in a town where our gay club got bullets through it's windows a number of times, and cars outside were vandalized. Where the mayor refused to give us police protection or a parade escort, and to block-off our route, so that every intersection was a hazard.

    I reveal myself as it pleases me, not as it serves to enable my enemies to hurt me. And for that I reject the label of coward or non-supporter of our gay cause. Rather, as former military I recognize it as good tactics. I follow whatever furthers my ultimate aims, because what I was trained to achieve is winning, not losing.


    brilliantly stated sir. i am quite fond of the second paragraph.

    to the op, every day we must pick and choose our own battles, but we must never lose site of the overall goal of full equality and peace of mind. i am reminded of sun tzu's art of war:

    "you must win your battles without effort.
    avoid difficult struggles.
    fight when your position must win.
    you always win by preventing your defeat.

    you must engage only in winning battles.
    position yourself where you cannot lose.
    never waste an opportunity to defeat your enemy.

    you win a war by first assuring yourself of victory.
    only afterward do you look for a fight."


    -from the art of war, sun tzu
    translated by gary gagliardi


    i see nothing wrong with what you chose to do. i see it only as cautionary tactics. if you did not feel comfortable reading those texts to the audience, the more astute members of the audience would pick up on that, and your discomfort would have made them more likely to feel discomforted (even if they may be incline to agree with you). likewise, if you felt perfectly comfortable reading whatever passages would have identified you as a gay man, your comfort with yourself would have made them more likely to be comfortable with it as well (even if they may be somewhat inclined to disagree with you). audiences tend to take their reaction cues from the speaker.
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    Dec 04, 2009 5:33 PM GMT
    Don´t make any more or less of a deal about it than you would about being straight...

    Oh and you only tell waiters if they are hot. icon_wink.gif
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    Dec 04, 2009 5:44 PM GMT
    Cogitor said...i am reminded of sun tzu's art of war:

    "you must win your battles without effort.
    avoid difficult struggles.
    fight when your position must win.
    you always win by preventing your defeat.

    you must engage only in winning battles.
    position yourself where you cannot lose.
    never waste an opportunity to defeat your enemy.

    you win a war by first assuring yourself of victory.
    only afterward do you look for a fight."

    You understand me completely. I spent 25 years in uniform, and despite the popular myth of "victory or death" the truth is we military, at least in the US, were taught sophisticated tactics, that I follow in my private life to this day.

    My goal is to win. It matters not to me if I must retreat today, and suffer a small defeat, if I win in the long run. Ultimate victory is all that counts. As the "Art of War" says, you pick your battles carefully, avoiding the ones you will lose.

    The less sophisticated combatant will let personal agendas get in the way, with issues like personal pride & honor, and drawing arbitrary philosophical lines in the sand. The true professional is like a machine, or a Vulcan, all results, no emotions.

    Until our own gay leaders understand & practice these tactics, we haven't got a chance. But we are by nature emotional creatures, and this is our Achilles heal in this battle. I fear we have little hope. icon_sad.gif
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    Dec 04, 2009 5:52 PM GMT
    I tend to take the stance that who I bum is noone else's business, nor is it the defining part of me; as such, I guess you could say I'm always in the closet. I let people know I'm gay when they need to know.
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    Dec 04, 2009 6:19 PM GMT
    Red_Vespa said
    Cogitor said...i am reminded of sun tzu's art of war:

    "you must win your battles without effort.
    avoid difficult struggles.
    fight when your position must win.
    you always win by preventing your defeat.

    you must engage only in winning battles.
    position yourself where you cannot lose.
    never waste an opportunity to defeat your enemy.

    you win a war by first assuring yourself of victory.
    only afterward do you look for a fight."

    You understand me completely. I spent 25 years in uniform, and despite the popular myth of "victory or death" the truth is we military, at least in the US, were taught sophisticated tactics, that I follow in my private life to this day.

    My goal is to win. It matters not to me if I must retreat today, and suffer a small defeat, if I win in the long run. Ultimate victory is all that counts. As the "Art of War" says, you pick your battles carefully, avoiding the ones you will lose.

    The less sophisticated combatant will let personal agendas get in the way, with issues like personal pride & honor, and drawing arbitrary philosophical lines in the sand. The true professional is like a machine, or a Vulcan, all results, no emotions.

    Until our own gay leaders understand & practice these tactics, we haven't got a chance. But we are by nature emotional creatures, and this is our Achilles heal in this battle. I fear we have little hope. icon_sad.gif


    Couldn't have said it better.
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    Dec 04, 2009 6:42 PM GMT
    I may (I haven't read everyone's comments) be the only one here who sees two issues. One is that you didn't feel the crowd should know about you being gay and that you felt cowardly afterwords. I don't see that as a problem and I understand why you would feel that way. To me the real issue is that you compromised your art. You worked hard to achieve the expression that you wanted in your writing and yet you volunteered to censor your own work.

    There is nothing wrong with wanting to keep your private matters from the public but do you really want to go down a slippery slope of self censorship? At that point it is no longer a private matter but a professional one. Good luck and I hope that wasn't too hard.
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    Dec 04, 2009 7:12 PM GMT
    I don't think there's anything inherently wrong in picking and choosing where you're "out" depending on your intuitive sense of what's safe or not safe. That said, I think you're feeling "cowardly" in this case because it may have been more about your created idea of not being safe rather than an honest instinct. I mean, given that you were extended an invitation to give a reading to a group of literary minded people who by your own admission were "friendly," it doesn't seem all that likely that there would be some sort of riotous outcry that would endanger your livelihood or safety - especially when the gay subtext was there anyway. It sounds like you made a judgment that these people were "conservative" and so you pandered to a panicked thought that said, "What will they think of me???" rather than honestly protecting yourself. Like the above poster said, you compromised your own art and the whole reason you were there in the first place. It's not a big deal in the scheme of things but I think you'd feel a lot better if you risked going all out next time.
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    Dec 04, 2009 7:52 PM GMT
    RunnerBen said

    Have you ever stepped back into the closet like that? Even if you've been out for years (I've been out since 1989): purposely pretended to be straight, in order to avoid . . . well, stressing yourself, awkwardness, the social dynamics that might be involved in coming out again?

    I don't just mean not talking about your sexual orientation, I mean purposely avoiding it: using slippery pronouns, being intentionally vague, not saying things you would normally say.

    If you have had this experience, what do you think about it? It left me feeling a little dishonest and a little cowardly. On the other hand, I'm not always up for potential confrontation or awkwardness. I've given lots of other readings where it felt safe: 99% of them, in fact. This one--I don't know why--just didn't.

    So, yeah: I guess I'm asking people who are out, do you feel like you ought to be out 100% of the time? And if you don't meet that goal, how do you think about those times you don't?


    Good topic. I am out at work to certain people and with certain family (since '93), however there are instances in both situations when I purposefully use "slippery pronouns" and the like when there are unfamiliar circumstances or situations I gauge as not being worth the hassle of the conversation. Some examples --

    Extended family trips during holidays. I would rather not deal with making myself uncomfortable or the family situation uneasy by talking about any guy I am seeing when I'm asked if I "have a girlfriend".. To be honest, it seems like it's unspoken ackowledgement that I'm not "straight".. in my family's eye, I'm in my early 30s and confirmed "single".

    I want to enjoy the rare times I see them and not make it into some situation that is threatening or personally confrontational and my family is very religious. I know that's not the activist thing to do, and trust me, we do have heated conversations about politics and culture from time to time, but in the end, I put myself "back in the closet" in those situations.

    Work. I don't think my sexuality is anyone's business at work.. although some friends / colleagues I have come out to for reasons of lunch dates, etc. For the most part if anyone brings up their wife or something in a work conversation and we're not "friendly", I typically change the topic or give blank stares... Once I did bring up a guy I was seeing when someone else's wife came up and a coworker shot me a very uncomfortable look. The coworker and I have good work relations (and continue to). I guess to me it just exemplified that some things are not appropriate for work conversations.
  • B71115

    Posts: 482

    Dec 04, 2009 8:06 PM GMT
    It's just common sense and isn't restricted to sexuality. If my car breaks down and I'm picked up by a car covered in Obama stickers, I'm probably not going to talk politics. If it's covered by Britni Spears stickers, I'm probably not going to talk about her "music." You're making too much of it, probably because you're defining your whole being as "gay." You are more than that. Furthermore, if you're reading to students, whether you're gay, straight or whatever probably isn't appropriate.
    Don't sweat it.
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    Dec 04, 2009 8:12 PM GMT
    given the circumstance, you seem to have made a good choice. I have had an experience like that. Whenever I'm with new people (for example a new class, party, etc), I don't like people knowing I'm gay, not because I'm closeted but because a) it's no one's business and b) some people can make harsh comments (you wouldn't believe the experience I had in a chemistry class in high school). If they do ask, and usually because "so I heard you're gay...is it true?" I'm perfectly honest with them: "ask my boyfriend". With friends I'm pretty open, but with people I don't know or don't know very well i tend to use vague words and whatnot. It's sort of a double-edged sword since...part of me feels that I'm not being honest.
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    Dec 04, 2009 8:16 PM GMT
    i do it sometimes. like for job opportunities and when networking within the circles of straight individuals. You never know who hold biases. So you do what you must to move forward.
  • DCEric

    Posts: 3713

    Dec 04, 2009 11:06 PM GMT
    I regularly go into countries where sexual activity between men (or women, for that matter) is illegal. The national mindset is different. This is for work, and I have to keep a good relationship with these folks. So when the inevitable question of my martial status comes up, I say I am not. Its easy, and it ends the conversation. In a worse case scenario I get a "Will you get married" and a "Not yet, but maybe in the future." Tends to smooth over things.

    I am telling the truth, but the truth they hear is not the truth I am saying.

    /Aes Sedai, Wheel of Time reference completely intentional.
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    Dec 04, 2009 11:35 PM GMT
    Thanks for some excellent responses. I guess I agree that compromising self expression is problematic for a writer.

    The responses here make me wonder what it means to say you are "out." When should it be active (letting people know you are gay) and when should it be passive (not denying being gay or asserting being straight)?

    I don't believe gay people have a responsibility to be out. But I do think that as adults with dignity, we shouldn't have to lie to anyone about any aspect of who or what we are, sexual orienation included.