Out magazine created more buzz than they have seen in years with their latest cover issue. For those who haven’t seen it, the magazine named its 50 most powerful gay men and women in the United States. On the cover, they included cardboard images of Anderson Cooper and Jodi Foster as emblems of the “glass closet.” In other words, everybody knows that Coops and that girl who was in Candleshoe are homo, but they would never consent to be on the cover of an actual queer publication. This comes in the same week that my new favorite (though rapidly declining) artist Mika also refused to answer questions about his sexuality. Once again the blogosphere plunges into a debate about the expectations of being out or not being out.
To me, though, the recent actions of one celebrity demonstrate the necessity of being out more than all the others. Not only has he skirted the issue, like Cooper and Foster, but now he is going to extremes to prove that he isn’t gay. I think we all know who we are talking about: Ron Stoppable from the Disney Show Kim Possible.
In the earliest days of CoG, I pleaded with Ron to finally confirm what we all knew to be true: He likes the menz. Given that he still attended high school, though, I figured that he just needed some time to come out on his own. It would dawn on him eventually why he found that naked mole rat so interesting.
Within the past month, however, I have grown increasingly leery of his behavior. It’s time for an intervention.
Clearly out of fears that being identified as gay will hurt his career, Ron has suddenly altered his behavior and character in sad attempts to conform with the larger society. In what can only be described as bizarre, Ron started dating Kim Possible. I don’t want to say that Kim is clueless, but I have not seen a beard that thick since I attended a lumberjack meet-and-greet.
Yet, even his dating Kim didn’t stop tongues from wagging. When one of her friends pointed out that something wasn’t quite right about their relationship, he gave up his position on the cheerleading squad. Motivated only by peer pressure, Ron joined the football team.
Now, Ron, it’s not that queer folk can’t play the football. Yet, when one has never, ever expressed any interest in doing so and suddenly takes it up out of the blue, it seems a bit pathological. Ron is becoming paranoid about being outed at any moment.
Now I know that some will protest this. “Wait, GayProf,” a few will say, “It’s a private matter . . . and he is a cartoon.”
Sexuality in our society is never a private matter. If all the heterosexual people in the country said, “We aren’t going to ever discuss our private lives or acknowledge the people who are emotionally significant to us,” then I would say, “Okay, then, we are all being quiet.” That sounds kinda boring, but so be it.
That, however, is not at all the world in which we live. The notion that a “private” space exists that is separate from the public only reenforces the status quo. Constituting queer sexuality as a totally “private” matter ignores the very real consequences of that identity in the public realm. Everything from access to healthcare, inheritance, housing, and even taxes depend on one’s sexual identity in this society.
Even more disturbing to me is that queer people will turn against each other for acknowledging the reality of another’s sexuality. Straight people might find it distasteful that a magazine prints a glossy spread on Jennifer-Brad-Angelina. Nobody, though, considers it a violation of their basic right to privacy to reveal that all three are in (seriously dysfunctional) heterosexual relationships.
We will never be able to muster a fight for sexual freedom if we, as queer individuals, place a premium on secret-keeping. We will never create a sense of community based on self and mutual respect if we maintain silence.
The equation of truth-telling with being “radical” or “violating privacy” is one of the ways that a culture of silence thrives. Homophobic decorum will always promote lying as the best means to deal with minority sexual identities.
Though it has been said many times, I will repeat it: Being out is still the easiest and best way that any individual can promote real change. Yes, there are circumstances where being out is deadly and dangerous. I think that we are all sophisticated enough to know the difference when the situation is a life-threatening one.
This is not to say that I think outing celebrities should be a priority for queer rights. Trying to force people out of the closet also makes being out somehow punitive. That’s probably not a good idea. I also don’t expect any more or less of celebrities than of all queer people.
In the end, though, being out and visible makes a political statement and affirms a commitment that we all (gay, straight, queer, bi, etc.) have something to gain in the fight for sexual freedom. Staying in the closet, in contrast, is always self-serving and only benefits one person.
Because of my blog, I have been lucky to have had a number of men write to me about their own experiences. Several of them have discussed their reasons for being out in small, isolated, and conservative places. Some of have worked in industries or companies where homophobia was not only tolerated, but actively promoted.
Yet, these gay individuals drew on their own courage to be out. In doing so, they made circumstances better for themselves and other gay employees.
If they can do it, where the economic, social, and physical dangers are often real, I think that highly-overpaid and very sheltered celebrities can think of something to say about the question. Perhaps Ron Stoppable will lead the charge for the next generation.