Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Real Freedom Part 2

I ride the fence on the outing issue. On the one hand, I think everyone who identifies as gay or lesbian should come out as long as there is no threat to your personal safety or that of loved ones or your ability to earn a living. Coming out is liberating; it takes a tremendous amount of work to create a double life, to lie about your family, to live with a sense of shame, buying into the belief that loving someone of the same sex is dirty or base. On the other hand, I believe that rather than forcing someone out is a bit like assault. If you have to force someone out, it is generally because there is, to them, a real threat to their livelihood and well being. Ridding yourself of shame around anything, is a difficult and often painful process, and one that has to happen on its own terms.

I inadvertently outed someone. A former colleague, retired now from the company for almost four years, stopped by to visit someone he used to work with for many years. I asked what I thought were benign questions about his partner, questions I would pose to anyone I knew was married or in a committed relationship, just as you would of someone with a new baby. I didn't use cloak-and-dagger terms. I came right out and used his partner's name. It seems that the person he came to see, someone he worked with for more than 10 years, had never heard him use those magic words "I'm gay" and so, I ended up outing him. A week later, I was pulled to the side and told he never really came out to her, and he was embarassed.

I have to admit I'm guilty of assuming everyone operates at the same level as I do. Every gay or lesbian person I know is out -- it's 2004, for pete's sake. Lavender is the new black. If you live in an urban setting, queer is cool. Hot chicks swapping spit is hot. Well-groomed, good looking gay guys with social graces are trendsetters. Who knew outing was bad?

I was reminded that anyone who isn't white, heterosexual (and preferrably married with kids), upper middle class, and male still isn't accepted or acceptable. Here is a guy in his 60's, with a cardiac surgeon partner, living in an affluent California town, doesn't have to worry about what people think of him who STILL sees himself as objectionable. Sweet Mary McGee, what do you have to do to get some love around here? I feel for the guy. Here he is, living the American dream (or most of it) and he still feels like dirt. Does he think his friends and former co-workers were in the dark? Doesn't he watch television? Read newspapers or magazines? Everybody has some knowledge of "gay". It only strikes a chord with the conservative Christians, and few people really care what they think because they don't like anyone who isn't a Christian conservative, white, male, heterosexual, married, a parent, and upper middle class.

CLICHE WARNING -- I'M ABOUT TO GET CORNY. THOUGHTFUL, BUT CORNY.

From where I stand, freedom isn't always about things getting better. Sometimes it's just about things being different. Or you being different. Sometimes changing the formula slightly makes for something entirely new and awesome. Sometimes it doesn't. But what comes out is real.

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