Monday, April 9, 2007

Excuse Me, Can You Tell I'm Gay?

I saw a post over at Blackprof that fits well with the main purpose of my blog, which is to discuss some of the challenges of coming out and to defend people who are not out. There was an interesting story posted by critical race theorist Richard Delgado, which is a story that has become kind of familiar to me from reading, particularly the book I wrote about called "Out & About Campus." It's basically about an assistant law professor who has the dilemma of hoping for tenure--which partially depends on a vote from someone who does not like homosexuals--being asked by students to serve as a sponsor for a gay organization and being closeted. The comments to the post range from typical homosexual hatred towards those who are not out for whatever reasons to those who believe it's his personal decision to come out to comments that have nothing to do with the story. I stopped reading when I started feeling like the comments had deteriorated into nonsense.

I noticed several things. First of all, the professor seems to be worried about people thinking he's a homosexual and his being outed if he chooses to become a sponsor for that organization. Some commentors act like this is an absurd worry and others seem to disregard this as a worry at all, i.e. no matter what he should be out. But, to me, several people confirm why this is a worry--i.e. the assumption that taking the position is synonomous with coming out. It's not an unrealistic worry, as many people on campus would take his accepting the position as a signal that he is gay--especially if they do, as it seems, already suspect that he is--or will, at the very least, start questioning him about it.

Some people acted as if his coming as far as to be a law professor and have "prestige," etc, is exactly why he shouldn't be closeted. But the fact that he has spent all this time and money on undergraduate school, law school, working hard to get amazing grades, and probably jumping through the trying hoops of serving as an editor on Law Review in law school (a prestigious law journal at various law schools), getting published and obtaining prestigious judicial clerkships--all things that seem to be a must for becoming a law professor and many, if not all, of them seeming, at least to me, very hard to get--and to have the chance of receiving tenure, i.e. job security, riding on his being a homosexual...oh, but no matter what he is supposed to be out just because you prefer it?

I'm not saying he should stay closeted. I am sympathizing with his situation, because I see it as a no-win, at least with respect to his job/goals. I'm sorry, but I'm on a law journal, and that experience is a nightmare. Getting top grades in law school seems near impossible to me, and the costs of law school as well as undergraduate school are absolutely ridiculous.The possibility of all that going down the drain and being for nothing would definitely keep me quiet. If any law professor wants to come out, even in the face of possible negative consequences, that is his or her decision. If he comes out, great.

If what he fears happens, he would always have the legal system on his side. Problem with that is I don't know if any other law school would want to hire him if he, for example, sues the school for discrimination based on sexual orientation, and his reputation would be that of the gay law professor who sued his employer, i.e. a troublemaker even if that's not the title he deserves. Even if he stayed at his current school and won the suit, I'm sure the environment would be so tense. Also, it would probably take lots of dollars and several years all for something that he would have rightly deserved without all the trouble. It kind of reminds me of women and rape--no matter what, she looks bad and she gets hurt.

I understand and agree that standing up for these injustices is important. What I don't agree with is that every single person should sacrifice themselves when the opportunity is there. Not everyone is a fighter. That's not the role/burden we all want. There are other people out there who, in a sense, do want it, i.e. they choose to take those in the wrong and/or the system on. As a civil rights attorney approximately a year and a half from now, I might want to fight for these issues as the attorney...but I don't necessarily want to do it as the client. I know this is just going to upset and disappoint some people, but not all gay people care about gay issues the same way and not all of us see coming out the same way. And that's not something that can be forced--some of us will just be more passionate than others. You can't make all of us think and feel the same way just because we share an identity. I think black people are learning this, at least with respect to being black, and now gay people are going to have to learn it, too. While you're at it, learn that the more you alienate people for not being like you, eventually the less they will want to be like or have anything to do with you. At least that's how I feel about gays.

I think the final thought I had was in regards to the comments that I've started seeing more and more from gays, i.e. everyone else already knows your orientation. That's true in many cases, but it's not always true. Furthermore, it's not always the case that people stay in the closet because they think no one else knows. I can't speak about the professor's case. Personally, the only person who has ever asked me about my sexual orientation is my mother. And I do think the kinds of clues mentioned in one of the comments, i.e. being a certain age and still single, not dating women, etc, tip people off, and I think that's basically why my mother has asked me. I have said here that I think people in my family would be crazy not to know, or at least wonder, that I'm not straight. For them, I feel it's denial.

I know gays who are more obvious (i.e. lesbians who are not femme at all) than I am whose parents "don't know"--I think that's denial, too, or not wanting to bring the subject up until their kid which case, I'm going to milk that. I don't care if people suspect. It's fine for them to, and I don't at all doubt that some people do suspect. After all, I give plenty of reasons to, and I do it on purpose a lot of the time. I don't feel as if I have anything to lose, like the professor does, by people knowing or suspecting, just that I have nothing to gain by saying anything.

As far as what other people believe you gain when you come out, I don't think those things apply to me. This might change someday, but at this point I don't feel like it's difficult being who I am or feeling free. What I find difficult, actually, is dealing with and learning about the dynamics of the gay community. But on a personal level, I am fine with where I am right now.

As far as lying by omission, the way I interact with people, telling them that I'm queer would be to bring it up in situations in which it's not called for. It would be an announcement, and that's not my style. If people ask me, I will answer honestly. If I'm in an environment for gays--environments that I would love to be in, if I could just find one that I felt was right for me--I will discuss my sexual orientation. If someone asks me who I have a crush on around campus or in the media, I will be honest about that, too. I'm not going to blurt things out unnecessarily, though. I'm going to treat it as if it's just another normal fact about me because that's how I handle things and that's how I view my queerness. I'm not going to get everyone into one room as if we're trying to start a drug intervention, give a surprise party or some such thing.

All of this is true with everyone except my parents, for many of the reasons listed on PFLAG under the section "Be Clear In Your Own Mind"...because, as mentioned, I don't have answers for people right now. That's fine for everyone but my parents, because with my friends I can tell the truth and they will be understanding. Being that the majority of the answers to the questions under that section are "no," I know that I am not really ready to come out and it's not right for me right now.

Most people who know me will tell you that we talk about them more than me and that getting information from me is often like pulling teeth--you have to ask the questions, I won't volunteer the information. I like it that way; I like being the mystery. And I think it's funny to make people jump through hoops to get to know me. It shows me they are actually interested. ;)

So, for me, the possibility that other people already know is not at all the issue or the point. I don't care if they know, and it would be a relief to me, actually, if my family just told me, "I already know"...except for the fact that I don't think they can know something I don't, i.e. do I just like women or do I like both women and men. I mean, they could know I like women, sure. The bottom line is I just can't really even seriously consider coming out until I have at least two things: more solid answers to provide when I do, and a gay support system.

I don't see why approaching this in, what I feel is, a level-headed fashion and doing what's best for me would disqualify me as a role model or a good choice for serving as a sponsor for a gay organization. It is incredibly disappointing to me that gays either seem to completely forget what coming out is like or think that because they suffer through certain things we all should. I have never had the experience of agonizing over coming out or feeling as if something is wrong with me for being gay. So, I don't know why I would relate to someone who is not out for those reasons more than people who are out now and have been there would. It is a loss for me, though, as well as for those who are closeted for those more typical reasons, and it makes it seem as if the day when I find a gay support system will never arrive.