Monday, October 5, 2009

On the Perils of the Closet

When it comes to dating, I am like most other folks. I look for attractiveness, intelligence, a sense of humor, an open mind, all of the usual. But I also make it clear that I am looking for someone who is out, at the very least to his immediate family and friends. I think that it is a perfectly reasonable request.

Interestingly, I have found some push back to that, particularly with other black gay men. I was told recently that my desire for wanting to date guys who are out was "limiting." He is right, and I'm cool with that. On a date a while ago, when I talked about some gay issue I'd discussed at my old job, old boy was shocked that I would discuss "my business," a phrase I loathe, at work. I challenged him on his notion that talking about gay issues in the work place constituted "my business." By the end of the date, I was told that I was "too out" for him. I simply saw myself as living my life.

I admit that I have near zero tolerance for the realm of the "DL (down low)." I try to confine my exposure to that world to the pages of an E. Lynn Harris novel. I also differentiate between the DL person and someone who is closeted and trying to find his way out. The latter person, it seems, is on a trajectory to becoming an out gay person. The former seems to be quite comfortable where he is.

I raise this issue in light of two stories I've seen in the news. I saw the first story at Rod 2.0, which is about a former evangelical minister who is on trial for murdering the girlfriend of his housemate (a man he hit on continually apparently). The second is an AP story I found on Google News. It's about a former judge who has been accused of having sex with prison inmates in exchange for grants of leniency.

Do I know truly if either of these men are really gay? Nope. But the evidence certainly points boldly in that direction. I did wonder how different their lives would have been if they'd felt comfortable enough with themselves and/or their families to come out as gay men. I doubt we'll ever know, and I am confident that these men will go to their graves denying any homosexual feelings, tendencies or the like.

When I think of the closet, I think of struggle. In a better world, I would have come out in my teens, instead of my mid-20s. I held back out of fear. For example, I avoided playing football, and I would have been quite good, until graduate school (intramural football), because of fear. I pretended to be interested in women out of fear. I tried to exist in the midst of a lie that I knew wasn't working. Those were years of pain, sublimation and obfuscation, so why would I want to date someone who actively tries to remain in that space? Why would someone revel in that world, as those on the DL seem to pretend to do?

I wish that these two men had been able to be open about who they were and what they liked. Instead, the world gets to see, once again, the pathologies that the closet can create. And with regard to my fellow black men (others as well), I hope that we will see a rapid declension in the population of the DL world. But that will require courage, fortitude, honesty and strength on the part of those who live in that world. Will we see those numbers fall, or will we continue to see lives lived in fear, and/or stories like the aforementioned?


Anonymous said...

Your "Perils" post brings to mind a documentary I just enjoyed. HBO's Outrage was broadcast on Monday night and is now available "On Demand."

Enjoyed is really not a good word choice. I found it to be riveting and thought provoking, and from what I have read of your blog, I believe you would find it to be of high interest. I encourage you to pursue a viewing opportunity.

To my mind, it is a bit -- just a bit -- of a redemption for HBO's pre-inauguration snub of Bishop Gene Robinson.

hscfree said...

I missed the showing when "Outrage" opened in DC, and I've certainly seen some of the people in the film out and about. And I agree with you that Bishop Robinson was absolutely snubbed by HBO.

Mike said...

I know ... let's all find Jesus! ... that'll "cure" us of that pesky gay thingie .. Oops! ... He ran around with 12 guys, disappeared for LONG periods of time (hiking in the Appalachians, perhaps?) ...

It's not about being "out" ... it's about being able to live our lives ... as a late bloomer, to use a horrible phrase, I don't EVER wanna go back into that creepy closet again!

Anonymous said...

Check out the readers' comments on Queerty about the Alabama judge. I would be interested in your opinion.

Anonymous said...

You impress me as being very politically astute. I don't know that you will read this in time, but I believe you would find the following broadcast to be worthy of your time:

Tuesday - Oct. 6th - 9:00P Eastern
C-Span Special Orders
Patrick Murphy, a primary sponsor of a bill to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, will be addressing the C-Span cameras.

He needs and deserves our support.

Anonymous said...

I wish had something substantial to add, but you've said it all. I agree completely. It's really quite sad that people think they're fine living like that. You're certainly justified in not wanting to deal with all the baggage that comes along with a guy on the dl. Going to HSC, I've had plenty of experience with guys like that, and it's frustrating. (Especially when you think he's dating you but then you find out he's also dating a Sweetbriar girl. But I digress.) I do have a problem with people who feel the need to be OUT out, meaning those gay men who must tell everyone, or who make being gay their identity. But I know that's not what you're proposing, either. Everyone needs to find a comfortable middle ground between the two extremes, and you're right in identifying that being closeted IS an extreme.
-Brandon W.
PS Can't wait to see you at homecoming!

Anonymous said...

I was intrigued reading about the perils of being a gay man seeking a loving relationship with someone who is themselves fully. In part of the post you mentioned the struggles of a high school student finding his place. I'm wondering if you've the the NYT magazine that focuses on out teenagers? If there is any joy for those younger than yourself who seem to be finding some space to come out earlier?

hscfree said...

@Anonymous #5: I did read the article in the nytimes mag, and I think I am still gobsmacked by the things I read. It is incredible to know that kids are out and proud in ways that i couldn't have imagined in my wildest adolescent fantasies. And though I know it's not an easy road for the majority of glbtq kids, it's worlds better than it was.

Anonymous said...

Do think it is appropriate for straight folks to talk about their sex lives at work?

Anonymous said...

"Do I know truly if either of these men are really gay?" How would we REALLY know? Is there a way to REALLY know? Would such knowledge have policy implications?

hscfree said...

Anon #6: If you mean discussions about spouses, fiancees, girlfriends or boyfriends that we normally hear in the workplace, then of course that is acceptable. However, and I am guessing here, your question seems to be leading to some notion that me mentioning what, say, my boyfriend (I don't have one yet) and I having done something over the weekend, like travel out of town, is somehow bringing my sex life into the workplace.

Hell, any str8 talking about their children inadvertantly let it be known that at some point in the past, sex was had. Pregnant women display the result of their sex lives.

So, why do you ask?

Anon #7: The ramifications of these men accepting their gayness, if that is their truth, are not based on policy. It's possible that a woman would not be dead now, or that a judge would still have his job; they would have had proper sexual outlets and not descend into bizarre behaviours.

Of course, I know that I am gay, just as my heterosexual friends know that they are straight.

Anonymous said...

I think the nature of the conversation matters (graphic or general), that why I asked. I think it is interesting how quickly the social burden has shifted. 10 years ago, gay activists were saying that conservatives shouldn't be telling them what to do in the bedroom. Today it is gay activists who are telling the rest of society that being left alone is not good enough. Society must bless and celebrate them. Nothing less is acceptable. Who is pushing their values on whom?

On your last point, it is not clear if you are intending to lay out some kind of principle. Are you saying that being gay is simply a process of self-identification? Or is it biologically based? What if someone identifies as straight and then gay? Or the reverse? Is it mutable? I thought one of the premises of the gay rights movement was that being gay was biologically determined and was not a choice. The point being if it were a choice, then there would be less of an analogy to the black civil rights movement. You will think I am being argumentative, but this is an important issue. For most straight men, their sexuality is not a spectrum. It doesn't change. And it is hard to understand a proposal that sexuality is somehow dynamic.

hscfree said...

My point is plain. Around the same time, it appears, that I realized I like guys, my friends were also discovering who they liked. But it was made clear to me that the direction my interests moved was the "wrong" direction for the larger society. The dynamism that exists in sexuality is, in my opinion, less a function of people moving along a spectrum than it is a coping mechanism for accepting one's actual orientation. Because society is heteronormative, then of course str8 folks feel that their development is normal. It's the rest of us who feel forced to conform. But, it's important to note that now kids are coming out younger and younger, meaning that they are being honest earlier and earlier. Over time, this will be a good thing, because you will have fewer and fewer reasons for a closet, thus fewer incidences of the problems the closet can bring.

Anonymous said...

Is being gay biologically determined? Do all people living a gay life have a gay gene?

hscfree said...

Turn your question around and ask yourself the same thing. Personally, I don't know that answer. No one seems comfortable believing people who've made it clear that they have only felt one way sexually (I am one of those people), and in many ways, the question is dismissive of that reality, as though I am lying, as though I am just holding out on some woman.
I know that I did not make a conscious decision about my sexual orientation. There are millions of others who likely would say the same.
And is there a str8 gene that you can identify that I've missed in the news?

Anonymous said...

Gay folks have made the argument that their sexual preference is biologically determined. If that is true, scientist should be able to do a test that determines if a person is straight or gay. This does not seem to be a revolutionary proposition. That biological determination is the foundation of the push for new rights. If the behavior was a choice there would less leverage to bend society to accommodate someone's choice. They question is: are there people out there living a gay life that are not biologically gay? I think it is fair to say, yes. You seem reluctant to do so. If so, do they also get these new special rights?

hscfree said...

And I would ask you are there people out there living the straight life that are not biologically straight? The answer is most likely yes, as the answer would be to your question. The problem is that you set your question up to argue that somehow gay rights are special rights. It's clear that you can turn that question around toward straight and straight acting people. Marriage rights are actually an example of special rights, all 1,100 of them.

Anonymous said...

In my view, the individual or group that is pushing to change the status quo has the burden of proof, not the other way around. Substitute the word "special" for "new."

hscfree said...

Bullshit! Shift that from sexual orientation to race, and you might see the problem with the notion of burdens of proof.

By the way, I didn't catch when you chose to become a heterosexual.

Anonymous said...

Ouch. I didn't think that was such a revolutionary concept. This might be a partial answer to your question on why some people are liberal and some are conservative. Liberals (you) think that the status quo must defend itself, while I (as a conservative) think that people proposing change must explain why they want a change.

I'm also struck by the extent to which you rely on the civil rights movement to support any and all social/legal changes. Since change was appropriate once, does that mean all changes all the time are appropriate?

Finally, look at how much you are willing to destroy, attack, or dismiss in order to get what you want. You attack and dismiss all religious faiths, you embrace polygamy and incest, anyone who disagrees is a bigot, the military must be dramatically changed…it goes on and on. How much of the world must be turned upside down to satisfy this constituency? And then, when we are done remaking the world in this image, will everyone be satisfied?

hscfree said...

Your last paragraph is funny. How is acknowledging what other religious faiths (if you mean religious faiths the world over) have dictated attacking and dismissing. You might want to re-examine some of the world's religions. You raised the idea of
"embracing" incest. I've never said that, not once. But last I checked, people who are related, albeit distantly, are allowed to marry (think Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt) already. And, last I checked, polygamy is an accepted practice within Islam, hardly a minor religion.

You are focused on a uniquely American construction of religion. You aren't concerned about the fates of other faiths, just your own.

As I mentioned to you before, the slippery slope argument does not work for me, because we already exist in a world where some of the things you worry about already exists. Just because it's against the law here in the U.S. doesn't mean that another culture, another religious people don't embrace it for themselves.

And you still haven't mentioned when you chose heterosexuality for yourself. But you can "tell me" that I embrace polygamy and incest. I am simply acknowledging that those things exist in the world, and have, to some degree, been accepted. I even gave examples. Yet, you still cannot tell me when you chose heterosexuality for yourself.

And that's fine, because to do so would kill the argument with which you feel most comfortable: that homosexuality is something that people select to participate in in all instances. Of course it makes no sense, and clearly the word of a living, breathing gay person is not sufficient, because his/her reality doesn't fit within your theory.

Micheal Sisco said...

Oh, good Lord ... we're STILL trying to find out whether or not I was born liking men's pee-pees? Really?

Does it -- and should it -- matter?

I think not.

I'm thinking that the "biological" argument has arisen from the centuries-taught notion that somehow, homosexuality is wrong (gasp!) ... that we have to justify ourselves by saying "we can't help it ... we were born that way .."

What a load of crappola.

So I don't like girls. Even the alleged god didn't like girls (he didn't even have the cajones to cop a feel with Mary ... sent some other dude -- holy spirit or some such -- to do it for him). Guess he didn't have the str8 gene after all.

And just how, pray tell, does accepting homosexuality, allowing them to live openly, get married, go to church (if they must) and what not lead to polygamy and incest?


I'm still waiting for Massachusetts, Iowa, Maine and the other states who have taken the "don't give a crap" step to be smitten by our vengeful you-know-who. Still waiting for the earthquakes, the mass chaos, the legalized incest and out-in-the-open barnyard sodomy.

*tapping fingers*

Having said all that, I DO think that our community has -- a-la the Democrat Party -- done much to shoot itself in the foot on the subject.

The Berts and Myrtles out there in the heartland have a difficult time watching CNN or their local news channel covering the latest gay pride parade and watching two guys or two gals basically have sex on the streets. And, for the record, they don't like that kind of stuff when the cameras focus on Carnival or Mardi Gras.

The good news is that we -- as a nation -- are evolving. We're getting to the point where the majority of Americans are coming around to the "don't give a hoot" side. The Bible thumping, God-will-strike-us-dead crowd is in a state of apoplexy over it, but even they will get it eventually. And then, just maybe they might turn their attention to, I don't know, the Sermon on the Mount ... you know, things like "blessed are the meek," "blessed are the peace makers" ...

I'm hopeful

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I misunderstood you on incest. I thought you had supported cousins marrying…and here you cite Roosevelt, so I am still confused. OK for non-fertile siblings to marry, or not? If not, why not?

I am interested in all religions; I’ve visited lots of non-Christian countries and been quite fascinated. I’ve been in countless Buddhist temples and more than a few mosques in the last few years. But again, I thought it was you who was so skeptical of religion generally. I remember you taking some pretty wide swipes at religion on other posts. Perhaps you just meant to criticize Christianity. Which one do you find is supportive of gay marriage? Islam?

I’m not sure that just because something goes on in another culture that is an automatic validation of that practice. In Africa they killed twins, and sometimes still do. Surely we don’t want to import that practice?

I’ve never said that I think being gay is a choice in all instances and you know that. In fact I’ve never stated a view on it, trying instead to draw you out on your perspective. But since you bring it up, I think there probably is a biological component to being gay. But I also think that there are some folks who are living a gay life that don’t have that component. I find these folks to be problematic from a policy point of view since “it’s not a choice” is a big part of the foundation for gay policy agenda. I don’t know what impact they would have on policy choices, but I am amazed at your resistance to recognizing that they exist. Or maybe you don’t agree that there are non-biological gays.