Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Argument for Being Out

Coming out is both a political and personal issue facing our community. It’s political because the more people who are out about their sexuality, the harder it is to stereotype and discriminate against gay people. It’s a personal issue because each has to live the consequences of their sexuality being known by the people around them. I know that being out has been one of the best experiences for me. There was a time when I was very uncomfortable telling people that I was gay. I was lucky that I was never conflicted about my sexuality because it would have complicated matters even more. I knew I was gay from a very young age, and while I didn’t have a name for it until my teenage years, I didn’t have to question it like so many people do. Some of us even go as far as believing that they had some sort of choice in the matter. I suppose that’s their experience and they have a right to it, but all the evidence from the experiences recorded in sociological research and medical documentation suggests that sexuality is assigned at birth, or a very early age, and is not chosen. And while sexuality is a huge part of who we are, it’s not the only part that matters. I feel like a lot of people choose to stay in the closet because they don’t want that aspect of themselves overshadowing their other qualities. I understand that inclination, but I want to propose a positive argument for why it’s important to take that risk because the benefits far outweigh the possible negative consequences.

Writer’s Block and The Closet
Being closeted has many negative consequences that go overlooked, but the biggest of which is having an unhealthy relationship with deceit. As a writer, most of the time I found myself blocked because I was too concerned about what other people would think about what I wrote. This paralleled my fears of what people would think about me if they knew I was gay. And since I was getting away with lying about my sexuality, or, so I thought, I figured that I could get away with hiding other unpleasant facts about myself. But if there is any universal rule about writing, one that we should all aspire to no matter what, it is to always tell the truth. Even if you’re writing fiction, even if your audience buys into your lies, even when you're lying so well that you have yourself convinced, something doesn’t feel right about stories that don’t honor the truth. Even if we don't know what exactly is wrong, it’s something  we can instinctively feel. Inauthentic writing is bad writing. And even though I wasn’t writing about my sexuality yet, being closeted gave me an unhealthy comfort with inauthenticity that blead into all areas of my writing.

I’m proud of the articles that I’ve published in M3. Most of them are general opinion pieces about culture and relationships, some deal with sexuality, but all of them are authentic. We write about what is important to us in our lives. They happen to be written by gay black men of a certain size, but they are not written just for us. We’re just talking about life from our perspective and in the context of a world that will often marginalize and separate us, but the truth of the matter is we share so many common experiences that we can’t help but have a lot of crossover with all the kinds of topics you read in any men’s interest magazine. The fact is if I wanted to reach a larger audience I could easily leave out discussions about gay culture and sexuality, but in the process I would lose something far more important. Authenticity is the essence of good writing. It’s also the key to living your best life possible. It shouldn’t be underestimated how damaging being in the closet can be toward living an inauthentic life.

An obvious advantage to being an out gay writer is that when the topic of homosexuality or gay marriage comes up we at M3 find ourselves in a privileged position of being considered experts in the field. We’re able to talk about those topics because of our experience talking about it even when it isn’t popular. Our opinions are taken more seriously because of our insider knowledge of those issues and because of the authenticity that pervades all of our writing and commentary. That doesn’t mean we should limit ourselves to just talking about gay issues, and we don’t. But many people choose to be in the closet because they fear they will be limited by their sexual identity. It's not an unwarranted fear, but it's something you can combat as an out gay man, and as long as you don't limit yourself.

I love being a gay man. I’m out and I’m proud to be a part of this community, but it’s not the only community of which I’m a member. I think I have just as much right to talk about my weight issues as any straight guy, but many gay men remain in the closet because they believe that if they are out they would be pigeonholed into being the gay guy who talks about weight loss. Being closeted would also deny any role my sexuality may play in how I approach issues. I'll discuss how gay men are much more body conscious because of the male gaze and the mechanism of male desire, but it shouldn’t be a hinderance to me writing clearly about the subject. In fact, I would say it enhances my ability to write and gives me even more angles to approach my subject matters. I used to write extensively about politics, but I would never approach the issue of gay marriage comfortably or with the level of insight I now have. I felt awkward being dishonest about my sexuality and so I avoided gay subject altogether. There was a serious gap in the way that I saw the issues because of the way I interacted with people as a closeted gay man. Now that I live with greater regard for telling the truth I'm also a better writer.

Giving Them A Weapon

There’s something liberating about not having to self police your thoughts and actions and letting things fly free. I can tell things about myself that I could never do as a closeted man simply because I feared it could be used against me. As an out and proud gay men, I’ve given the haters all the ammunition they need to cut me down and I’m still standing. I’m giving them this weapon because the fear of it being used is far more damaging than the impact of it being used. Overcoming this fear is almost like having a superpower. Once I tell them that I like to suck dick, and I’m proud of it, what do I have left to be embarrassed about? Am I going to feel bad about liking The Hobbit and Magic The Gathering? What could be  more unpopular than a guy having an aversion to pussy? Freedom is not being overly concerned about the good opinions of other people. I’m human, and I still care what other people think, but I don’t care so much that I have to think about it all the time. Being in the closet meant being in a constant state of concern. Once that weapon was proven to be powerless against me, I live with more confidence.

Dating someone in the closet
I recently asked a question about dating someone who was in the closet in the M3 Hot Topic post. I post the Hot Topic on my timeline as well as on Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and several Facebook groups and pages. In the thread on my timeline, there was some back and forth about whether or not it was something we should do. Some swore they would never date anyone in the closet while others said that for them it was impossible to date someone was out. I love a good debate, and everyone was respectful of each other’s opinions, but I could also see a deep frustration in the comments. How could someone have such diametrically opposed beliefs in something so fundamental? I thought about my history with closeted men and how I was proud of how discreet I was. I was told by a few DL meant hat fucking around with me never got in the streets and I suppose that was true because while I never considered myself to be DL, I wasn’t exactly advertising it either.

Even now, I must admit I feel a little uneasy talking about my sexuality in mixed company. It’s not that I’m ashamed of being gay; it’s just new territory for me. The more I do it, the more comfortable it gets. Still, I don’t go to a coffee shop and say “hey, I’m a gay man who would like some coffee please,” I just order coffee. I assume that they assume I’m straight, but I’m not invested in whether or not they think so.

There was a time when I did police my actions, making sure I didn’t walk too girly, making my voice deeper, consciously attempting to appear to be straight. But my experience with DL men taught me there’s a big difference between a mild discomfort with exposing your sexuality to full-on paranoia of people finding out. When the DL dude I was seeing would come over he made sure to park a block away and surveil the house for a while. When we got to my room, he would always  sit on the floor and asked me to turn out the light just to make sure no one could see him through the window. He would ask me questions about the people I knew to make sure we didn’t run in the same social circles. And the few times we did run into each other in public it was clear that I made him very uncomfortable.

It was so important that he kept his sexuality a secret that years later he was convicted of killing someone who outed him. During the time I knew him I had no problem keeping his secret since I wasn’t out. I never imagined that he was troubled enough to kill someone to keep his secret. I felt a little pride when he said to me that he felt safe when he was with me and that he could trust me cause I wasn’t about being messy. And as much as I would never do that sort of thing today I found our secrecy exciting and sexy. But I wouldn't call what we did dating. I didn’t hold any illusions of us ever being more than sex partners, occasionally I fooled myself into believing we might be friends, but those guys who only day men on the DL must have an experience much different than mine because I couldn't begin to call what we had a relationship. We saw each other for years before I knew his real name. So when I read in the M3 Hot Topic thread that there were people who wouldn’t date someone who is out I took it to mean they mean  discreet rather than DL. The DL men I’ve known haven’t had much to offer in terms of an actual relationship, and yet what they had wasn’t exactly worthless either.

The 24/7 Gay
The guys who said they would refuse to date someone who was out probably exchanged the term “out”  for what Breeze has called the 24/7 gays.  The 24/7 gays are the guys who can’t do anything except be gay in every possible scenario. They do everything in the gayest way possible. Weather it be on purpose or because they cannot control it, there's no ambiguity about their sexuality. I’m not a 24/7 gay. Sure, I feel comfortable being the gay guy in most situations, but I’m not so comfortable with my sexuality that I need to announce it to everyone either. Some situations, I dare say; most situations don't require that I say anything about my sexual orientation. I would just like to feel free to be myself whenever it feels appropriate. Not everything is about my sexuality, and if it comes up, I feel empowered to talk about it openly. If I were in the closet, I wouldn’t be able to do that. And that is something I won’t live with anymore.

The one thing that the 24/7 gays have over us simply out guys is that they’re often more comfortable being a stereotype. Once you’ve taken all the abuse that can be thrown at you and survived it, what more do you have to be afraid of? Face it, unless you’re a 24/7 gay, you don't just come out the one time, you come out over, and over, and over again to everyone new that you meet. Sometimes it’s a surprisingly pleasant experience, while at other times you’re told they don’t ever want you to spend time alone with their children for the fear that you're a sexual predator. Even being out doesn’t shield you completely from being hurt, but the process of coming out not only reveals things about yourself to the people around you, it reveals things about them to you. Walking around the world as an out gay man means living in a different world, one of which the closeted man seems to  imagine only the negative aspects.

In the end, I think keeping a secret as big as who you’re in love with is giving your power away. Anyone who finds out about it will have the power to control you. I say to those closeted men that are afraid to come out that your fear is worse than the reality, but the reality isn’t exactly roses and butterflies either. Your fear of being outed is controlling you, making you lie to people you love, people who might have closer relationships with you if you were to give them a chance.  Because you fear what some may think or say about your private life, you close yourself off from people who would accept and love you for who you are. I don’t like the idea of giving someone that much power over me. I’d rather keep what little control I have and reap the rewards of living an authentic life in the process.

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