The Cult of Melinda

The gAyTM is closed! No gay rights, no gay $$$!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Visibility and the Closet

I'm a bit under the weather, so forgive me if this post wanders a bit or begins to make no sense whatsoever.

In response to my previous post, "Gay v. Black", a friend picked up on my comment that segregating LGBT people didn't happen because, in part, we are "less visible." I'd like to expound on that. (I'll briefly add that segregating gay people would be possible just not in the same way as more visible minorities. Doing so would take something along the lines of the Nazi segregation of the Jews and the requirement that gays wear some visible symbol. During the Holocaust, gay concentration camp victims wore an upside down pink triangle. Yes, that is where we got that symbol.)

First, we are less visible but not invisible.

My friend pointed out that I'm a bit masculine in some ways but visibly feminine in others. In my youth, I was even more visibly feminine. I wore more feminine clothes, had long manicured nails and wore my hair all the way down to my butt. I was even seen, on occasion, in skirts and (GASP!) makeup. My much-discussed curves were quite visible by the time I was 14. Did my overt femininity allow me the ability to hide amongst the heterosexuals? Not at all.

When I tell my "coming out" story, I usually tell people about my telling my mother and her response that she'd known since I was in elementary school. Unfortunately, the story is a bit more complicated than that. You see, I was "outed" at school before I even realized I was gay. It's a bit of a long story but that's the gist of it. I didn't know I was gay and hadn't given much thought to my sexual orientation. Someone else suspected. Soon, I was the school lesbian with all the harassment that came along with the designation. Eventually, I realized the rumors were true. I was gay! That was a huge surprise and a major trauma in the "my life as I'd known it was over" kind of way.

As time went on, I embraced my natural butchness, but have never been particularly manly. I still pass quite effectively to some extent. Men still come on to me and are often surprised to be told that I'm gay (even when I'm wearing men's clothes). Apparently, people assume I'm too "pretty" to be a dyke. (Don't get that from either end, but whatever.)

On the other hand, I've often been detected long before doing or saying anything overtly gay. When I moved into the dorm, the rumor immediately went around that a lesbian was moving in. This happened before anyone had spoken to me or my roommate, who knew the first day. I was wearing jeans and a 10,000 Maniacs t-shirt and had hair to the middle of my back. I wasn't "stereotypically" gay-looking, in other words. When I started work at a tourism company, the rumor that the new girl was a lesbian started before I'd had a chance to meet my coworkers. Keep in mind that I wore the same uniform as everyone else, although I did have shorter (but not manly) hair at that point. Again, I wasn't stereotypically gay-looking.

You see what I mean? Less visible not invisible.

Secondly, we oppose the closet, not just because we shouldn't have to hide or because some of us can't, but because it is destructive.


Hiding yourself because some aspect of your identity is deemed repugnant by the greater society can lead to devastating consequences. Hiding leads to shame, loss of self esteem and positive self-image, guilt, overwhelming loneliness, etc., especially since hiding one's sexuality in a hypersexualized society means constantly lying to everyone you know, including those who are supposed to love you unconditionally. This leads you to question whether the people in your life actually love you, whether they would hate you if they knew, and whether any of your relationships are valid or real. These concerns lead to a constant overwhelming fear of being found out and being punished for who you are. These feelings of fear, inadequacy, inferiority and isolation lead to alcohol and drug abuse, unhealthy sexual relationships, self-destructive behaviors, depression, and suicide for far too many LGBT people. (I speak, I'm sad to say, from personal experience.)

Our opposition to the closet, therefore, isn't just a political point or an ideological principle. It's a matter of defending our ability to survive and to live physically and psychologically intact.

Finally...

Every LGBT person who's ever come out chose to risk rejection, hatred, violence, discrimination and other forms of abuse rather than continue to live in the daily torment produced by the closet. Make no mistake that those risks were real and are too often realized in our daily lives. Think about that and I think you'll understand a little better how horrid the closet really is.

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