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Thursday, September 3, 2015

HOW ‘COMING OUT’ SEMANTICS REINFORCE HETEROSEXISM FOR QUEER PEOPLE OF COLOR

The “coming out” paradigm has become rather mainstream (which I actually think is a good thing). But as a result of the mass appeal of “coming out,” it has become sexy and trendy to critique the process of “coming out” for how it reinforces heterosexism. The critique has some validity. After all, why don’t heterosexual people have to “come out” of the closet? However, I resist asserting that the “coming out” paradigm is completely useless or unproductive.

“Empire” television series star Jussie Smollet appeared on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show ostensibly to promote the series and to speak about his portrayal of Jamal Lyon. However, the interview quickly turned personal as DeGeneres seemed to imply a connection between Jamal Lyon’s “coming out” in a recent “Empire” episode and Smollet’s own personal life.

Smollet answered without hesitation that there “is no closet” he has ever existed within. Mainstream LGBT-themed media outlets like The Advocate quickly published stories about Smollet’s “coming out” on DeGeneres’ show. After seeing some of these articles, I came across a segment about Smollet’s statement on writer Janet Mock’s MSNBC show “So Popular,” and her discussion of Jussie Smollet’s interview initiated my own meditation on queer visibility. Indeed, every LGBTQ-themed publication, writer and activist seemed to ready to voice an opinion about what the “Empire” actor’s statement means or does not mean for the visibility of queer people.

In her segment on “So Popular”, Janet Mock mentioned “inviting in” as an alternative language and framework for how lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people choose to announce themselves to the world. I believe that this is also a valid choice for queer people.

But I think what is missing in this push and pull between “mainstream” and “radical” is the fact that many of us existed in contexts in which we were given neither of these choices. For people like myself who have never “passed for heterosexual” (not that I believe “passing” is at all liberating), “coming out” and “inviting in” are not really options because people are perpetually speculating about us, discussing our business, and often “inviting themselves” into our spaces.

Indeed, many of us existed in spaces where our sexualities were so ruthlessly pathologized that “coming out” would have been an invitation for all kinds of violence and abuse. Concurrently, there were not many trustworthy or safe people to “invite in” – people with whom to discuss our fears, our despondencies. So we formulated our own pragmatic tactics for navigating these hostile environments.

I threw myself into my schoolwork. I kept quiet. I kept my head down, and I prayed that people would just leave me alone because I was filled with such a profound sense of shame and fear.

After all of the language policing and intellectualizing, I wonder what makes sense for those of us who have existed and continue to exist in geographies of virulent queer antagonism and shame. Are either “coming out” or “inviting in” viable choices for us? How do we work against an LGBTQ assimilation politics while also respecting that some of our people are still lacking choices? Can we work towards having the most available choices for queer people and resist getting trapped in discussions around language?


Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are still four times more likely than their straight peers to commit suicide. I believe that any measure of visibility, no matter how mainstream, creates a glimmer of hope for these youth. Let the people who want to “come out,” come out. Let the people who want to “invite in,” invite people in. But respect the rest of us who choose alternative methods of navigating a heterosexist world.

SOURCE: MUSDED MAG

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