A year ago, I wrote a post about being closeted. Specifically, straight people being “closeted” about reading or writing LGBT fiction. I talked about the importance of being open about that one small thing, not hiding your ally status from the world like it’s something shameful, because we need all the allies we can get.
Today, I want to go further. You see, this language of being “in the closet” gets bandied around about all sorts of things, and is used frequently when allies and aficionados of LGBT fiction (romance, particularly) discuss how they represent themselves in their everyday lives. I can understand the appeal of using that vocabulary. It seems fitting, given the context. But here’s the thing: every time someone talks about “coming out of the closet” by telling a friend of relative they like LGBT fiction, they’re likening that experience to what a fifteen year old goes through telling his fundamentalist Christian parents he’s gay. One of those things is not like the other. I would go as far as to say it devalues and demeans our experiences of coming out as LGBT by comparison.
For those of us who are LGBT, the closet is not a safe space where we can hide from the jocular ribbing of friends and relatives. It’s a claustrophobic, stifling corner in which we hide the truest part of ourselves for fear of what would happen if we were ever found out. Some of us — too many of us — lose our friends and families, our homes and livelihoods, and sometimes even our lives, when we finally come out. Yet we come out, and we keep coming out, every day, to all sorts of people, because not to do so feels oppressive. It feels like living a lie.
Moreover, when our allies talk about being “closeted” about something as simple as reading/writing LGBT fiction, it reinforces the impression that anything LGBT-related is inherently shameful. That our allies are ashamed to be reading about queer lives. And how do you think that feels to those of us who are living queer lives?
Why does the word “gay” stick in your throat when you tell a friend or parent or sibling or spouse what kind of romance you read?
I’m not saying go into work and announce to your conservative boss that he should rethink his political position because two men getting it on is hot, but why can’t we use LGBT fiction to start a debate about LGBT equality? Perhaps if we heard the word “gay” a little more often, it wouldn’t stick in so many throats. It wouldn’t be synonymous with shame and guilt. If more people spoke up, perhaps the voices that sounded loudest wouldn’t be right-wing zealots spewing hate and lies.
Perhaps, if more people spoke up, we wouldn’t need closets at all.