It’s a question I see a lot. Sometimes it’s bandied about as a badge of honour. In any group dedicated to the reading or writing of queer fiction, there’s a thread somewhere asking who’s ‘out’ and who’s ‘closeted’ about what they do. Most people don’t seem to think it’s a big deal, but I do and here’s why.
Firstly, it’s appropriating the language of oppression and spinning it into something positive. It’s turning the experience of being closeted, which is understood as negative, into something positive. The closet becomes a layer of protection: it allows people to lead their lives without facing any awkward questions or nudges about reading or writing queer fiction. It gives them the freedom to do what they like in private without having to make a public statement of support. Thus the closet becomes liberating. To those of us for whom being gay or bi or trans* is an everyday reality, the closet is stifling. We want to come out of it, even though the abuse we risk facing as a result is a thousand times greater than anything someone who simply enjoys reading about queer experience will ever face.
Here’s the thing: people’s minds don’t just change overnight. There are plenty of folks who think they don’t know anyone who’s LGBT, or who really gives a damn about LGBT rights. They’re aware that out there somewhere in the hypothetical realm this stuff matters, but they don’t think it matters to them. That’s why we keep coming out, to show people that they do know queerfolk. We are the human faces of a heated political debate. Just look how many Republicans have changed their minds about same-sex marriage since their children came out.
Coming out is a hell of a lot easier to do if you know people beforehand who’ll support you. We need our allies to be vocal in their support because there are millions of kids still terrified that if they tell the truth about themselves they’ll lose everyone they love. The last thing we need is our allies to hide behind pseudonyms and snigger online about the fact nobody in their everyday lives knows they read LGBT fiction. What we see, every time one of those debates arises, is people who claim to support us admitting that really all we are to them is fetish.
I’m not saying there aren’t real and valid reasons why people would want to keep their interest and/or involvement in LGBT fiction quiet. Prejudice still exists, and in places where it’s illegal to be queer or you can lose your job for it I understand why people don’t want to be tarred with that brush — especially when they aren’t queer themselves. They don’t have to take a bullet for us; we understand. But there’s a world of difference between a few friends raising their eyebrows at your reading habits, and being kicked out of your parents’ house at fourteen for being gay. Between losing your job because you slip up and mention a same-sex partner (completely legal in 29 states), and getting side-eyed from the guy sitting next to you in the cafeteria who saw a line or two over your shoulder.
Mostly what annoys me is that by accepting anti-LGBT prejudice exists, by hiding from it rather than tackling it, and by joking about it, those people are perpetuating it. It’s not a laughing matter if you’re ‘in the closet’ about your interests. It royally sucks. You’re a victim of the same oppressive culture as us, whether you realise it or not. You should be angry about that, not amused. And you should be doing your damnedest to ensure you aren’t perpetuating that oppression by kowtowing to it.
So let’s make a pact to agree not to assume prejudice exists. I know from speaking to people who’ve read my books that they come from all manner of backgrounds — from LGBT folk to fundamentalist Christian ladies (I shit you not), from mothers and grandmothers to even the occasional straight guy. What all of those people have in common is not a prurient interest in what men get up to between the sheets (okay, well not only…) but the understanding that love is love, in whatever form it takes. And love is something too beautiful to ever be hidden in the closet.