I’ve long held three basic beliefs about the ethics of coming out:
- Gay people — generally speaking — have a responsibility to our own community and to future generations of gay people to come out, if and when we feel that we can.
- We should all get to decide for ourselves the “if and when we feel that we can” part of that.
- Closeted people should reasonably expect to be outed by other gay people if (and only if) they prey on the gay community in public, but are secretly gay themselves.
I also believe that coming out makes for a happier life, but that’s not a matter of ethics, that’s just corny advice.
Rachel Maddow, Maddowblog
In a previous poll, our readers voted on what they believed were the rules for outing. Half believed outing was never acceptable. 42% believed that it was acceptable if the individual being outed was in some way a hypocrite. 6% of people who answered the poll said that it was always acceptable to out people. This end of the argument is best represented by gossip blogger, Perez Hilton, who says:
It upsets me that people think what I’m doing is a bad thing. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. If you know something to be a fact, why not report it? Why is that still taboo?I know there is some controversy about outing people, but I also believe the only way we’re gonna have change is with visibility. And if I have to drag some people screaming out of the closet, then I will. I think that lot of celebrities have an archaic fear that being gay will hurt their career but look at Rosie. Look at Ellen.
Topitschnig’s reasoning for outing Ellen Page is that he believes she’s being duplicitous because she publicly supports gay rights but remains quiet about her own sexuality. He, like Perez Hilton and Rachel Maddow, points to visibility as an important tool in giving hope to young gay people and asserts,
Ellen Page intentionally portrays herself as open-minded and honest person who stands for her believes. But her actions tell me that she is nothing more than just another Hollywood actor who is more concerned about a good public image and a good business deal.
Christoph Topitshnig, V-Generation
In another post that he wrote earlier, he accused Page of “flaunting” her sexuality in public. I’m curious how one can be called closeted if they are pretty open about being in public with their same-sex partners.
I asked the question “Have the ethics of outing changed?” on my Twitter and most people replied with no, commenting that the author of that post is out of line (I’m paraphrasing the less polite answers).
Writer and actor Racheline Maltese was the only one to answer differently.
The ethics of outing are changing. I think the argument if is we let people stay in the closet, we are accepting shame as valid. Of course, that ignores safety issues and personal right to privacy. On the other hand, at least in Hollywood, I am so over people staying closeted for the sake of their careers. I’m still not going to out people, but I do get where the impetus is coming from.
Nobody is going to argue that visibility isn’t what has got us as far as we are now, and that it realistically will be what gets us all the way to equality. Unfortunately, it’s like trying to find your glasses when you’re not wearing them. Until we have equality (and even after it, really), it will be a different kind of dangerous for everyone to come out. What we risk, individually, varies.
50 years ago, everyone faced serious, significant risk to all areas of their lives. Happily, that’s no longer the case. We hear more and more coming out stories where the reaction is positive — families who are prepared and able to support their queer children, friends and schools and even churches who are happy to embrace queer kids. That’s not the case for everyone, but it’s reality for an increasing number of people.
Could this generational experience of albeit limited acceptance be driving a change in how we view a celebrity’s reluctance to come out? For decades, many of us have experienced intense personal and professional losses for coming out, and while we did it, we understood why others would not. We knew, better than anyone, why someone would remain closeted.
But queer kids now are (happily) less and less likely to have these devastating experiences (many still will, of course) and may be far less patient with wealthy twenty-somethings with body guards who are still somehow terrified.