Closet Politics

I think it’s wicked hella dick to out someone, and it’s NEVER going to be a Good Thing to do, or even an Okay Thing, considering how much very real personal and professional and emotional risk it puts the outed person into in our homophobic society (irrespective of privacy concerns and the nebulous boundaries of whose secrets are whose in an illicit tryst and whose audience for outing is whose, and what levels of “public” audience the parties in question are comfortable with, etc. etc.); and that’s true no matter what one’s sociopolitical reasons are for such an act.

So while I get and very much sympathize with where Azariah Southworth is coming from in his article, “I Hooked Up With a Gay Evangelical Christian — Here’s Why I Outed Him”, defending his actions in outing Jonathan Merritt– in his words, “I’m tired of my humanity as a gay man being invalidated by hypocritical leaders like Jonathan, who then expect my support in return”– I still think that he did something really, really shitty, even if exposing that hypocrisy was the less “Wrong” choice for him to make (and obviously, that’s a highly personal choice, already highly politicized without the addition of individual political significance extending beyond one’s marginalized and political identities– and trickier still when mixing politics and religion). But I also happen to think that not every shitty, horrible, ethically debatable or even outright immoral act is necessarily ALWAYS the “Wrong” choice, even if the article is fairly self-interested in a way I found slightly grating (this may just be Southworth’s writing voice, though, and articulating personal issues can be awkward at best, so that aspect’s nbd, as far as I’m concerned).

The place where this gets muddy for me is that even though I do come from the “make an omelet, break some eggs” school (and fwiw I am also from the “everybody’s business is their own and privacy is incredibly significant and important” school, hence the preference for “I may be an asshole, but I’m not the wrongest one here” statements), I have to question the value of outing hyperconservatives to begin with. It serves to delegitimize their evangelism, obviously, and may unseat some of their personal power, but it does nothing to further an anti-homophobic agenda when the homophobes who conditionally gave them that power then withdraw it and turn the outed person in question’s queerness into a media punchline while another (possibly also self-loathing undercover queer) bigot steps up to fill the vacuum.

Not that they don’t necessarily deserve it for being exploitative hypocrital condescending shitbags concerned only with maintaining a status quo in which they can effectively “pass” and gain/protect the legal rights and privileges of the cisheteropatriarchy’s èlite, but it “feels” like a misaimed allocation of energies, imo. It’s a self-satisfying act, and while those can be awesome, nothing else of value seems to be gained from the sensationalism surrounding an invasive and spiteful outing. I’m not sure the grief deliberate nonconsensual outing causes people, even if it’s simply exposing the truth, is necessarily worth whatever small gains one can glean from taking away the agency and chosen manner of living from an outed person and their loved ones– at least, not unless the person in question has enough personal power that their homophobic shoes won’t necessarily be refilled in their forced absence from the conversation on LGBTQ rights (or whatever the case may be); or that that absence, even if temporary, is long enough to stall oppressive action that the outed person was/is a part of.

Tl;dr I don’t care who you are I still think outing someone who’s chosen to remain closeted is an asshole move of debatable and limited usefulness at best. *shrugs*

But then again, I’m a cishet femme WoC with substantial lightskinned/passing privilege myself, so I’m not coming from a place where the realities of living closeted, living out, and living under the risk of being outed are mine to speak on. Anyone more (or equally, or less!) “qualified” have any thoughts?

Comments

  1. Lindsey says

    Outing someone is worse than exposing a heterosexual affair because of the noted issues of homophobia involved, but exposing the hypocrisy of so-called moral leaders is one essential part of a large resistance pie. When they condemn divorce and adultery while abandoning their wives with cancer for younger models, they deserve to be called on it–and calling for limitations on the civil rights of other homosexuals while enjoying homosexual sex in private, protected by the veneer of heterosexual male privilege, is in this same league.

    It is far from the most effective tool in the anti-conservative chest, and it is honestly a pretty nasty thing to do, but I can’t condemn it as a whole. It may help sway some of the faithful who were having questions, and it may cause some of those who were on the edge to draw back–but ultimately even if outing “sins” as a broad category isn’t going to break their movement, it’s important to hold the powerful accountable.

  2. says

    I agree that it doesn’t do LGBT people a lot of favors to out really repulsive hypocrites, and that it’s often done in a way that’s rather self-serving. OTOH, I do feel that hypocrisy needs to be exposed. If your career is about appealing to people who are against marijuana, and you’re smoking it regularly at home, then even though I think there’s nothing wrong with pot smoking, I think your audience deserves to know you’re full of shit.

    And no, I realize that’s far from a perfect analogy, because the pot isn’t a human being whose rights and protections are at stake. But I think it CAN be done in a constructive way that isolates homophobes and shows them that even their own leaders disagree with them, and see them as a bunch of fools who deserve to be used.

    It is REALLY tricky, though.

    • Maria says

      Particularly because it’s hard to find an example that includes the physical, emotional, and psychological violence the newly outed person might be subject too.

  3. firebird says

    When it comes to morality, I have embraced situational ethics rather wholeheartedly. It really depends on what you are trying to do and what comes of your actions. I think that someone who is a leader in a community who is behaving in a way that is directly contrary to how s/he is telling others to behave when exposed may very well cause at least a few of the members of the community – often the young and impressionable – to take stock of what they really think and possibly to become disillusioned and possibly, if the community’s position is a poisonous one like anti-gay homophobia, to come to a more reasonable place. Yes, such entrenched bigotry often throws up another leader to replace the downed one, and yes, the overall community doesn’t seem to change much, but perhaps it is worth it to those who are there in that moment of revelation to be changed by it.

    Whether it is a good and moral thing to do really would depend on why the individual wants to do it, what other factors are involved and what results from it, which they can’t always know ahead of time. There are things I can agree need to be done without wishing to do myself, and being glad I am not in a position to have to do.

    I also think it matters if I am directly involved or just someone who happened to find out, or someone who actively tried to find out for my own prurient curiousity, or if I investigated out of a sense of journalistic integrity or on an official government type investigation. If you and I did something together and I tell the story, and it reasonably involves admitting you were involved to tell the story, well, it was my story to tell as well as yours. I’m not sure you have an absolute right to my silence no matter what – the situation comes into play there. If I just found out or I pried for curiousity’s sake I don’t have the right to tell just because I want to gossip. That’s not my story to tell in the same way one I was intimately involved with was. Someone who investigated on some official mission will have standards and rules binding them, and should follow those ethical rules, which would hopefully include some idea of there needing to be a purpose to revealing secrets.

  4. SunlessNick says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    It’s also tricky in that the meme of evangelical homophobic bigots being stealth-gay themselves has become a very tempting narrative to treat as the norm. And that’s just a way of letting heterosexuals off the hook.

  5. says

    I think that if someone uses his significant power and influence to fan the flames of homophobia, he’s given up any right to the protection of the closet for his own homosexuality.

    And maybe if we outed more of these hypocritical dirtbags, Gay Preacher Bob would think, “Hey, look what happened to Billy and Tommy and Wally-Joe! Maybe this hypocrisy thing is a bad idea!” and lay off the gay people in their sermons.

    If anyone’s worrying that gay people outing closeted hypocrites is “self-serving,” they can tell me and I’ll do it. :/

    Angie

    Angie

  6. says

    firebird,

    The other thing I think is sticky about that kind of situation is that one party may not “need” to/be in a position to “admit” anything– while, yeah, Southworth and Merritt had a relationship together, Southworth was out, and was at significantly less at risk professionally and personally (by way of celebrity status) than Merritt was in entering said relationship. And Southworth went in knowing that about Merritt.

    So even though that made Merritt’s closeted homosexuality/bisexuality a “shared secret,” Southworth, for political reasons, chose to divulge something about Merritt that would put Merritt at risk of harm that had no similar costs associated for Southworth himself (except for being called out on assholishness). And that’s really, really manipulative, even if it’s in the process of doing something for a social good, like exposing hypocrisy and demanding accountability and honesty from a political figure.

    SunlessNick,

    That’s something that troubles me about this trend towards outing hyperconservatives, too– I think in a lot of ways it plays into social narratives stigmatizing and shaming homosexuality/queerness in order to remove those voices from public discourse around sex/sexuality/marriage (unless they homogeneously fit a certain identity “mold” and political paradigm), making queer voices “easier” to dismiss and dissociate oneself from in a lot of ways. Which, obviously is bad.

    I mean, can’t think of any story about a conservative or evangelical figure who’s been outed where that served to humanize them to their sympathizers, or led to a discussion on self-loathing politics, or to a discussion on how there are conservative LGBTQ folks who genuinely do support bigoted agendas– same as how you don’t get coverage of figures otherwise viewed as conservative in support of LGBTQ rights and representation (who, despite all evidence to the contrary, statistically must exist– though they get rescripted as liberals/communists/what have you in the fallout, naturally).

    It’s just another way of maintaining a status quo where homosexuality is inherently scandalous and gossip-fodder, whether or not that was the outer’s intention, and that’s a problem for me. Best case scenario, outing someone is gambling on a two-steps-forward one-step-back outcome.

  7. Deborah Bell says

    Gena,

    That makes a lot of sense. And that’s why I said that it matters a lot what the exact situation is and why you want to tell the story. I was responding more to the idea of whether it is a black and white issue on outing someone else, or a murky one.

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