Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Coming Out Against Appropriation

I don’t have cable TV, so I’m often behind on knowing about TV shows and what the latest buzz is about them. It didn’t escape my attention, thanks to Twitter, that Roseanne re-launched with a new season and got really high viewership numbers. (So high that President Trump called her to congratulate her. *eye roll*)

From clicking around on Twitter, I’ve learned that Roseanne Barr is Republican and super conservative. That’s fine, I mean, everyone has the right to their own political beliefs and values. I do have trouble, however, with how she uses her platform as a tool to spread animosity and hatred, including denigrating the Parkland shooting survivors and spreading unfounded conspiracy theories about them.

But what really gets me is that on Twitter (did I tell you I spend too much time there?), a newspaper (can’t remember which one) tweeted their article about how Roseanne is helping conservative women “come out of the closet”. I came across this because another user on Twitter was complaining about the appropriation of the phrase “come out of the closet”.

I don’t think it’s unfair or wrong to use the phrase “closeted” or “come out of the closet” in a non-queer context. After all, I use it myself. I regularly accuse my sister of being a closeted Star Trek fan. (While she hates the show, she knows all of the names of the ships and captains, as well as a bunch of the alien species.) When my husband tells new friends that I’m a writer, I usually make a quip that he’s outed me and my career when I wanted to keep it on the down low.

In a non-queer context, “closeted” and “coming out of the closet” can be an apt description of someone’s interest in something. However, I do see the point of that Twitter user’s complaint.

Here’s the difference created by different contexts:

If a conservative woman comes out of the closet about her conservative political stance, the world doesn’t end. There isn’t some big to-do. There isn’t a risk of being kicked out of the family. There isn’t a risk of murder. And it’s really a “once and done” thing.

In a queer context, coming out can have serious consequences. We often hear of and celebrate the instances where coming out goes well — the movie Love, Simon was about that — but we often don’t hear of where it has negative consequences. Young people are sometimes kicked out of the house and forced to live with a friend or live on the street. There are organizations that pray for us to die horribly (from extremist factions in the Mid-East to the Westboro Baptist Church in the USA to evangelical Christians who "love the sinner, but hate the sin" who might not want us to die horribly but still hate our existence). We’re often labelled as deviant and wicked. We can lose our friends, our communities, our families, our churches, and our support networks. A close friend of mine has had multiple attempts on his life before leaving his home country.

And coming out as queer is never a once-and-done thing.

I’ve been out to my friends and family for seven years. Though I knew it would go well with everyone I felt I needed to tell, it was still a terrifying experience, one I would never wish on anyone, but one that all queer folks have to go through at some point. I was an adult and in a relationship with my then-boyfriend/now-husband, so I had stability and support if I needed it.

I’ve been out for seven years. Yet, it’s only last year that I told my doctor I’m gay and married to a man; that took years of building up the courage to tell my doctor, the one person who should absolutely know. Several months ago I ran into an old school classmate and he asked what was new, I nervously told him I was married to a man. And just last week I came out to a few women I know at the local grocery store — and even then, an instance where there’s no relationship at risk of ending, it was intimidating to come out.

It never stops.

Super supportive straight people are wonderful and amazing, but even they sometimes lack the understanding of how vulnerable it makes a queer person feel to have to come out on a regular basis. My mom talks about me and my partner just as enthusiastically as she talks about my sister and her opposite-sex partner — and, really, that’s a great thing — but it sometimes means my sexuality is put in front of people when I might not want that aspect of myself to be out in the open. One day, same-sex relationships will be entirely normalized, but we are still a very long way from it.

I generally don’t take offence very easily. If I come across an insensitive comment, I usually do a mental “meh”, shrug my shoulders, and move on. But that tweet about the appropriation of the phrase “come out of the closet” has sunk in. While I’m still not offended by the general use of the phrase, I’m finding it harder and harder to do the mental “meh” and shrug my shoulders and move on.

In that particular newspaper tweet describing how Roseanne has helped conservative women “come out of the closet”, I do now take offence at that one. Conservatives (not all conservatives, of course) don’t want people like me to exist, succeed, or be happy — and so for conservatives to be the ones to appropriate the phrase is really starting to get to me.

But my mental shift has gone further than that. With the whole President Trump fiasco — his unfolding legal issues and the divisive nature of American politics — I’ve come across tweet after tweet after Facebook comment after Facebook comment where people attack Trump’s supporters with gay sex references. With Fox News commentator Sean Hannity, in particular, I’ve seen so many comments about how he’s sucking Trump’s dick or licking his flabby taint.

These social media commentators, who are both straight and gay, are appropriating gay sex acts to insult or humiliate the people they dislike. And that bothers me.

Over and over throughout my life, I’ve heard gay sex terms used as insults — cocksucker, felcher, bottom, etc. — which implies that gay sex is something that is disgusting, perverted, and shameful.

If you’ve never had gay sex, let me tell you that it’s the complete opposite of those things. Gay sex is wonderful, intimate, passionate, and deeply connective. It doesn’t matter if you’re the top or the bottom of if you’re covered in cum or if you come out of it squeaky clean — all aspects and roles are part of the whole amazing experience.

It’s all the things that (I assume) straight sex is. Yet if someone is using a sex term to insult someone, nine times out of ten it’s a gay sex term. Our sex is being appropriated and mis-used to hurt and harm others.

We like to think we're getting better or more inclusive as a society — I mean, how many times have I heard "You've got gay marriage, what else do you want?" Equal marriage was a big accomplishment, yes, but it's not the end.

With my first novel, Autumn Fire, the main character has a crush but doesn't want to act on it because he's not out and isn't sure he believes in gay love. One critical review I received said that the reader felt the book wasn't realistic — she said that gay marriage is legal in Canada, so why wouldn't the character be out already and just follow his heart. To make a statement like that means there's an obvious lack of understanding of how complex and terrifying and still-possibly-dangerous the act of coming out is.

The ongoing fight for equal rights is far from over.

Just last week, I was told by someone that they'd been watching the news about the serial killer in Toronto that's taken the lives of several gay men over the last couple decades — and then this person said that someone needs to do the same thing in our city and take out all the gays. Yes. They said that. To me. Knowing I'm gay.

As long as being queer is looked upon by so many people as shameful, disgusting, and sinful — and as long as people wish we'd go back in the closet or wish we'd stop flaunting our sexuality at Pride or wish a serial killer would take down every last gay person — then there is still more work to do.

Is Roseanne Barr helping conservative women come out of the closet? No. She might be helping conservative women be more open about their political views — I can totally accept that — but she's not helping anyone come out of the closet about anything.

Coming out, for most people, is painful, awkward, and never-ending.

Don't appropriate our experience for stupid things like that.





Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Autumn Fire. He is publisher at and co-founder of Deep Desires Press, member of the Indie Erotica Collective, and hosts two podcasts, Deep Desires Podcast and Sex For Money. He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit http://www.camerondjames.com.

4 comments:

  1. Whoa! I'm glad I spend very little time on Twitter.

    I'm impressed that you can be as rational and measured as you are about this.

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  2. I see what you mean about the appropriation of "coming out of the closet" and how it gets trivialized. It's such a great metaphor that it's too bad whoever first said it didn't somehow trademark or copyright it, but that probably isn't possible for a single phrase (unless it's in a copyrighted song.)

    And these days it seems that using gay sex terms as insults has even surpassed the traditional use of terms related to perceived female attributes.

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  3. Cameron, so much love for this post. Thanks for writing all this. I agree that it's really hard to watch people who contribute to oppression for queer people using the same language to talk about their own discomfort in a not at all parallel position. I don't have too much to add to what you said aside from that it's very powerful and I really appreciate you saying it.

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  4. Thank you for putting into words an experience I will never have, but which I wish, as a mother, that I could save you from. My kids tease me because when they were teenagers, I used to assure them that if any of them "discovered" they were gay, they had nothing to fear from telling me or their father. I'd be marching next to them in the next parade, carrying a sign bragging about how proud I am of my gay son or daughter. They tease me that I'm disappointed that none of them are. I'm not disappointed, but not relieved either. It wouldn't matter to me one way or the other. I have a cousin who is gay, and he was nervous when he told me. I promptly invited him to dinner, where he amused my kids by prefacing all of his opinions with, "Well, as a gay man, I think..." They still tease him about that, and it was years ago.

    I had read so much about the fear of being disowned, that I wanted to let all of my kids know that would never happen. I'm glad that your mom is cool about things. I have black friends also, who are afraid for their kids, particularly their sons, when they're out in public. Some of them get "testy" about my equating gay marriage acceptance with the Loving case, when inter-racial marriage was finally declared to be legal. But that's because many of them think that they had no choice in their color, but that you have a choice to be gay or not. Sigh. That's when I ask them when they "chose" to be straight. And why on earth someone would choose to make themselves a target if they didn't have to. We are all born unique, and it takes a lifetime to become who we are meant to be. There shouldn't be roadblocks put up in front of anyone.

    It's a dangerous time for anyone who isn't a cis-white bigot male. I can only hope that the ugliness we're seeing out in the open now, will galvanize the rest of the folks to vote with their hearts and send all of these knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers back under the rocks they crawled out from.

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