Friday, November 8, 2013

Get Out!

I read an article a couple of months ago that instantly got under my skin. You know the type. A paragraph in and you're off on a rant ready to fire off a rebuttal. It was tucked among stories about Russia's hostility and passing marriage rights so it didn't receive much attention. I'll admit, the topic doesn’t have the same global impact but to the person involved it's just as potentially devastating and has been wearing on my nerves since I read it.

I'm well aware that human beings have a thing for gossip. I don't know why we're hardwired with that particular habit but it seems we are. Nothing attracts more attention than a juicy story about someone else especially if that someone else is a public figure. However, this blog isn't about gossip. It's about a specific topic of tongue wagging that can have devastating effects.

The article revolved around comedian Margaret Cho and her unapologetic public outing of John Travolta. I'm not really a fan of either of them so what piqued my interest wasn't the name but Cho's lack of remorse when people criticized her actions. According to her, Travolta wasn't in danger of being bullied so there was no reason for him to hide and if he didn't have the courage to say the words then she was within her rights to say them for him. She stated that the only people who need protection from being forcibly ejected from the closet are minors in danger of schoolyard bullies. Everyone else is apparently fair game.

The other side of the discussion showed up a week or so later in an interview with openly gay Lance Bass. He had a different opinion. Bass said it's up to each individual to decide when and how to come out of the closet and if they're not ready to take that step for whatever reason it's not his place to do it for them. He even went so far as to say he would lie in order to keep their secret if he had to.

The argument has been volleyed in fits and starts since then. Personally, I agree with Bass. It's something each person should come to on their own and in their own time. From the outside it may seem those in the closet are just being chicken but there is no way to know their reasons or the emotions involved in admitting what they've spent so long hiding. There is also no way to calculate the impact it will have on their personal relationships or in some cases their career. They're choosing to remain silent for a reason whether the rest of us are privy to the details or not.

Cho comes from a background of very open sexuality, growing up in a predominantly gay community. Assuming everyone comes from that same place of acceptance and openness is at best naïve. Living in L.A. surrounded by members of the gay community doesn't guarantee that Travolta will find acceptance from family and friends who may have been clinging to the idea that his homosexuality is just a rumor. It also doesn't mean he's ready to admit it to himself.

This sort of thing isn't limited to Hollywood. We've all heard the stories of people who make a decision to tell a friend only to wake the next morning and find that everyone on their Facebook page knows their secret. Whether it's a public figure or an average Joe/Josephine, I don't think anyone ever has the right to take that monumental step on behalf of someone else. A person's sexuality is not fodder for gossip. It's a very personal revelation that has the potential to leave their life in ruin. Not everyone gets the hug from mom and dad and the speech about being loved regardless of their sexuality. Not everyone has friends to support them. Whether reality is as harsh as the closeted person fears isn't the issue. The issue is whether that person is emotionally ready to handle the fallout. People have killed themselves over far less devastating things.

You've heard my two cents. What do you guys think? Do adults (especially 60-year-old men) have the right to live forever in the closet or is there a point where keeping their secret becomes obsolete? Are adults immune from the courtesy of being left alone to find their own path? Is there a point where it's acceptable to force them from the closet metaphorically at gunpoint just to settle the rumors?

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+DP Denman


  1. I agree, random outing does nothing for anyone. The only exception I'd contemplate is the outing of people who go out of their way to hurt the community (such as closeted politicians passing antigay legislation). Nice piece!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Gar...and for the RT. =)

  2. I think outing people against their will is wrong. At 60 years old ... I would assume that he'd made personal choices in his life about himself and his family. I mean, having sex with men doesn't make a man gay, having sex with women doesn't make a woman a lesbian, not unless someone chooses to accept the label. Does that make sense?

    I guess I just figure that in this world where everyone slaps labels on everyone else, the last bastion of freedom is being able to choose whether you identify as gay, straight, asexual, or bisexual. Forcing the choice on someone just leads to resentment and self-hatred. I try not to judge.

    Plus, it's probably really terrifying being a public figure and having all your personal business spewed around by someone that obviously has a low opinion of you. Just seems that Cho made the choice to be a bad guy and her lack of respect for him made me lose respect for her. And her excuse that it's like outing Liberace? That was weak sauce. Because not only did she out him, she did it for laughs and acted like he should thank her. Like, "Thanks for mocking my life choices and the love and friendship I share with my wife and my family. Until you spoke up in a public venue, I had no idea that I was miserable and living a giant lie. Thanks Margaret Cho. You're practically a superhero."

    TL;DR, my thoughts on Margaret Cho: "That was some dirty pool."

    1. Thanks for your comments, Harper. I think you make an excellent point about labels. Whatever Mr. Travolta's sexuality may be, I've long been under the impression that it's complicated. He certainly wouldn't be the first man to marry a woman and father children but still have an attraction to other men. As you say, whether he chooses to adopt the various available labels is up to him.

      Cho made several comments that smacked of a bloated ego but I think her declaration that "the gays love me" meaning she's apparently not obligated to treat them with any amount of respect is the most obvious indicator. I'm not buying the idea that the gay community on the whole found her behavior all that funny in this instance. Nor do I think they would appreciate her attitude that gay men don't have a right to their privacy if she can use it to get a laugh.