It seems eons ago already, but it was only last week…before we bombed Iraq…sorry…Syria…sorry…Afghanistan…sorry…before it became even more apparent that the world might be brought to its knees by a madman with a Twitter account…that Barry Manilow came out of the closet. His proclamation set my social media feeds ablaze in a frenzy of support, anger, and celebration.
I saw multiple variations of the following themes:
- In other news, the world is round.
- Who’s Barry Manilow and why do I care?
- People come out in their own time and I/we applaud any coming out at any time.
- Negative reactions are why people don’t come out.
- He has an album coming out in two weeks, so he thought he’d make himself relevant again by coming out along with it.
- He stayed silent during the 80s, when fear of HIV/AIDS was at its peak ~ when gay men were being thrown away in garbage bags after suffering brutal, inhumane deaths. When the world was silent, he could have been a voice. He chose to stay silent and safe and make money.
- Coming out is a deeply personal decision.
I agree with many of these statements, some more than others, contradictory though they may be. But what interests me isn’t our varied reactions. Our reactions, of course, are as varied as the LGBTQ community itself. What is interesting is the passion with which we had those reactions. We all had one. And we all needed to talk about it. On one point, though, we all seemed to agree: coming out is a deeply personal decision.
I detest that.
Coming out is deeply personal, but the reasons why are a clear map of the work we still have left to do in our march towards full equality.
It’s personal because it speaks of a moment in our lives when the cost of coming out, which can be devastating (potential loss of family, friends, financial stability, housing), is less than the cost of living a lie. Coming out is frequently the choice between survival and death. What could possibly be more deeply personal than that?
And those are just the outside voices we must overcome, which can be dim and distant when compared to the voices we have been trained to hear in our own heads. Before we come out, we must first begin to come to terms with our own internalized homophobia. (I personally thought coming out was the end of that journey. Turns out, it was merely the second or third step in dismantling my own self-hate. I refer to the process as “unlearning,” and it’s a process that will likely continue throughout my life.) Coming out is a step towards the shedding of shame, towards the understanding that we have been tortured into hating the very nature of our being. That is deeply personal.
To me, the saddest part of Barry Manilow’s statement was, “I thought I would be disappointing [the fans] if they knew I was gay. So I never did anything.” There is such devastating sadness in that quote. We’re taught that the very nature of our being makes us “disappointing.” And while I understand that the majority of his fans have been straight women, I’m fascinated that he can’t even conceive of the fact that some of his fans, gay men, of which he is one, might be thrilled for him to speak his truth.
He couldn’t see himself in us. He couldn’t see us in himself. His alienation is powerful, palpable, and understandable. We all learn it.
The idea that we come out of the closet suggests that we must go in. From that first red flag in the back of our heads as little children, we know to lie. It’s self-preservation. I think our energies are best spent creating a world where little Barry Manilows everywhere never feel the impulse to go in a closet they then need to come out of. Our energies are best spent creating a world where coming out isn’t personal, because it actually doesn’t exist.
Roger Ian Rosen writes so that his husband might ever experience silence. He is author of Backdoor Bingo (a melding of gay pulp fiction and social media ~ over-the-top camp, sex, and silliness…with audience participation!), which is unfurling on Instagram (search: Roger Ian Rosen) even as we speak. He is currently writing his first novel and can be found posting about LGBTQ issues, as well as commenting on politics and pop culture, on his Facebook page: rogeronimo.com. Roger is currently working towards a Master of Fine Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts at Goddard College in Vermont.