Thursday Thoughts: “Outing” Gays

Apparently the blog world is all a-flutter with speculations about whether the Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is gay. Besides the fact that there are more substantive issues to be discussing about Kagan, I find the idea to be extremely sexist. She wears pants, has short hair, is unmarried and childless, has never been associated with a man, refuses to discuss her private life and supports the end of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” therefore she couldn’t possibly be a normal woman. Never mind that she has had a demanding career (a situation that has prevented many women—and men—from devoting themselves to a spouse and children), she still should have the outer accouterments of accepted womanhood.

And of course, the speculation is homophobic as well. Kagan is not the first person in the public eye who has been suspected of being gay, nor will she be the last. Even dead people are not beyond suspicion (Eleanor Roosevelt being one example). You can be a wife-beater, a philanderer, a deadbeat dad, a sexual harasser (funny how these are all usually associated with male behavior) and nary a word will be spoken against you. But being gay—OMG!—elicits much the same response as being a Muslim (read: terrorist) does.

Of course there are people who are saying that it doesn’t matter to them whether or not Kagan’s gay; what they’re concerned about is how it would affect her rulings on LGBT issues. Then there are those who are supposedly more liberal about gays, but who are not comfortable with a person coming “out” as a gay. Both types are uncomfortable with a gay being ensconced on the U.S. Supreme Court. They prefer all gays, not just those in the military, to operate under a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. We won’t ask you if you’re gay—after all, we’re too politically correct for that—and you won’t tell us if you are.

Except that’s not what really happens. We have a voracious appetite for “outing” gays. And we don’t just do it with public figures; we do it with people we know as well. “He/she must be gay,” we whisper. And we obsess about it. We gossip about the person, maybe even come right out and rag them about it. It’s a relentless witch hunt that has driven many people to suicide.* Even just being suspected can lead to a suicide attempt, especially among teens.

When are we going to get it through our thick skulls that who people choose for sexual partners has nothing to do with anything else they do with their lives? Most of us keep our sexual lives private (thank God!) for a reason: sex itself is an intensely private affair. Who among us wants the details of our own sex lives to be common knowledge?

I can’t imagine how it feels to have people accuse you of being gay, whether or not you actually are. Because that’s just it; they’re accusing you. As if you’re guilty of something.

There’s one more thing that’s insulting about “outing” gays. It usually has more to do with an obsession with sex than with wanting to know who a person loves. As if one is impossible without the other. Or as if gay relationships are about sex only, not about love, devotion, friendship and day-to-day normal interactions.  Sex may only be a small part of what a couple feels for each other. In fact, sex is often an outgrowth of a loving relationship, not its sole reason for being.

[Yes, there is such a thing as gay encounters that are for sex only, but that’s also true for heterosexuals. The assumption is that heterosexuals are  not promiscuous and homosexuals are. We should all know better than that. Straights can be promiscuous and gays can be monogamous.]

What we are really doing when we “out” gays is making value judgments. We’re saying that there’s something newsworthy about being gay, because, after all, we all know that being gay is something bad. (And let’s face it, news is based on what is “bad” or “wrong.”) As long as its considered a topic of interest, one’s sexual orientation will always be subject to extreme scrutiny (especially if we fit the gay profile). I look forward to the day when people don’t even care whether a person is straight or gay.

I wonder whether I’ll live to see it.

*See “Suicide Attempts Among Gay and Bisexual Men: Lifetime Prevalence and Antecedents” for some interesting statistics.

Also read Jezebel’s article “Elena Kagan: The Sexual Politics of a Private Life.”

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