We are proud of people who, as we like to put it, live their truth. These are the people who can, in public, offer a simple response to a rather scary question: Are you gay?… Yes. Those who lie attract our scorn: The man who knows about his gayness yet decides to marry a woman. The friend who insists on keeping his sexuality a secret from his parents. The man with countless male lovers and zero female lovers who insists on being bisexual. These people who withhold the (sometimes obvious) truth about themselves choose to stay trapped in a closet. They are, as we like to call them, perhaps with the ends of our lips pointing downwards, cowards.
But it can be useful to bring to the fore a point that we are often quick to dismiss in our analysis of closeted homosexuals: that they live (in lies) to stay true to ideas and people they have always known and loved. They forego a life charged with (what only the out know as) fulfillment for a life burdened with fulfilling the demands of people within their circle of loved ones. Our closeted homosexual friends deserve to be called brave because of their willingness to endure the pain of living in the closet.
The courageous-hope of closeted homosexuals is that the pain of regret, sorrow, deceit or impotence will render them capable of fulfilling the wishes of those they love. The closeted man is aware of his mother’s desires for a child, his duty in building a remarkable career for himself, his responsibility to appear normal that he feels wary of entertaining his best amorous desires. The bravery is he needs to endure the danger that comes with staying trapped in the proverbial closet.
It’s tempting to think the most brave thing for any homosexual to do is come out, and that only this deserves admiration and praise, and that we all must encourage everyone to strive towards this ideal. However, while taking a decision to come out can be an enriching source of joy, it can be helpful to recognize that each coming out experience is unique. While one experience might end in hugs, kisses and joyful tears, another’s experience might be blood, kicks and a run from death. The trap, however, in claiming bravery as the sole achievement of the out and proud, is thinking loss as one dimensional – that despite the fact that a man can lose his source of livelihood, the support of his family, his life, he is still willing to face the danger and spell out the nature his sexuality, therefore he must be brave. In truth, loss can be closing the door to spending the rest of life with the one.
It can be helpful to base the importance of coming out not on its nobility but on a person’s ability to handle the problems coming out can present. We should say: “It is important to come out oh, but do so when you are aware of your situation and you have a handle on the problems coming out is bound to bring.” There is little need in glorifying those who choose to share the status of their sexuality with others, and there is lesser need in demonizing those who choose to keep the status of their sexuality to themselves.
Often, our cry, to those who prefer to keep the status of their sexuality to themselves, is that a person needs to be his “truest self”. But our point with this position starts off from a misguided place: that everyone plays host to knowledge of their truest self. The face of reality is a bit less faithful: A lot of us are clueless about who we are.
Given the crack of openness present in our current world, staying in the closet will not be for everyone. (Some of us are closer to the crack than others.) It can be helpful to recognize the noble aspects of our closeted counterparts. We needn’t remain blind to the problems of coming out presented before them. We can recognize that staying trapped in the closet comes with its own set of problems and those who willingly choose to take on the problems deserve not our scorn but our sympathy. They deserve a hand on the back and a title we are prone to deny them.