We are once again faced with a gulf of understanding. A significant number of people here don't understand why many members of the LGBT community are upset at the exclusion of Gene Robinson from the broadcast of the pre-Inauguration concert on Sunday. I don't want to rehash those issues. I just want to explain why visibility is, and always has been, at the core of the gay rights movement, and how this exclusion, whether it was an accident, whatever the reason, is, to my mind, so upsetting.
The closet. I've often heard people talk about how easy gays have it, because we have a choice that most minorities don't; we can hide who we are. We can reject our identities. We can internalize the shame that many would have us feel and pretend to be someone we are not. This is spoken of as if it were some advantage, some strength, some wonderous thing.
But it's not.
The closet is the enemy of gay rights.
The closet makes us an invisible minority. It allows the world at large not to see us, not to know us, to pretend that we aren't there. It allows people to think they don't know anyone who is gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. It allows stereotypes to flourish.
It allows us to be ruled by fear, to let fear control who we are.
It is one of the first hurdles we all must overcome. It is one of the pieces of common ground the binds the disparate parts of the LGBTI community together.
Shame. The shame in who we are that permeates the air in America.
It is a hurdle many of us continue to overcome every day. Internalized shame and homophobia, reinforced by messages that you see everywhere you turn in America, reminding us that there is something wrong, deeply wrong with who we are. Never letting us forget that there are people, a great many people, who knowing nothing about us but this one thing, will judge us to be anywhere from deeply flawed to outright evil. Will be disgusted by us. Will insist that it is only proper that we hide ourselves.
Or perhaps they will offer some tepid acceptance along the lines of "well, I don't care what you do, but I don't want to see it." Yea, I get that you don't want to see it. I've heard all my life how very many people want me to be invisible, to stay invisible.
But at some point, if we want the world to change how we are seen, we must allow ourselves to be seen. We must step forward. We must be visible. Proudly visible. Loudly visible. And yes, perhaps, at times, stridently visible.
This gives us a particular set of concerns that is different from that of most minorities, a set of concerns that focuses on not just our rights but, in a sense, on the discourse surrounding our very existence. How many of us are there? Do you know someone who is gay? Do you work with someone who is gay? Is your favorite athelete or actor gay? Unless we tell you, unless we make the choice to be visible, a great many of us are invisible. And historically, our invisibility has allowed other people to control the discourse about what it means to be LGBT. Our refusal to be, to exist in the public square, has allowed our enemies to define us.
The progress of the gay movement has always been predicated on our visibility. From Mattachine to Stonewall, from ACT UP and Queer Nation, LGBT protest has largely been about being seen. And in smaller, less provocative ways, we have also depended on visibility. Thus the importance of seemingly small things: an openly gay (how I loathe that term) actor. A kiss between two men on television. Holding hands while walking down the street.
If you aren't gay, I want you, just for a moment, to imagine this. I want you to imagine being infatuated with someone. That kind of love that transforms you, that makes you giddy, that brightens your whole day. You and your beloved, you are walking down the street. It is a beautiful spring afternoon. You reach out, reach to hold that precious hand and you... stop. You realize it wouldn't be safe. You realize that that tiny gesture could be dangerous to you. The moment is broken, shattered.
That's still true in countless parts of America.
That's still fucking true in countless parts of this country that purports to enshrine life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
If we are not seen, we do not exist, politically. If we are seen, we all too often put ourselves at risk.
Prop 8 arguably passed in part because the No On 8 campaign was so deeply closeted, refused to make itself about gay rights.
Don't Ask Don't Tell is so deeply troubling because it is a government enforcement and sanction of that awful closet.
So it is in this context that the tone-deafness of the president elect must be understood.
McClurkin: an advocate of reparative therapy which takes advantage of the internalized shame and homophobia and offers us a new closet. No reputble study claims that it is effective. It is widely believed to be harmful. In previous incarnations, it involved institutionalization and electroshock therapy. Young gays and lesbians are still all but kidnapped (albeit by their parents) and sent to these hellish places and taught ever more shame.
Warren: an advocate of clumsy analogies between homosexuality and incest, of seeing homosexuality as a sin, which helps create the poisonous atmosphere in which gay youth are rejected by their families with disastrous consequences.
Robinson: a prominent, thoughtful gay man offered a national stage and then shown to no one, denied the very visibility that has always been so important to the advancement of our rights.
Do I think the Obama adminstration is out to get us, is rabidly anti-gay. At moments, at about 3 in the morning, when I'm particularly angry about the latest slight, I probably let myself entertain that notion. But really, no. Really, I think there is simply a profound tone deafness.
But that tone deafness is deeply troubling. And the outcry and anger that happens in the wake of that tone deafness is important if we are ever going to see our issues adequately addressed.
And those who so diligently dismiss our upset instead of trying to understand its source? You are the allies we don't need. You have no desire to understand us.
The closet. Everyone I know who is LGBTI spent some time there. We all still bear the scars.
And I know no one who would ever go back.