With discussion about sexuality, in particular homosexuality, comes, it seems, the discussion about the closet…for the story goes that if one is not of the hetero variety that one must “come out” of the closet as something else – the “homo” variety. Those who do not come out are often called “closeted” or “closet-cases” or as suffering from “internalized homophobia” or are “outed” by some other. Yet, it is this concept of the closet that I want to challenge. I have been asked, as a “gay” man, about the closet many times…when did I come out?…who am I out to?…what was it like?…etc. Many a “gay” person will probably relate to these questions as will many a “straight” person. Yet, as I think about my experience with the closet, I become a little disturbed because for the longest time, I never realized there was such a thing – a closet that is. It was not until I was in college that I was asked to “come out” and when I was asked this, I was a bit confused. What was it that I was coming out of and how long have I been “in” whatever it is that I need to “come out” of?
I, of course, realized what it was that I needed to come out of…it was this closet…and not the one that I came out of daily dressed to impress…although my “dressing to impress” was part of the reason I “needed” to “come out” of this new closet I was suddenly finding myself in. So, I learned that I needed to come out of this closet in college and I did as I was told. I came out. Except each time I came out, the response I received was “yeah, we know”, or “finally”, or as my mother said “Adam, I’m your mother, I’ve always known”. Now, I don’t want to get into a conversation about the origins of sexuality in terms of whether and how my “mom” always knew…but I do want to get into the closet or the mentality of the closet to see what it is about. Why was it that I needed to come out as something that everyone I came out to already I knew I “was”? Was it some strange ritual that I was in need of being a part of? Was it for humorous reasons? Was it a part of becoming a subject of a particular kind – a gay kind perhaps…a gay subject? Was it to make “them” comfortable with my “I” so that they could “know” me better…even if I already “knew” myself?
I am not sure why it was I needed to come out…except perhaps to fulfill the wishes of those around me who thought I should “come out” because that is what people hear gay people, especially gay kids are in need of – stepping out of the closet. Psychologists, counselors, health educators, all say my kind should do it…come out and be healthy and “find myself”...to which I respond…”
Excuse me? Find myself? I thought I had until I found out that I was trapped in some closet that I needed to escape from…dressed to impress of course…in order to finally know myself…even though I knew myself already as much as one can ever “know” oneself as one is continually finding oneself through different, new experiences, different “doings” in the world.
So, what is this closet then that I need to come out of? As I’ve noted before, I never had a closet until I was surrounded by people who knew of such a closet and decided that I was in it. No one ever told me the closet existed before I went to college…until college I was happy…I was content…I had friends…I had fun…I had crushes on boys…but then I learned that I was trapped in a closet and had to do battle with the closet door to release myself from some space that didn’t allow me to be, well, me. So, I did it…I came out. I said the words that I was supposed to say “I’m gay” and I perhaps felt better because I was supposed to…one is supposed to be relieved when one “comes out” as any good “counselor” or “psychologist” will tell you…but now I don’t know why I did it. Why did I come out of some closet I had never realized I was in? Was it a joke? Was I just playing along with this closet talk to be intelligible to others? To make the joke work? To make my body readable?
The closet, after all, only exists if someone says it does and in saying so makes it something that can be “read”. It is a space seemingly constructed by those who don’t have to come out of a closet (straight people) or those who are already out of the closet (out gays) for those who are thought to be oppressed and in need of liberation from this closet constructed by people who the person supposedly in the closet doesn’t even know…Aye yi yi…what is this fucking closet. It is obviously a heterosexual construct since “they” and yes I generalize, don’t have to come out. Yet, it is obviously also a homophobic construct that seeks to keep the gay kid out of sight and out of mind, to maintain the illusion of the heterosexual matrix.
But…is it also a homo-normative construct…one that in a sense comes to define what a “gay” subject is, what a normal gay subject is? With the advent of people outing others, i.e. Perez Hilton, has the closet become one of the defining features of how a normal, good, gay subject comes into existence…by coming out of the closet that previous generations had to come out of…and for which I am thankful for as it allows me to write and do the things I do. However, as discourses change, does the closet narrative need to be re-thought? Challenged? Parodied? And how?
I am sure the closet is a bit of all of these and more…I am sure I came out of it because I was around people that told me such a mythical place existed. They were told it existed and believed it existed so they told me it existed and told me that I needed to leave such a mythical place because it was not a healthy place…it was a place of pain, of hidden sorrows, of invisibility, of myths. But, I was never invisible or in pain or in any more sorrow than the next high school student. I was never in this mythical closet until someone placed me there and forced me to come out of it to be legitimate, to be a true gay person who did that which any good “gay” or “healthy” gay is meant to do…Come out and be a “role” model.
But, I don’t come out anymore…it is way to exhausting because I was told that I was ‘always’ in the closet, in constant need to “come out” or choose when and when not to come out. So in such exhaustion… I don’t come out anymore or at least not as often as before – we all fall back into bad habits sometimes. I don’t do that strange ritual anymore because this whole closet business is just too much for me. It is too mythical and I love me a good myth so, that says a lot. I don’t come out because I don’t believe I am “in” anything any more than anyone else is “in” anything and in the need of “coming out” of that thing.
Yet, curiously in writing about not coming out, I perform the process of outing myself. I out myself as someone who is supposed to by many standards be one that comes out…and in saying that I understand I am supposed to come out, but I don’t buy into that concept so I am not going to do it…I, inevitable out myself and making this whole argument a flippin’ waste of time because I am trapped in a closet I don’t believe in nor a closet I want to come out of, but a closet I come out of in saying I am not coming out of it…trapped in the closet narrative.
Oh, for the love of something pretty…why oh why does this closet exist?
See Eve Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet for a more detailed and exciting engagement with the closet.