The politics of coming out are at once intensely private and innately public. It’s a complex subject, one singularly experienced in the gay community with far-reaching personal and political implications. There comes a point in all of our lives when we must speak this simple truth, if even only to ourselves at first, about who we are. Yet more complicated still is the prickly practice of outing. So then it matters how these most sensitive subjects gets portrayed, both on screen and in the media.
This week’s Glee tackled it head-on, bringing Santana’s sexuality out in the most public way possible and stirring debate about outing in the mainstream and LGBT communities. Finn outing Santana in the middle of a crowded high school hallway, and then that news being spread to everyone via a political ad (yes, it’s a ridiculous flouting of election law – let’s just go with it for now) was by far the most powerful centerpiece to the episode.
Here’s a look at how some of the more mainstream media sites reviewed the incident.
The Hollywood Reporter (and friend of AfterEllen.com Lesley Goldberg):
While Kurt’s coming out to his father was a tender moment and reflected the best possible outcome, Santana’s forced outing was just as real and Rivera played the scenes with the perfect blend of anger, hurt and fear one would expect when such a personal decision is no longer yours to control.
The last segment of the show, with the Adele mash-up and Santana’s confronting the fact that she’s a lesbian, was by far the strongest of the episode. Now: a high school student facing being outed to the entire school? Perfectly interesting, fruitful plot in and of itself.
After a final blast of insults, Finn called Santana out in the middle of the hallway, cluing her in that it’s no secret around the school that she’s in love with Brittany. And he called her a coward for not living her life honestly. I know that this will be divisive because he essentially outed her, but I don’t think it was done out of meanspiritedness (yes, Finn is still the complicated “hero”) and I do think everyone in the school does know of their “special” relationship.
Santana, watching her world spin apart (and notice how the camerawork and editing reflect her mental state), sees Finn whisper something to his girlfriend, and she, well, she flies off the handle and slaps him. You can argue about whether he had it coming or not — though he shouldn’t have outed her, he couldn’t have known it would go this far — but it’s an expertly deployed emotional moment that perfectly puts you inside Santana’s head.
OK, now I’m all for telling the truth and outing people, so I have to say that I agree with Finn. Santana is being a little cowardly by not coming out. There, I said it. I love her to pieces and I know she is taking things slowly and doing her own thing, but she needs to come out. Period. Nothing good can come out of the closet. Nothing. It is an awful place that destroys lives and makes you into an evil bitch like Santana (maybe the reason I love her so much is that every gay person has a little bit of the closet in them always and loves that cruelty). She got what she had coming. ….
But I’m glad that we got there, because what happened next was amazing. It made me rethink my position on outing a little bit (you guys know I love an outing). It just made me think that when you shove someone out of the closet, it has a deep emotional impact on them and their lives and it doesn’t do anything to stop the rage and anger that builds up naturally in the closet. It just unleashes it in the wrong direction and in an awful way. It shows that the world is always out to get you.
Santana promises to make peace with Finn, but her apology consists of string of fat jokes that’s cruel even for Santana. Finn finally figures out the one insult that can crush her, and makes a loud speech in the hallway about how Santana’s lashing out because she’s keeping her lesbianism a secret. Santana was totally out of line, but you’d think the guy with a gay brother would know better than to out someone. …. I’m generally against the idea that it’s okay for girls to smack guys, but when someone’s justifying their decision to out you, it’s at least understandable.
As you can see, there is an interesting array of opinions, even some of the same ones expressed here in the comments of our Glee episode recap.
I’ll lay my cards on the table immediately and tell you I am against outing. No one can make that decision for you; no one should take away your choice. It is your life and yours alone to live. In fact, we here at AfterEllen.com have a policy of not outing people precisely for that reason.
I will also say that I think people should come out, both for themselves and other LGBT people as a whole. The more people are out, the more the larger world will see we’re everywhere. The more people come out the harder it will be for strangers to hate us indiscriminately. Visibility helps things get better. And when you’re out, things are better. Maybe not right away, but ultimately, so much better. Being in the closet can be a terrible burden. So accepting yourself, that’s the first step. It’s better to embrace and love who you are for all the world to see, always.
Yet while some might argue that outing creates that perfect world of visibility and openness we strive for, I argue that it more likely drives those unprepared people deeper into the closet. It’s easy to be smug about outings if you’re out. Perhaps the memory of the panic of discovery, the fear of repercussions, the despair of rejection has faded. But it’s still a terrifying prospect for the not out. And down-right dangerous for far too many. So it’s unfair to force your time frame on someone else’s life.
So, intentionally or not, Finn outing Santana in a crowded high school hallway was wrong. Yes, Santana bullied him. Yes, that was bad. Yes, she should probably be reprimanded for such actions. But, no, she doesn’t then deserve to be outed. Having someone take one of the most personal decisions you’ll make in your life away from you is not OK.
Simply being a bitch isn’t a rationale for forcing someone out. Even if Santana has in the past been somewhat indelicate about the subject of other’s sexuality, it doesn’t justify these actions. And even if Finn didn’t intend for the entire world to learn about Santana’s secret, it was never his secret to share.
The question now is where Glee will take this storyline. For all that it sometimes does wrong, the show has overall done a good job of handling the thorny subject of sexuality. Kurt and Santana’s stories have been nuanced and meaningful. Can we nitpick? Sure. Do we demand a Brittana kiss? Hell yeah. But now what kind of fallout will result in Santana’s outing. What kind of message will it send to the show’s viewers, many of whom are struggling with their own sexuality?
I hope, for all parties involved both watching and on screen, that it’s a good, real one. And I hope, as always, that it gets better.