The AfterEllen.com Huddle: Un-Coming Out

 
 

Sexuality is a damned hard thing to wrap our minds around, and certainly to agree upon. Very often public figures comment on their own identities and the queer community feels ownership and pride—until those identities change. Anne Heche might be the most infamous when it comes to having dated Ellen DeGeneres and later saying she “changed her mind” about being gay. Just this week, Jessie J took to Twitter to say her own bisexuality was a phase.

Screening of the HBO Original Movie "If These Walls Could Talk 2"

While it’s true that celebrities, like anyone else, have the right to their own private life and identities, it’s hard not to be affected by their statements, especially when they echo the kinds of arguments that opponents of equality use against us. So this week’s Huddle is all about that: Was there someone whose reneging on their sexuality particularly disappointed you?

Heather Hogan: I can’t think of a time when I’ve been disappointed in the way a person chooses to label him or herself. My main disappointment (slash fireblood) happens when the LGBTQ community polices the way other people choose to label themselves. I was talking to one of my best friends the other night, the greatest supporter of the LGBTQ community I have ever known in my life, and it made me so sad when she said she silently identifies as queer but can’t say it out loud because she gets smashed for it. She had relationships with men and women in her teens and early 20s, married a man, has discovered that her deepest sexual attachments are with dudes and her deepest emotional attachments are with women, personally defies the gender binary in all sorts of of exciting ways — but the community she loves and advocates for and supports and feels most comfortable in, it shuns her because it is full of self-appointed label sheriffs.

People who had their whole gender and sexuality deal figured out at like nine years old, I admire the heck out of that. But sometimes it takes a lifetime for other people to sort out their whole thing, even celebrity people. Journeys that aren’t our own personal journeys aren’t really any of our beeswax, I don’t think. Being disappointed in how another person chooses to label him or herself feels deeply narcissistic to me, on account of it has nothing to do with me.

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One more thing: When a celebrity comes out as a lesbian at like 55, we applaud her for being courageous enough to live her truth out loud. But when a celebrity comes to understand that she doesn’t identify as LGBTQ anymore, and she comes out as something more heteronormative, we hiss and boo at her, even if it’s a courageous choice that will help her live her most authentic life. I don’t like that very much. Courage is courage, even if it doesn’t help the cause of equality.

Grace Chu: I’m with Heather. I don’t care how celebrities label themselves. I will chuckle with other LGBTs about who we know is in the closet but that’s just idle water cooler talk for me. Worry about how you yourself represent the community. You have control over that. You don’t have control over others.

The only exception to this is if someone openly disparages the LGBT community. Then it becomes my business, because then you’re attacking my identity. But if you decide you’re not gay after all and are still a staunch ally, rock on sista or brotha. Go on with ya bad self.

Bridget McManus: I’m personally disappointment that my secret high school female squeeze left me for my male best friend. Does that count?

Chloe: I was disappointed by Jessie J referring to bisexuality as “a phase” and dismissing her relationships with women as youthful experimentation rather than legitimate sexual orientation. A lot of bisexual women constantly have to convince the world that liking both women and men isn’t “just a phase.” I wonder how many of those women will hear Jessie J’s comments being thrown back in their face as proof that female bisexuality is less legitimate or permanent than female heterosexuality. I’m gay, and that’s not fluid. It won’t change. Some women are bisexual, and that won’t change. Jessie J went through a phase.

The BRIT Awards 2014 - Inside Arrivals

Some people relate to celebrities. Other people relate to fictional characters on television. For bisexual and gay girls (like myself) who looked up to Jessie J as “one of us” when we were struggling to come to terms with our own identity, it’s sad to lose a member of the LGBT community.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our disappointment with that loss, or with our frustration at seeing a famous woman flippantly refer to liking girls as “just a phase.”

Lucy Hallowell: For me there are two separate issues that work against each other when I think about this topic. The first, is that a person has an absolute right to determine how she wants to identify herself. A person’s sexuality doesn’t belong to anyone but the person, and she should feel free to define it (or not) as she sees fit. Being true to yourself is hard enough without the whole damn world talking about it.

The second, sometimes opposing force to that is the sense that when you look up to a role model of any kind (parent, teacher, coach, friend, athlete, celebrity, etc.) and then feel let down by them it can be crushing. This can be something as trivial as your favorite baseball player signing with the goddamn Yankees, or someone you thought was brilliant turning out to be dumber than a box of rocks, or a person you thought was going to be a great advocate for the gays turning out to be anything but. It’s less about the person herself than it is about the expectations I had, and the way that person made me feel. Ultimately, that has more to do with me than with the person. So, damn right I have felt bummed about people who I placed on some sort of pedestal who then failed to live up to those expectations. But that’s my shit, not theirs and I would hate to think for a second affected the way anyone chose to live her life.

Dana Piccoli: I feel like the whole topic of labels and sexuality is one day going to just swallow us up, but not before our own community tears each other apart like the Starks and Lannisters. There is tremendous pressure from all sides on this subject. It has always struck me as odd that the queer community has such rigid rules regarding identity. When we can no longer be a safe haven for those who need one, then we have failed as a community. There is room for all of us. I repeat, there is room for all of us. Lesbian-identified. Queer-identified. Bisexual-identified. Humans with hearts who prefer not to identify. How messed up is it to say, “Hey, wanna join our club? All you have to do is exactly what we say! It will be awesome.” How about an All are Welcome doormat instead. I’m cool with being a lesbian. I embrace the label. I do not feel fluid. I’m more like, jello. Mmm, jello. I sure as hell wouldn’t tell someone who feels comfortable with being fluid that she should be more like jello. If we stop policing each other, I bet we’d all be so much more happy.

This whole Jessie J debacle is really more of an issue of being thoughtless in the public eye. I could really care less about who JJ sleeps with, but she should have considered her words more carefully.

Elaine Atwell: When I was nineteen, I was forced to confront my feelings for women, and it was one of the most challenging and formative experiences of my life. My very sense of self was shaken to the core, and there was no way I could have handled it had I not had a community of friends reassuring me that they still loved and supported me. I wonder now if I would now have the courage to admit it if I developed feelings for a man, or I would be too afraid of facing condemnation and ostracization from the queer community. I’ve seen the way groups of friends shun a queer (or formerly queer) girl once she starts dating a guy, and it is deeply saddening. We have no more right to be disappointed in each other for coming to our fullest, truest knowledge of ourselves — whatever form that knowledge might take — than my parents had the right to be disappointed in me when I said I was gay.

Kim Hoffman: I think that I had bits and pieces of resentment toward Michelle Rodriguez after she made this comment in response to the Curve magazine outing incident of 2007:

“If I were Ellen, I may get away with ‘The I’m Gay’ level of exposure, but I’m not a comedian, I like men; (real ones anyway) and I’ve only bin [sic] in this business for 7 years not 20. Years of recognition can give a person lots of leverage especially if you have many years of positive recognition under your belt. There are certain things that can close doors between a celebrity and a certain audience. Especially in a world where walls are constantly being put up by people seeking comfort and groups to belong to.”

Fendi - Front Row - Milan Fashion Week Womenswear Autumn/Winter 2014

Followed by this gem in 2011: “I am not a lesbian. Yeah, Michi likes sausage.”

Then, in 2013, all the rumors were finally put to rest when she came out as bisexual and admitted that she and her lady friend Cara Delevingne were a legit item. Having said all of that, I think it’s a shame that anyone, actor or otherwise, would use the Ellen card to talk about the Ellen card, and how their acting career might suffer, plus whatever other excuses remain pertinent to keeping a celeb’s sexuality ambiguous.

She is right that certain things can close doors between a celeb and their audience — but for me, it’s not because they’re outed, type-casted or afraid to be pigeonholed in Hollywood. It’s their dishonesty. I didn’t have her in mind when I imagined that door shutting though, I actually imagined Laura Prepon and her decisions to leave Orange Is the New Black. There was so much disdain in those decisions and the rumors that followed.

I get that there is still real, live, relevant fear in coming out, especially when in a position of great attention, where the spotlight swivels around back onto you after you make any single comment in one direction or the other. I also get that we are evolving humans, celeb status or not, and sometimes we think we know ourselves, and then we realize we’re getting older and we can’t keep it in for a moment longer, so we take our honesty to the bank and we sit with it. But I also want to, perhaps, suggest the greater point: Being a gay person in Hollywood is not only nothing to be ashamed of. If that’s who you are, wave your flag and welcome yourself to a community of people who respect and appreciate you for who you are. It’s game-changing and it opens more doors for more young kids, who need more Ellens, and need more representation.

Trish Bendix: There have been a few times that I was perturbed by backpedaling from celebrities (Nelly Furtado, Megan Mullally) but I think the one that really frustrated me was Charlene Cothran. Charlene was the editor of an LGBT magazine called Venus, founded in 1995. A positive lesbian role model in the black community, she was highly respected and loved by her readers and peers. Then in 2007, she used the magazine to come out as ex-gay, writing things like:

“In order to fill up this empty space, they pretend to put on this wonderful face, ‘how gay and happy I am,’ when in fact — there’s a lot of loneliness in the gay community that’s not talked about, and it’s real.”

This interview with Pat Robertson on The 700 Club is really, in particular, infuriating.

Charlane went onto become a pastor and work with The Evidence Ministry, Inc., an evangelical mission that tries to help gays renounce homosexuality. In 2012 she told Facebook followers, “You DON’T have to continuously struggle with sexual issues. With a few spiritual adjustments to your everyday life, you can walk FREE and never look back! I’m your evidence!”

For all of the people she reached in a positive way with her work as an activist and magazine editor in the LGBT community, there are likely just as many she has hurt with this message promoting dishonesty and self-loathing. This is harmful and homophobic erasure, so caring about someone else’s public sexual identity is more important than you might think.

Valerie Anne: When I was first coming to terms with my own sexuality, I tried on a few labels, because I needed one. I had floated around my whole life as an outsider, a misfit, feeling like something was wrong, not fitting into a lot of the neat little boxes my friends fit into. When I eventually settled on lesbian, it felt right. It felt like a label that fit me, and for once in my life I felt like I actually comfortably fit into a pre-existing category. And while I felt comfortable saying it to myself, I was hesitant to say it out loud, to tell other people that this was the label that fit me. There were a multitude of reasons I hesitated to come out, but one of the questions that kept floating back to me was: What if I’m wrong? “Coming out” felt like something I couldn’t undo. And I grew up in a world where I was taught (by my religion teachers in my Catholic school, not my family) that homosexuality was a choice — if I came out as a lesbian and then fell in love with a man, wouldn’t that just prove what they thought? What I knew wasn’t true? I didn’t want to be responsible for furthering this way of thinking, so I balked a bit on coming out. I was afraid of being a hypocrite, and I was afraid of the false “I told you so”s of people that didn’t understand.

I’ve been immersed in the LGBT community now for a little over five years. I still feel comfortable with the term “lesbian” for myself — I still like having a label that fits. Because in my 27 years of gathering data, statistics show that I am a lady lover. It feels permanent now, I can’t imagine it ever being different. But you know what? I haven’t met all the men in the world, and I can’t predict the future. I believe that sexuality is a spectrum, and while I believe I’m riding a unicorn across the rainbow on the gayest side of it, I can’t promise you with 110% certainty that I will never fall in love with a man (Just 99.99999% certainty). But if that day ever does come, I don’t want to be afraid to admit it. If I realize in ten years that I’m more comfortable with a different label, or no longer want a label at all, I don’t want to be afraid to say so, I don’t want to be afraid of losing the community I love so much. I don’t want to go through the fear and anxiety of coming out all over again.

So sure, like some people already said, sometimes it’s an “aw, man” moment when someone says they no longer identify as gay/bi/queer/whatever, because it was fun having them be part of our team; whether if it was because we liked having that in common with them, or because we liked to imagine somehow that meant we had a chance to date them someday, or because it’s awesome and empowering to have people who have such wide reach and are in the public eye representing us. But as long as they’re not slamming the community or being harmful or hateful, it’s not my place to be disappointed or ashamed or angry. Someday — in two years, in 20 years, in 200, I don’t know — we’ll all just be people who love people. “Love is love” will not just be a phrase for the LGBT community, it will just be a way of life for all humans (and aliens? I don’t know what the world will be like in twenty years). When I came out to my dad, when I told him I wanted to stay in New York after graduation, when told him I wanted to be a writer instead of a teacher, whenever I told him anything really, he said, “As long as you’re happy, I’m happy.” So, celebrities, friends, strangers — assuming you’re not hurting anyone—as long as you’re happy, I’m happy.

 

What do you think? Was there someone whose un-coming out affected you?

 
 

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