Everybody Should Come Out, Or Not

Article by Riese /
Autostraddle /
May 01, 2013 /
Click here to view original /

‘Tis the season for coming out… or not?

Fastrack, India’s leading youth fashion brand, just released an ad campaign encouraging kids to come out (and buy their clothing, I assume).

On April 26th, Madrid’s annual Day of Lesbian Visibility, Ángeles Álvarez, Spain’s only out lesbian politician and a member of the Socialist Party, asked other closeted officials to join her in the land of Out, saying, “It’s time to break the silence. It’s time to live our lives out in the open and grant ourselves the right to happiness. Only with equality and visibility can we effect change.”

Andy West wrote in The Independent, in response to Jason Collins‘ historical coming-out yesterday, that everybody should come out and if you think you can’t, you’re wrong, you actually can:

I believe every single gay person in the UK should come out, regardless of the reception they expect to receive. Yes it’s frightening but it’s also necessary. As long as gay men and gay women allow themselves to be forced into the wilderness by other people, there will always be prejudice against the ‘community’ as a whole.

Meanwhile, the ignorant remain swaddled in the pretence that their bigotry is acceptable. Future generations will continue to feel that they are something strange and shameful. Repressed homosexuals will continue to be warped and poisoned until they themselves become the very worst homophobes. Stand up and declare that you are gay. If not for yourself then for everyone else.

Alternately, Dr. Ruth feels that nobody should come out, including Jason Collins, because “I find it very sad. That’s why I said that I have mixed feelings, that we even have to talk about it. In my opinion, this is a private matter and everybody has to be respected for who they are.” According to The Huffington Post, “Dr. Ruth said she fears that Collins’ coming out “will put pressure on other people to explain their sexual orientation,” calling sexual orientation a “private matter” and adding that she “[doesn’t] want anybody to feel the pressure of having to say with whom they’d like to have a relationship or a sexual relationship.””

This is a bizarre stance for somebody who makes their living speaking publicly about sex to take, but I disagree with her opinion regardless. Public figures find this defense convenient, but it’s fundamentally flawed since those same humans seem to be fine with everybody assuming they’re heterosexual — which everybody does, even if you’re not actively in an opposite-sex relationship. So really, the only time your sexuality is considered “private” is if it’s homosexuality. The world-at-large believes everybody is straight until a person officially declares otherwise. I don’t.

The latest human in favor of everybody coming out is queer comedian Margaret Cho, who’s been tweeting in response to an article by Lauren Rosewarne entitled A Margaret Cho Outing, in which Rosewarne expressed her dislike of Margaret Cho’s show “Mother,” which hit the Melbourne Comedy Festival this week. Namely, Rosewarne was unamused by a bit Cho did about John Travolta, which Rosewarne likened to “drag(ing) people out of the closet kicking and screaming.”

[Margaret Cho] belaboured how oh so flaming queer Travolta was. About how everybody in Tinseltown knows just how poofy Danny Zuko is. Of how she had to break the news of his supreme gayness to a naive Olivia Newton John… More than mere speculation however, Cho was outing Travolta.

Not funny and certainly not okay.

Tom Cruise and John Travolta and Hugh Jackman and pretty much every handsome Hollywood leading man has, at one time or another…

Maybe because they’re heterosexual, maybe because they’re non-practicing gay – or bi – or maybe because they just fear a bloody public backlash– but whatever their reason, actors like Travolta have asserted their allegiance to the Good Ship Straight. And I think we need to leave it at that.

Rosewarne undermines her credibility as an impartial observer of homos, however, by also complaining excessively about the abundance of gay content in Cho’s show in general. Rosewarne notes that the 48-minute show length worked out well for her because she’s “heard quite enough about the importance of same-sex marriage – cue too-predictable hootin’ and a’hollarin from the audience” and feels that “there’s a story to be written about a billed show bearing no semblance whatsoever to the marriage-equality-ranty monologue that was delivered.”


So, Margaret Cho, in response to the criticism of her show’s inclusion of John Travolta Material, said the following on twitter yesterday:

‘OUTING’ is only wrong when you think there is something wrong with being gay #homophobiaexists #gayandproud #fuckingproudtobegay

— Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) April 30, 2013

and basically i am out because i have a terrible memory and can’t remember lies #ohandiamfuckingproudtobegay — Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) April 30, 2013

and ignorance and homophobia are a disgusting shame — Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) April 30, 2013

i have had enough fucking hatred of gay people i have had enough fucking homophobia i have had fucking enough #’privacy’ishomophobia — Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) April 30, 2013

i have seen too many people die from gaybashing! i have been gaybashed myself! i have had enough. no more. no more. no more. i do not accept — Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) April 30, 2013

our children are dying from homophobia!! we are in an lgbt state of emergency #thisbitchisnothavingit no more death #nomorehomophobia — Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) April 30, 2013

out the homophobes #homophobiaisdeadly — Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) April 30, 2013

and don’t try to fight with me. homophobes can unfollow! #butyouwillmissabitch #lethomophobiadie #letmychildrenlive

— Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) April 30, 2013

I love Margaret Cho, and she’s absolutely right that “outing” is only considered wrong if you think there’s something wrong with being gay. Unfortunately for my brain, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about some kerfuffle over whether or not it’s okay for people to say that John Travolta is gay and that said kerfuffle has evolved into a referendum on “outing” in general. Like many queers, I don’t think “outing” is okay unless the person being outed is actively working against the LGBTQ community in some way, such as promoting anti-gay legislation or claiming to have been “cured” by ex-gay therapy. However, Travolta’s association with Scientology, which for many operates as “ex-gay therapy,” makes his case particularly tricky. (Also tricky: the fact that Scientology members are brainwashed, abused, sent to solitary isolation, publicly humiliated, psychologically terrorized, bankrupted, imprisoned, ostracized from their families and committed to forced labor! And that Scientology’s high-profile celebrity members exist to distract potential joiners from these realities! You can read all about it here and here and here.)

But also, Rosewarne needs to google “John Travolta gay.” Regardless of what the population-at-large believes about Travolta, or what his coworkers or people-who-know-his-coworkers (like me!) know about Travolta, Margaret Cho would hardly be the first person to “drag him out of the closet” publicly. His sexuality has been discussed again and again and again and again and again and again and again, with various degrees of accuracy, moreso than anyone else Rosewarne mentions. (And for the record, I don’t think Tom Cruise is gay.) In September 2009, Carrie Fisher tod OUT that “we don’t really care that John Travolta is gay” and in December 2010, when asked about it directly, Carrie Fisher told The Advocate that “…we know and we don’t care…I’m sorry that he’s uncomfortable with it, and that’s all I can say. It only draws more attention to it when you make that kind of legal fuss. Just leave it be.” Rashida Jones got in trouble this past August for arguing that big stars need to come out, especially movie stars, saying specifically – “Like John Travolta? Come out! Come on. How many masseurs have to come forward? Let’s do this.”

At this point, I think the conversation about whether or not Travolta is gay or bisexual (hopefully it’s the latter, for his wife’s sake) has been had. So what it comes down to is the same thing it always comes down to — when is a person obligated to come out, when is it okay to tell a person to come out, and when (if ever) is it okay to go ahead and out them yourself? Salon.com had a nuanced reaction to Fisher’s “outing,” as did Movieline, which brings us back to the Scientology thing:

The argument goes that, if Travolta truly is gay, it’s up to him when to decide to come out, not Carrie Fisher… which is a fair argument if Travolta  A.)Wasn’t married to a woman and B.)Wasn’t a prominent member of a notorious cult that claims that homosexuality is a perverse illness that can be cured. There are plenty of movie and television stars who are gay but simply don’t talk about it; that’s not what Travolta is doing. He’s actively participating in a sham, a fraud that further perpetuates the idea that being gay is shameful and should be kept secret and tamped down.

Ron Hubbard, inventor of Scientology, calls homosexuality a “perversion” and characterizes it as “covert hostility” on his chart of human emotion. Gay church members, through aggressive auditing, hope to reach “level 1.1,” at which point they’ll be happy and straight. In 2009, Scientology higher-up Paul Haggis resigned from the church after 35 years of involvement, the final straw being its public stance against marriage equality. But when gay rights activists expressed disdain over Travolta’s casting as Edna Turnblad in John Waters‘ Hairspray, which they considered “an iconic gay role,” Travolta asserted: “There is nothing gay in this movie. I’m not playing a gay man. Scientology is not homophobic in any way. In fact, it’s one of the more tolerant faiths. Anyone’s accepted.” That’s not entirely true.

Beliefnet.com quotes Ohio State University professor Hugh B.Urban about why celebrities are so drawn to scientology:

But then I think the reason that celebrities would be interested is because it’s a religion that fits pretty well with a celebrity kind of personality. It’s very individualistic. It celebrates your individual identity as ultimately divine. It claims to give you ultimate power over your own mind, self, destiny, so I think it fits well with an actor personality. And then the wealth question: These aren’t people who need more wealth, but what they do need, or often want at least, is some kind of spiritual validation for their wealth and lifestyle, and Scientology is a religion that says it’s OK to be wealthy, it’s OK to be famous, in fact, that’s a sign of your spiritual development. So it kind of is a spiritual validation for that kind of lifestyle.

Ultimately, John Travolta isn’t the point, although I do think he’s an apt example of the kind of person we tend to give some room to when they’re not famous: he’s been involved in a very strange and intolerant religion for 38 years! Since 1975, when he was 21 years old! Margaret Cho can joke about John Travolta if she wants to — anyhow, the joke’s not on him, the joke’s on homophobia. Rosewarne doesn’t need to find it amusing, either, that’s her right. When Carrie Fisher is asked a question by an interviewer, she’s not obligated to lie on that person’s behalf. But John Travolta is not of this world, nor is he the whole world, and his best movies happened decades before many LGBT youth were even born.

We can’t force anybody — or everybody! — to come out. But the cool thing about aforementioned LGBT youth is that they’re youth, and they don’t always need real people to make them feel better, they can get by okay on fictional characters, too, and that is something we — and by “we” I mean “the world” — do have some control over. Maybe John Travolta won’t come ever out as bi or gay, but it’d be cool if one of the action heroes he played had.

I don’t think we need John Travolta, I think we can just leave him be, and I’m not just saying that because I maxed out on my own personal attention span for any John-Travolta-related material midway through writing this article and never want to write or talk about him again. We don’t need him. We have Jason Collins. We have Brittney Griner, and Jodie Foster and Ellen DeGeneres and Lori Lindsey and Wanda Sykes and Portia De Rossi and Frank Ocean and Megan Rapinoe and Zach Quinto and Anderson Cooper and Amber Heard and we’ll have more, and soon, I think. We have Ángeles Álvarez and hopefully her speech inspired more politicians to consider coming out. And we have you, too, don’t we? We have you. Maybe not today, or tomorrow or this year or the next, but we’ll have you soon enough.