Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, one of the most powerful people in the world, came out of the closet today.
Cook isn't the first person to come out and he won't be the last and in 2014 someone revealing his or her sexuality has almost become a ho-hum affair. Not only are public figures coming out in understated ways like offhandedly mentioning a boyfriend in the last two hundred words of a magazine profile, but when we run coming out stories on HuffPost Gay Voices the comments section is almost immediately filled with remarks like "Who cares?" and "It shouldn't matter!" and "It's no one's business!" -- and that's from mostly queer people.
I've argued before that coming out matters because the more visibility queer people have, the harder it is to deny not only that we exist, but that many of us are thriving in all parts of our society. Cook himself notes, "If hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it's worth the trade-off with my own privacy," and my guess is that somewhere, someone (or many someones) will be inspired by his move.
But the part of Cook's essay that actually had me tearing up as I walked to work this morning was this string of 12 simple words: "I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me."
I admit I'm a bit of a sap (show me a well-edited trailer for a film with a sweeping Enya song in the background and I'm a soggy mess) but reading someone call being gay "a gift" punches me in the gut (in the best way possible) because all too often I hear people say that our queerness isn't important or shouldn't matter.
Some think in order for us to achieve the same rights as our non-queer counterparts, we need to play up how much we're like them. And, of course, we are a lot like them. And many queers want nothing more than to live a life filled with monogamy, marriage, kids, a mortgage, a mid-life crisis, an affair with the cute temp at the office and so on and so forth.
But for me, being queer has always meant I was different and that my difference made me special. The first time I heard the word queer, it was when I was a naive five-year-old and I had just performed a strip tease for our garbage man. He called me a queer and instead of being offended or hurt (as I should have been), I was thrilled because I thought the word meant extraordinary.
As I grew older, my queerness became a kind of curse. It got me pushed down flights of stairs in high school. It had me writing letters to Jesus asking him to make me pure and whole (a.k.a. straight). But when I finally came to accept who I am (in part thanks to others who, like Cook, had publicly come out or were always out) I realized that my queerness was something to treasure.
Cook notes "being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It's made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life. It's been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry." And I agree with him. Beyond this, being queer for me also means challenging set notions of sex, sexuality and gender and actively working to help tear down those rigid definitions that keep people unhappy, unfulfilled and unable to reach their full humanness.
Being queer is a gift because of the possibilities inherent in our otherness. I truly believe that we can and will be the ones who help usher in new ways of understanding our humanity. As we've long operated outside of traditional and institutional frameworks, we have and can push ourselves and our non-queer brothers and sisters to challenge what we've been told about sex, love, relationships, families, creativity, art and other big ticket items and that will mean that, hopefully, some day we'll be liberated from the isms that plague our society that are rooted in our reliance of and privileging those frameworks.
Cook also notes that, "Part of social progress is understanding that a person is not defined only by one's sexuality, race, or gender. I'm an engineer, an uncle, a nature lover, a fitness nut, a son of the South, a sports fanatic, and many other things." While I'll agree with him to a degree -- of course, as Walt Whitman so beautifully put it, we contain multitudes -- I would argue that my queerness is a primary factor in defining who I am. How could it not be? It's touched every part of my life and formed who I am today.
My queerness, like Tim Cook's, is a gift. And so is yours. Stop telling yourself and each other it doesn't matter, that it isn't important, that we shouldn't care. Stop telling yourself and each other that in order to be given the rights we deserve simply for being alive we need to silence or censor ourselves. Stop telling yourself and each other that we're just like everyone else. Our queer ancestors, the ones who fought at Stonewall and marched on Washington and were arrested and beaten and murdered for their queerness, weren't battling so that we could be like everyone else. We have never been just like everyone else and I hope we never are.
Your queerness matters.
Of course some will consider that a radical statement. And many people (non-queer and queer) won't agree with me. And that's fine. And I promise on that glorious day when the revolution finally arrives and we realize just how beautiful and and profound and momentous our queerness is, I won't say "I told you so," because deep down inside, you already knew it.
You already know it.