Author's note: I felt this essay, from 2004 and included in my book "Laid Bare," warranted a repost in light of all the political leaders and corporations "falling all over themselves to endorse" same sex marriage . I'm happy to see that my premise -- that LGBT people coming out increases the likelihood of full civil rights -- has been borne out in the years since this was first published.
A little-reported subplot in the recent resignation of New Jersey Governor James McGreevey is that persistent rumors regarding his homosexuality had been circulating since he assumed office. In other words, everyone already knew.
This is my case for proudly stating, as Jim McGreevey did, that "I am a gay American." As he said, coming out to the world will, "keep me from the pitfalls of a divided self or secret truths."
Those "secret truths" are usually very open secrets; they're the proverbial elephant in the room that goes unmentioned. But, by leaving things undefined, by not being clear about one's relationship to the world vis-á-vis one's sexuality, not only are those who would oppress us free to do so with impunity, those who love us are unable to fully share in our lives.
Dick Cheney supports gay marriage.
The one and only reason he arrived at that position is because his daughter is a lesbian. Polls have continuously shown that people who know homosexuals personally are more supportive of gay rights. Here's a news flash for you: everyone knows a homosexual. They may not know they do, but I believe it's more likely they've never had to deal with the obvious fact because the person in question has let them off the hook by remaining in the closet.
Therefore, by extrapolation, coming out helps not only the person making the announcement, but the gay population at large. Social policy is formed slowly, over time, as mores and beliefs evolve. Each man and woman who tells their loved ones "I'm gay" is helping to change the minds of six, eight, 10 other people directly and scores of others down the line. It's not too farfetched to say that someone who comes out tomorrow is directly responsible for increasing the likelihood that gay marriage will be fully accepted in the future.
Your friends and family will appreciate it.
When a friend or relative or coworker is still in the closet, there tend to be a lot of acrobatic conversational skills in play. So much has to be talked around or ignored.
I'm not blind to the fact that some circumstances might make this task more challenging than others. In some parts of the country it is still pretty tough -- if not outright dangerous -- to be openly gay. Discretion and subtlety might be more suitable in these situations: why don't you give your best girlfriend at the office an opening (and you know you have a best a girlfriend at the office) and casually mention that you can't wait to see Ocean's Twelve because you "think George Clooney is so handsome." She'll probably sigh and think to herself, "at last!"
People are fairly intuitive when it comes to those they love. The denial comes into play on the part of the closeted person. A friend of mine lived with his "roommate" in a beautifully decorated house with three Jack Russell Terriers and thought no one had a clue he was gay. I'll wager even the dogs knew.
Because everyone already knows.
Your sister knows. Your father knows (although he's running a close second in the denial department.) Brandy, the checkout girl down at the Piggly Wiggly knows. (Mike the bag boy hopes you're gay, but, at 15, he's not yet quite sure why he hopes that.)
Your business associates know.
A producer friend who came out late in life made a big production of taking his colleagues out to dinner -- one at a time -- to tell them what they had known for years. One actress breathed a sigh of relief and said, "Is that all? I was terrified you were going to ask me to do the revival of Annie 2!"
In my own case, my mother finally got fed up and said to me, "Tell me, because I know." (Mom also confessed she knew I was gay when I was a baby. If she had any lingering doubts they were fully dispelled when, at age 13, I created a six-foot-long facsimile of Barbra Streisand's signature -- resplendent with silver glitter -- on the wall of my bedroom.) We were then able to have a conversation without having to think about every word we said and were free to indulge in our normal Presbyterian hang-ups.
But, there's one overwhelming, foudroyant reason for coming out, and it doesn't involve your family and friends. It's not about taking a political stance or moving the gay agenda forward. The best reason for coming out is this: it is going to make you happy. You will suddenly find that you've been unknowingly carrying an onerous and debilitating burden. This weight has been keeping your shoulders hunched and your arms at your sides when they could be spread wide as wings, allowing you to soar through your life, concealing nothing, no longer Earth-bound by "secret truths".
When the Munchkins came out they discovered they had been liberated from a life of hiding and fear. Do yourself a favor: take Glinda's advice. It got Dorothy home safe and it will get you there, too.