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Monday, June 06, 2011

'Out' the snipers!

To 'out' or not 'to out'?

It's a perennial question in the gay community - and the Church - which pops up every so often.

Many of us who are 'out' of the 'closet' of homophobia know what a very difficult thing it is to do to be honest about the fullness of your humanity with yourself and people who say they love you.

The risks - and the costs - are high.

There are many levels of 'coming out'. First, to yourself, of course, which is  the hardest step. I've known more Queer people who laugh and say, "It was funny. Each and every time I 'came out' to a friend or relative, they did not seem at all surprised. I seemed to be the last person to know."

I remember being turned down for a position with an LGBT organization because I wasn't "out enough". It was felt that, because I had a partner and six kids, we were, in the not-so-delicate words of one gay man, "aping the cultural stigmata" of heterosexism.

Really. Hand to Jesus.

I know some people who don't think you're 'out' until you've had a Letter to the Editor, in which you've identified yourself as Queer, published in the NY Times.

Personally, I think you're really 'out' when you just go about your life, living it out in the way you think God has called you to do. I call them 'Main Street America' heroes. They cut their lawns, pay their taxes, send their kids to school, attend PTA and town council meetings, and are otherwise contributing members of society and strive to be good citizens of the universe. 

No matter how a person chooses to live their lives as honestly, authentically, ethically and with as much integrity as one can possibly have, many parts of society seem to always be in waiting for the opportunity to send us right back in the closet.

It doesn't matter, really, even if you are not involved in any PDAs - Public Displays of Affection. As soon as you begin talking - all normal-like because, well, it is - about a vacation or a family event and someone who doesn't know you begins to 'get it', you can see the realization begin to dawn on them by their facial expressions.

Sometimes, you get, "Umm.... but.... you mean?....Ah....."

Other times, you just get a sour smile. If you watch closely enough, you can almost hear the gears in their head shifting through the information and deciding how to handle it in a social situation.

It can be quite humorous, actually, depending on the situation.

A Queer person soon discovers that 'coming out' is not a one-time deal. Even after many, many years, there are thousands of ways a Queer person has to defend against prejudice and bigotry.

The worst of it is the occasions of 'micro-oppression' - the heterosexist assumptions people make about Queer people which we find we have to explain.

"No, she's not my sister/brother."

"No, she's not my mother/father."

I used to introduce Ms. Conroy as my "partner", until one day, when I was doing a gig for The Oasis in Texas, a very nice gentleman in a business suit and tie, complete white Cowboy hat and boots asked, "Your partner? And, what is your business?"

He was as serious as a drought in the cattle business. He thought Ms. Conroy was my business partner.

I smiled and said, "Oh, it's just 'family business'".

The real effects of the 'micro-oppression' come on the way home, in the car, as you have a discussion in your head about whether or not that was the best way to have handled it.

I also remember the time when the pressure was on to find a job so I could be ordained. Ms. Conroy thought it would be a nifty idea to apply for a Chaplaincy position with the Armed Forces.

I had no idea what I was supposed to do with her or the children, but I humored her and went for the physical. At the end of all the exams, I met with the doctor to review my record.

"Any problem with alcohol?" he asked, not looking at me.

"No, sir," I said.

"No problem with drugs, I presume?"

"No, sir."

"And, um... yes, you have children, so no problem with homosexuality?"

"No, sir," I said, honestly, "I have no problem with homosexuality."

I've spent wasted countless hours going over and over and over and over again in my head how to handle situations like those.

Because, you know, it's important - not only for my own sense of dignity and integrity but for the next Queer person that person will meet. One never knows when the 'teachable' moment will arrive and whether or not it will be your turn at bat to 'bunt' or go for a "line drive", or hit one over the wall with all the bases loaded.

Sometimes, a 'bunt' or a 'walk' can at least get a Queer person on base.

It can be exhausting - especially when all you really want to do is get to 'home' - or at least, feel more at 'home'. You know.  Just like everybody else.

So, perhaps you can understand why it is that those of us who are 'out' become very annoyed when we meet other Queer people, especially those in positions of power, authority or influence - or those who seek positions of power, authority or influence - remain closeted. 

It's annoying AND frustrating when one discovers that the closeted person remains so to his/her own benefit and remains silent in the face of discrimination and oppression of Queer people.

It's annoying, frustrating and flat out infuriating when one discovers that the Queer closeted person is sniping at other Queer people from the closet.

The whole issue of 'outing' came out again when Colin Coward, a priest in the Church of England who is gay and married to another man, and directs an organization called "Changing Attitude" got fed up and angry with the homophobic shenanigans at Lambeth Palace and reported on his blog that he personally knew thirteen (13) bishops in the Church of England who are gay - some of whom have been appointed in the last 12 months.

Closeted - deeply closeted - but gay.

He noted in the comment section of his blog that this means that "over 10% of bishops in England are gay". 

Colin said the he "could" name names but "As Director of Changing Attitude, the guidance from trustees (and Tina has commented above) is that Changing Attitude does not out people".

Good form. I absolutely agree. Well, to a point.

Let me begin by saying that 'coming out' is an intensely personal decision. No one should 'come out for you'. You have to do it for yourself. So, I applaud 'Changing Attitude' and any Queer Christian organization that has as a policy not to 'out' other people.

That doesn't mean that some of us are 'forced' into it - either through pressure from family or friends or flat out blackmail - or, when some nice, straight person wants to be your personal hero.

Over the years, I've known many, many Queer people who have been 'outed' to their bishops in their ordination process by well-intended Rectors or Presidents of Standing Committees or Chairs of Commissions on Ministries.

By well-intended, I mean that I really believe that this is the operative, conscious dynamic. They want to 'force the issue' in the diocese and feel that they could muster the support to 'help' the person receive the necessary approval to proceed with ordination.

I've never known that to work. The bishop still has final authority and power to decline the "advice and counsel" - and that's all it is, ultimately - of those bodies and people of influence.

If the bishop is all about being a 'symbol of unity in the church', and feels that ordaining a Queer person would harm that unity in any way, s/he will decline to ordain that person - however otherwise well qualified.

I have known one bishop who graciously transferred the approved candidate for ordination to another "friendly" diocese. However, that also comes with cost. Some folks in some diocese feel that they are participating with institutional oppression by making it 'easy' for a bishop not to ordain an otherwise qualified candidate.

It's complicated.

All that being said, I'm convinced that the issue is not so much about 'forcing the issue' so there will be justice, but it's really about someone trying to be a 'hero'.

Bottom line: Coming out is a process which requires a life-long commitment. It should not be done lightly or inadvisedly or without prayer. And, it certainly isn't good, no matter how 'well intended' for others to 'out' a Queer person.

So, is it ever okay to "out" someone? My answer is no - but not unequivocally.

My personal credo, which has evolved over the years, is "Out the snipers."

I've never done that, personally - never been in a position to do so - but I always cheer when it is done.

You know. People like Larry Craig, former Republican senator from Idaho. Former Republican Representative Mark Foley of Florida. Rep. Ed Schrock, a Republican congressman from Virginia, who dropped out of his re-election race in 2004 after a Web log published allegations that he used a gay dating service. Senator Lindsey Graham has long been rumored to be in an hermetically sealed closet and so remains the Senior Senator from South Carolina.

Senator Barney Frank from Massachusetts, who has been 'out' since at least before the invention of sliced, white bread, says that "There are probably five or seven in the House and at least three senators," who are Queer and in the closet.

Which is fine. Really. As long as they vote the right way on issues of justice for Queer people. When they make homophobic remarks and try to influence a negative vote on repealing DOMA or DADT, I start to get angry - enough to cheer when these scoundrels are outed - and ousted from office.

Even so, it's a tricky thing. The whole thing can backfire - unless there is conclusive evidence. You know, like being caught in a public men's room or in the bushes at night in a public park.

Should the thirteen bishops of the Church of England who are reportedly Queer be 'outed'?

Well, my hope is that, in the face of all the hypocrisy now in the Church of England, these men would be able to step out from behind the Lavender Curtain and begin to tell the truth about their sexual orientation.

I know. They won't. The personal cost is, perhaps, incalculably high. I have no doubt that many of these men (and, they're all men, of course), have wives and children.

In the Queer community, this is known as "having a beard" - as in something that makes you look more "masculine".

In urban slang, it's known as being "on the down low" or "on the D.L". Sometimes, it's meant to suggest that the man is 'bisexual', which, I suppose, is meant to mean "not that bad" - or, "not that gay". Masculinity intact, as it were.

In any event, it's complicated.

Actually, I do hope that these closeted Queer bishops might come out - privately - to ABC Rowans and ABY Sentamu. First, however, they'd have to come out to themselves. And, their wives and families. What they do, after that, is really up to them.

My real hope is that they won't do anything that directly hurts Queer people. You know, in the name of Jesus and the 'unity of the church'.

It's not just the secrecy. It's the hypocrisy.

And, when that secrecy and hypocrisy hurt other Queer people and they perpetuate the oppression and prejudice and bigotry, I say, "Out the snipers!"


Hutch said...

My darling daughter (who bitches to no end about the expense of Mother's Day with her 3 mommies) says, when people ask about her mom and her mom's partner's business - "It's monkey business". I love it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

LOL, Hutch. Well said.

IT said...

A few days back on FoJ I called on the Gay Bishops to come out as leaders (complete with snazzy graphic).

The walls are crumbling, regardless. They can be proactive and make a difference, or they can be part of the old church and left behind.

I don't believe in outing anyone, generally, unless they are actively working against the interests of the gay community. At this point it is not clear to me that the Gay Bishops are actively hurting their fellows. I'd like to think they are called to a higher standard, but regardless, I think the call is for THEM to come out, not to be exposed.

Perhaps they might seek advice from Bishop Gene about Coming Out.

IT said...

BTW, I also agree that it's tiresome to have to come out over and over again.

Sometimes, I just can't do it-- it doesn't seem essential or prudent that I tell a cabbie late at night in a strange city that I'm married to another woman -- just let them assume what they will.

I try, but I'm so tired of it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - I know. I left a comment. I'm not a huge fan of 'outing' - except the snipers. Bishop Barbara Harris used that term more than a decade ago. She's absolutely right.

So far, the Gay Boyz in Purple in UK have not done anything to hurt the Queer Community - except, of course, by their silence. If/when they actually, actively do something to hurt Queer people, then I hope someone will do something to 'out' them.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - it's called micro-oppression. It's like death from a thousand paper cuts. Exhausting? Some days, it's hard to lift your head off the pillow.

Jim said...

It is all so damn unfair. I do not have to defend my sexuality, 47 years "partnered" and it has never ever come up.

We have, it is clear, come a ways. But there are so many more steps down the road and those 13 are hurting themselves, their church and the lgbt of their diocese with their silence.

No, I would not out them if I could. But it is still a bad choice made by them.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You wouldn't out them if you could, Jim? I wouldn't either, but I'd be in the front line cheering loudly if they did anything (more) to actively hurt Queer people.

I hope each and every one of the 13 squirmed when they read Colin's blog.

LouieCrew said...

Jesus spoke of those in the closet when he said, "Let the dead bury the dead." But he also showed compassion to the dead: "Lazarus, come forth" -- even with all his stinky clothes.

Muthah+ said...

As one who was outed, I really don't want that to happen to anyone even the snipers.

Jim said...

Rev. E.

No I wouldn't. But then I am straight and I cannot really in my gut know what the pain feels like. That cuts both ways: I can hurt for you and he others these guys are betraying but I cannot really understand how badly that hurts. I can understand being outed hurts but not the way someone who lives with the crap we force on lgbt folks can.

So in my sense of myself, I lack the ability to make that combat decision. But I tell you what, I would be out there cheering if someone else did it to these jerks!


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Louie. I think John had something to say to those who do harm to other Queers from their stinky closets: "You brood of vipers!"

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah - I was also "outed". In court. Lost custody of my children for five years. I wouldn't want anyone to go through that pain.

As I said, I wouldn't intentionally out anyone, but I wouldn't stop cheering when someone outs a Queer sniper.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Jim - We can both get matching pom-poms when we cheer.

I have this funny feeling in my gut - call it intuition - that one of these Closet Boyz in Purple Shirts is gonna mess up and it will be all over but the weeping at Lambeth Palace.

Prior Aelred said...

FWIW, several years ago, I was assured by someone in the ACO (at the time) that Rowan knows that nine of the bishops he has consecrated (ordained) are gay (& I suspect that the number is higher now) -- it is about hypocrisy being the foundation of Gospel values (or something) ...

IT said...

Elizabeth, you are right-- it is inevitable that SOMEHOW the walls will crumble. And it will reverberate and all ofthem will fall. That's why I wish someone would shake them and say, "Brother. It's going to happen. Do it on your terms!"

Active v. passive.

Lead or react.

I give themthe benefit of the doubt, that like many folks in the closet, they thought they could do so much more good if they got the position, that it justified "keeping quiet". Now, I hope they are seeing the injustice they are serving, I hope unwillingly.

How do they face themselves in the mirror every morning? They are carrying a burden. They need to come clean, shed the trappings of power if they must, and take up a different burden. I hope they do. Wouldn't THAT be a moment of justice.

Janababe said...

Elizabeth, I was visiting a gay bar in Lexington, Ky., one night when I went to the ladies, and one of the bartenders (a childhood friend and sorority sister) entered the stall next to mine. We were in our 20s at the time, so it was the 1960s. Annie had been drinking behind the bar, and said, "Hey, Cissy, I want you to know, I'm queer." My response was, "Well, you're still Annie, aren't you?"

It's too bad more people can't react like that.

And, I was working for the NH House when same-sex marriage became law! Bishop Robinson gave me a hug when Speaker Terie Norelli signed the bill, sending it on the Senate President and the Governor. It was a monumental day!

walter said...

Well, Elizabeth, if they are not against us they are with us, more or less aware of it.

Walter Vitale

Matthew said...

I agree and I also think it's okay to out them if any has hurt you personally. Maybe some of them are sexually active. Maybe not all the sex acts have been consensual. If you feel personally victimized, you may have to out them for your own dignity. If you know personally that one is spreading HIV you may need to report it. I once had to out a closet case to the police because he was stalking me. Then the police report became public naturally because they are public records like Larry Craig arrest and arrests are sometimes published in small town papers. And he was a local elected official so of course it got out. Things worked out in the end, but someone once asked me if I could live with it if he had committed suicide. I said I think so because at that time my own dignity and sense of safety mattered more than his reputation. Also if you date a closet case they may break your heart and so in your anger you want to get even. Think of a few of the scenes from the movie Priest. P.s. The man who stalked me only started stalking me after we broke up and I stopped all sexual contact with him. This was something I felt that the police needed to know because I had let him in my home previously. Matthew

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Prior - It's an old game the church has played. Ordaining affluent or otherwise well-connected gay men in exchange for their money or connections to money.

Makes me ill.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - I fear the big fall, and I pray for that moment of justice.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - sounds like you went through a nightmare. I'm so glad things worked out for you. I hope the man got help

Marie said...

You know, since we got married, the issue of outing myself has become more difficult. I have to decide whether to say "wife" (which outs me immediately) or "spouse," which allows people to assume about my "husband." They also assume "husband" when I say I just got married. Thankfully, in two or three situations this weekend, the straight white men who made the assumptions were abashed and apologized. Still, it is exhausting.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Marie - I suppose it depends a lot on where you are. In places where there is marriage equality, I've found folks are a bit less.... 'startled'... even so, one has to weight what one says constantly. It's part of the exhaustion of micro-oppression.

SCG said...

I agree with your ethic on outing, and I also cheer when the light gets shone on those who are the hypocrites that do harm to the queer community while enjoying its "fun bits".
As for the 13 bishops, my question to them would be how in the world can they truly serve God and be a representation of God's love and transparency while hiding who they really are as a child of God?
Being in the closet is extremely hard and hurtful... to one's self and to God, IMHO.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I absolutely agree, SCG. The closet is toxic for everyone.

Erika Baker said...

The exhaustion of it all also affects our children. They watch a new person carefully before telling them that mum is married to a woman.

Only the day someone my daughter has only recently got to know asked her if mum was dating and then wanted to know all about my boyfriend. My daughter didn't know yet whether she could trust the woman, and when you're 17 you don't want to shock people either! So she mumbled something in agreement and then asked me how on earth she could get out of that muddle.

I ended up writing to the woman, telling her the truth and asking her to understand my daughter's embarrassment. She, fortunately, was totally lovely and said she couldn't have handled social situations like that at 17 either.

But oh for times when it won't be necessary any longer!