Why Coming Out Is Not Always an Emancipatory Act
A month ago, I watched a movie called “Love Simon”. It’s a typical American high school movie. The cinematic implementation is accordingly basic. The content, however, conveys a clear statement and got me to think about it the whole following day. Simon, the protagonist, doesn’t struggle with his sexual identity, but still, he can’t pluck up his courage to come out as homosexual.
I want to express my thoughts about the delicate topic and explain why coming out is not always an emancipatory moment. Because from what I perceived: Coming out as gay (or as any other sexual identity) isn’t easy. Simon demonstrates the inner conflict between gayness and living normality. Maybe we can learn something from him.
Why an ordinary movie succeeds in showing gay teenagers’ struggles
Like the cinematic implementation itself, Simon (and this is what he says about himself) is depicted as an ordinary character. But in his heart, the schoolboy carries a secret: He’s gay. His secret remains hidden for a long time. Nobody suspects anything, even his closest friends don’t know about this. He isn’t “conspicuously” gay, but his attendant sorrow is visible. He isn’t concerned about being gay. He simply wants to keep his life as it is. This is why he can’t understand the need to come out.
As you notice, “Love Simon” isn’t a classical queer movie presenting young twinks dancing at queer techno parties. It isn’t a movie showing polyamorous desires or any other highly sexualized contents as well. It’s free from stereotypes. It’s a movie showing a gay teenager’s reality. Coming out: Yes or no? I don’t intend to contrast one extreme with the other. Queerness is as diverse as all the colors we know. Regardless, I was delighted to have watched this movie because I realized that I never dealt with my gayness that much. But why didn’t I?
Simon and I have the same reason why we didn’t and still don’t: Because it doesn’t rule our lives. It’s basically a sexual preference. But simultaneously, gayness, and so queerness is a political group, a community, an essential identity. As mentioned above, queerness is pretty divers. Not only various sexual preferences characterize human beings, but also their cultures established in the past three decades precisely state that being gay, lesbian, bi-, inter-, pan- or asexual are not only natural desires of human beings: The expression, the discourse, the argument, the interaction, and ultimately, alliances with like-minded people constitute a whole new world attempting to conquer heteronormative circumstances.
I was in Berlin’s queer community. I went to several queer techno clubs. I visited a vast number of gay bars and met like-minded people who refused to define themselves. When I was asked which type of men I prefer or whether I would generally like to date somebody I always answered. On the one hand, I was part of the queer world with nearly all the conceivable properties. I’m still there.
Gayness is an interest of others
On the other hand, I never intensely dealt with my homosexuality. It was never an integral part of my deep personality. It didn’t characterize me. I rarely started talking about my desires, expectations, and fears. I talked about them when I was asked to do so because they wanted to know more about me or my sexual identity. In harsh words: I was always energized from outside to talk about my gayness, even though it was a small part of my life. Therefore, I came to the question of why people care about my sexual preferences more than I do. Why am I supposed to care at all?
An argument which is often used, also in the movie, is that straight people don’t need to deal with those questions. They don’t even need to come out as straight. Instead, they will be accepted as they are. And this is very true. They won’t be inundated with questions about their sexuality. When did you find out that you are straight? How was your realization? How did you lastly deal with it? How did your friends and relatives react to your coming out? What do you actually prefer? I don’t intend to claim that straight people might not reflect their sexuality. Nonetheless, they are not noticeably confronted by their environment. When they say they’re straight: No comment afterward. When I say I’m gay: Questions definitely following. But again: Why should I care about it? Why should I give self-disclosure about my sexual identity? Why should I justify myself at all? Why is that so important? Can’t I just be me? The protagonist Simon also tried to find answers to those questions.
The normalization of queerness
In short, the existence of queer communities is highly valuable. They offer a representation of millions of marginalized people. Thus, there’s a political dimension as well. Queers as political movement articulate their demands for acceptance, intactness, and finally, a normalization of queerness. This is what “Love Simon” and I wish, too. It’s, by all means, obvious that one group or one category isn’t able to represent every individual. If I like to, I can surely be part of the incredibly hedonistic and political group. In turn, there’s no need to categorize me. What I sadly observe, however, is that my environment needs to categorize other people. The process of othering can be positively or negatively motivated, but what I concretely demand is the normalization of queerness. The consequence might hopefully be not feeling the pressure anymore to come out because we will be accepted as whatever we like to be. Love is love, isn’t it?
Coming Out as curse and blessing
“Love is love” — So, it matters no more to explain sexuality?
Of course, coming out can be an emancipatory moment for non-straight individuals. What we should know, indeed, is that we don’t have to. However, fear isn’t supposed to be the reason why people refuse to come out. Instead, it’s supposed to be our decision whether, when, to whom, and as what we come out. This is emancipation. At least, queers in most western countries have fewer obstacles to come out. The best condition is living in a city where most queer people are highly privileged.
Here, the political dimension becomes relevant again. In rural areas, it’s mostly hard to come out to their relatives and friends. They might be rejected, ostracized, discriminated against, beaten, and killed. In some countries, it isn’t possible at all to come out because it’s a danger for marginalized queers. More countries are discriminating against queer people, especially gays, than countries protecting them. For some individuals, coming out is an act of release, for the others, a big challenge. Simon’s wish is a time in which we need to come out no more. Mine as well. To those people thinking about coming out and not having to fear severe consequences: If you want to come out, then go for it. No one holds you back. However, once you come out, your surroundings have a chance to see you as a label. What seems to be an emancipatory moment for you is a triumph for the environment, a relief not having to fathom you. Therefore, think about it thoroughly without any pressure and find out why you feel the need to come out. If you come out, please speak for the millions of marginalized queers, particularly those fearing persecution.
A possible way of dealing with one’s sexuality
Let’s switch to the movie again: As Simon concludes, being gay is supposed to be normal. After he’s outed by classmate Martin because Simon failed to fulfill his demands, his friends are disappointed. They feel tricked and used by him only because Simon tried to prevent the revelation of his secret. But in the end, Simon finds his true love and gets his friends back. A movie with a happy ending. But now let’s get back to reality.
Only because it’s accepted by law and society, it doesn’t mean there’s no pressure to find the right point in time to come out because society expects us to do so. The political and hedonistic queer community might be a vent for our issues. There, we can plump down and be ourselves. Conversely, there are gays, lesbians, bi-, inter-, pan-, and asexuals who merely want to be themselves without permanent self-articulation. Eventually, being queer is only a tessera of a whole personality. I concluded that I don’t need to express myself as gay. It’s simply a sexual desire and of course an identity that doesn’t utterly characterize me. Like Simon declares to be, I’m a “normal” guy doing normal activities. I only want to live my life.
Thank you very much, Simon.