Is there privilege in being out of the closet? Lupa posted a recent entry where she argues that people who can choose to decloset and argue that other people should come out of the closet don’t realize that they have privilege. Specifically she notes:
you have the option to decloset (or not) and can decide whether you feel you can handle whatever negative consequences may occur without having it made for you.
She goes on to criticize decloseted people who think closeted people should come out (and I suppose this would include me):
Moreover, it’s a dick move to criticize people who stay closeted to any degree, or their reasons for doing so. Not every decloseted person attacks their closeted associates, but some do. I have seen many people over the years complain about people not decloseting, whether that was the broom closet or the queer closet or whatever closet others were using for protection, I’ve seen them called traitors, and I’ve seen the blame for continuing discrimination against everyone else laid at their feet for not standing up and being visible. I’ve seen pagans say “You should have nothing to hide if you’re strong in your faith”. I’ve seen radical queers tell closeted queers that all they’re doing is milking the “benefits” of the closet and not taking the full brunt of queerphobia. I’ve seen closeted people being told that by staying in the closet, they’re actively supporting the bigots themselves.
In my most recent post about coming out of the closet I wrote (amongst other things): “When you don’t stand up, you essentially are condoning the way things are, and the intolerance and prejudice that comes with it.” I think Lupa has a point when she says:
Privilege isn’t a criticism of the fact that you HAVE something; it’s a reminder that not everyone ELSE has what you have, and that affects the options each of you have access to in a given situation. The criticism comes when you forget that imbalance, and act in spite of it, and thereby harm those without your privilege.
So is it unfair to the closeted when someone like myself says what I wrote in the previous post? Yes and no. On the one hand it comes off as unfair to the people who feel they can’t come out of the closet because of the consequences that could occur. They get criticized by someone who is out of the closet and are told they aren’t doing enough. That’s pretty presumptuous of the person whose out of the closet. That person is judging those people for not getting out of the closet. That’s essentially what’s being said when its argued that a decloseted person has privilege. And if you look at it from that angle, there’s validity to it.
The people in the closet have my empathy, because I’ve been there. I remember as a teenager being asked by my mom a number of times if I practiced it and I denied it each time because I was afraid of the consequences. And when I was forced out of the closet, my fears came true. There were negative consequences. But here’s why I wrote what I wrote and why I think it doesn’t come from a place of privilege.
I get that some people don’t feel they can come out of the closet and I understand the reasons for why they feel that way. But as someone who was forced out of the closet, and then chose to stay out, I have to say that being out of the closet isn’t privilege. In graduate school I had two fellow grad students anonymously cyber bully me in part because of my beliefs. And when I worked in a corporate setting I always had to wonder what would happen if people googled my name, because I’d written about my spiritual practices with my given name. And in all honesty, there have been times where I wish I could change that because it would make life easier if I’d used a pseudonym and stayed in the closet. But I can’t and I realize that if I did, I’d be leaving it to someone else to carry that responsibility. Even now me being out of the closet isn’t all that wonderful. I’m self-employed, and I live and work in a fairly “liberal” area of the country, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get nervous or even uncomfortable when I find out that potential prospects have looked me up. Most of the people I’ve worked with don’t seem to care, but I can guarantee that if I lived in a more conservative area they likely would care more and you better believe I feel lucky to be living here.
Being out of the closet isn’t a cake walk. And it isn’t privilege. It’s hard and it comes with responsibility. Would I like it if people in the closet came out? Yes I would. There is strength in numbers. But I understand why it doesn’t happen. The pain of being rejected by family and friend is harsh. The persecution and prejudice that can be faced is hard. And maybe I am in a place of privilege (as a decloseted person) because I wrote that people who stay in the closet are essentially condoning the way things are. Not everyone has what I have. Fair enough. But neither has everyone faced what I have, or what I continue to face as a result of being out of the closet. Being out of the closet isn’t comfortable and when you minimize that, when you paint a brush over the people who are decloseted and make assumptions about what they face as a result of being decloseted, that’s unfair too.
To anyone who’s in the closet and feels that I’ve judged them, I apologize. You have your reasons for staying in the closet and they aren’t wrong. They are valid reasons and I get it. I don’t judge you for staying in the closet and I take back my statement that you’re condoning the way things are. I don’t think that’s the case, but understand that when I write about this issue, its not from a place of empowerment and privilege. It’s from a place of frustration and hardship, and that’s true for anyone else who’s come out of the closet.
To the people who’ve come out of the closet, I salute you. You’ve made a choice and chosen to face the potential complications that come with it. But there is hope that if we continue to raise awareness and visibility in a respectful way that we can make a space that is more tolerant and accepting as a result. And that’s why I’m out of the closet.