This is just a quick reminder to fellow straight people about how we don’t get to decide that a person was not brave for coming out of the closet at one time versus another. In fact, our opinion on the subject doesn’t much matter at all.
I generally enjoy Edgar Beem’s Notebook column over at the Forecaster, so I was disheartened when I read his January 6th opinion piece “The Progressive’s Dilemma.” In it Beem makes a handful of good points and another handful of not so good points about why a progressive might be skeptical of Michaud’s bid for the Blaine House. In doing so, he adds his name to the ever-growing list of straight folks who feel like it is fine to weigh in on just how brave the candidate was for coming out when he did (his verdict: not so brave). When a closeted Michaud was serving in the state legislature and casting votes he would come to change his opinion on, brave members of the LGBT community were putting their necks out for the cause. Where was he, Beem and others have openly wondered? That he came out at a less risky time, to these folks, means that his coming out wasn’t actually brave.
Because straight people get to have an opinion on that.
[Note: This really isn't about the Michaud / Cutler divide. I like progressive infighting as much as the next guy, but to be honest I have no idea where I stand on the 2014 election. I am one of those cheery fellows who has looked at the past 30 years of electoral politics and realized that I will likely be let down by whoever gets in there anyway. To be clear that it is not about preference one way or another, I have a marked history of opposition to some of Michaud's stances on reproductive rights issues. If you want to read more about this conversation in the electoral context, though, I wrote about it last week. If you aren't into the opinionated loudmouth thing, the fabulous and admirably measured Mario Moretto wrote about it a bit more from the perspective of a respectable journalist.]
This is about arrogance of privilege.
Straight people don’t get to decide whether one choice was braver than another with regard to how those who are not straight navigate their lives and expressions of identity. Just because the tide is turning on public opinion of homosexuality—gay marriage in particular—does not mean that we live in a super easy wonderland for those who don’t identify as straight. For one thing, what the public imagines as homosexual and the actual LGBTQ community are two entirely different things. In addition to that, I have friends who have come out relatively recently and went through patches of being ostracized from their families. I know people still going through that. For goodness sake, there remain groups in this country that conspire with other countries to keep alive laws that make homosexuality punishable by death. We have made tremendous strides, but we are not out of the woods yet.
We straight people don’t know a damn thing about bravery when it comes to the expression of sexual identity and so maybe its time we acknowledge this and stop weighing in. Oh, really? It was brave to come out in the 80s, but not so much anymore because it isn’t as hard as it was? Why not try telling that straight faced to a kid who is getting bullied in school because of their sexuality? Or how about just shutting up with your criticism of what people who are not straight go through because your opinion on the matter doesn’t really mean anything.
If you are straight and you don’t like someone’s something has done in their career, or the way they treat people, or the way they voted, go ahead and say so. I know that we straight people are used to getting our way on everything, but I promise that it is easy to criticize a person’s actions without bringing up your irrelevant opinion on what does and does not constitute as brave for people who don’t live with the same privileges we do.
Note (yes, another one): It is also important to consider another thing altogether. There are people in the LGBTQ community who don’t really care for anyone to decide what is brave, or making an issue out of coming out in the first place. By acknowledging it as brave, it is to acknowledge that these identities are “different” or outside of any sorts of acceptable norms and so making anything of a big deal about it one way or another shouldn’t occur in the first place. One friend with whom I had an exchange about this after Michaud came out about this very topic wrote to me, “My frustration lies in the feeling that as a culture, [the spectacle around Michaud's coming out] is indicative of the amount social change that has yet to occur in the big picture of being LGBT.” Just this morning he sent to me these discussions about the awkwardness of celebrations of bravery (here and here) among members of the trans community. What do you think about that? Oh yeah, you’re straight so it doesn’t really matter.