Tuesday, February 18, 2014

We need to talk

Hi, straight people! This post is a kind of an open letter to you, because I think it’s the best way to help you understand something many of you clearly do not: Coming out matters.

Late last week, we had the well-publicised coming out speech by actress Ellen Page. Earlier in the week, we had the coming out of US university football player Michael Sam, who may become the first openly-gay NFL player, and we had that famous reaction to his coming out.

All of which led some of you to wonder out loud, “why does a celebrity feel they need to do this?” Some of you—our friends and allies, even—have said, “people’s sexuality shouldn’t be anyone’s business but their own”.

If only that was actually true!

A heterosexual never—ever—has to consider the consequences of being attracted to or falling in love with someone of the opposite gender. But depending on where a gay person lives, if he or she falls in love with someone of the same gender he or she could face ostracism, violence, prison or even death.

No person was ever executed in Iran simply for being heterosexual, but gay people have been executed for being gay. Neo-Nazi thugs in Russia don’t beat (and possibly murder) people for being straight, they do it for people being gay. Just this week, a mob of 40 people in Nigeria didn’t drag “suspected heterosexuals” out into the streets, beat them and paint their house walls with “heterosexuals, pack and leave”; they did that to gay people. Uganda’s president didn’t just sign a law to put people in prison for life for being straight, nor did he declare “war” on straight people.

The point of all this should be obvious: A person’s HETEROsexuality doesn’t matter, but a person’s homosexuality is still a very, VERY big deal.

I know that many straight people in Western countries will say, “yes, but in our part of the world, it’s not like that.” Not so fast, straight person!

In most US states, it’s legal to fire people because they’re gay, and they can be denied housing, too. Heck, contrary to the lies of rightwing propaganda, in most of the US it’s perfectly legal for businesses to refuse to provide goods or services to gay people—and they don’t even need to claim it was because of their supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs”.

Laws criminalising gay sex, though struck down by the US Supreme Court, remain on the books in many states, and in Virginia they even tried (unsuccessfully) to reinstate theirs. While the US Supreme Court put those politicians back in their place, US “Christian” conservatives still openly and repeatedly call for criminal sanctions against homosexuality. They’ve also conspired to enact anti-gay laws in Russia, Uganda and Nigeria, among many other countries. They want to bring those same laws to the US.

Other Western countries from Australia to Europe have a patchwork of protections for LGBT people, and some even have anti-gay laws to this day. Even countries that are arguably more advanced on LGBT rights, like Canada and New Zealand, still have anti-gay violent attacks—in fact, all large cities throughout the West have such attacks going on.

So, even now, even in the West, the world can be a very hostile place for gay people—but it doesn’t have to be. Thanks to support from many of you, it’s getting better all the time. But it turns out that we gay people have our own awesome, powerful weapon for making the world better: Coming out.

Study after study after study after public opinion poll has shown one loud, inarguable and absolute truth: People who actually know real gay people are far less likely to be anti-gay. The reason that anti-gay prejudice and even bigotry is declining in most Western countries isn’t because of magic or propaganda or intimidation (as the rightwing always says), but, rather, because more and more straight people are realising that people they know, people they like—even people they love!—are gay or lesbian.

That’s why coming out matters so much. It’s easy to hate people in the third person—those people—but it’s incredibly hard to hate your best friend, your brother, your aunt, your boss, your minister, that nice person at the local shop—or that actress or athlete you like. The world has so much hatred because it’s full of the “thems”; to end hatred and oppression, we need a world that’s filled the “us-es”, and coming out helps make that happen.

Every time a celebrity comes out publicly, they’re sending a message to some scared, lonely LGBT teen that there’s hope for a better life, that they, too, can be happy and find love. It also sends a message to that teen’s parents and friends and neighbours that gay people are GOOD people, damn it, and you must never—ever—hate people for being who they are—gay, straight, bi, pansexual, trans*, whatever. When someone does, they’re not hating “them”, they’re hating ALL OF US—every type of human.

There’s one more message you need to think about, though, and it’s the one YOU are sending. Every time you say “what’s the big deal?” Or maybe, “Sexuality is no one else’s business” what you’re really saying is “shut up and stay in the closet.” Don’t think so? Then look around you when you speak. There could very well be a deeply closeted person nearby listening to what you’re saying, someone who hasn’t yet found the courage or freedom or safety to live openly and honestly. When you dismiss a celebrity’s coming out, you’re demeaning and trivialising the very humanity of that closeted person and you’re sending them a message that they should never, ever come out. Words hit hard as fist, but they don’t need to be said in anger or with hatred to do damage.

So, straight people, if you really think that coming out doesn't matter, quite frankly you have no idea what you’re talking about. You don’t get to decide when, if or how we come out. You don’t get to decide whether it’s necessary. You don’t get to decide whether it’s a “big deal” or important or whatever. Every time a celebrity or well-known person comes out—on their terms, when they choose to do so—they’re helping to turn this world into a place filled with more us, and less them.

Gay people coming out—celebrity or not—are doing us all a favour. The least you should do is acknowledge that, whether you truly understand it or not.

But, please, do at least try to understand why it’s so important.

Thanks for the talk!


Sandra Newton said...


Godslast Angel said...

Its just like the question is there a god. Over 3 billion people cant be wrong. Maybe homosexuality is wrong and against human kind rather than religion just like pedophilia and beastiality those people feel victimized against and have to hide also. After all a mans best friend.

rogerogreen said...

Changed my mind. Linking to THIS post instead, because you've incorporated the previous ones. And thanks for responding to my request..

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

I can attest they you're on the "good" list!

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Thanks, Drew—and thanks for sharing the link!

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

As I said to you, I was thinking about it for awhile, something that may come up in another post. A blogger's life, eh?

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

No, actually, it's nothing at all like asking whether there's a god or gods. Not even remotely related. Your assertion that "over 3 billion people cant [sic] be wrong" is also incorrect. Humans once believed the sun revolved around the earth and they were, in fact, very wrong. Same with any number of ancient superstitious religious beliefs that I'm confident even you would admit were silly.

Saying, as you do, that because lots of people believe a thing it must be true is a logical fallacy known as "the bandwagon effect". It doesn't prove your assertion (in this case, that the existence of a god or gods is true); instead it only proves that a lot of people believe a thing, something that without further evidence may, in fact, be false.

Like rightwing "Christian" political activists, you have equated homosexuality with paedophilia and bestiality (he latter of which you misspelled, by the way; the former is how we spell it in this part of the world). If you'd included an addiction (like alcoholism), you'd have hit the fundamentalist trifecta!

Science has demonstrated that homosexuality is a natural variation in mammal sexuality, occurring in countless species. It is not a pathology as you tried to imply. You may be interested to know that there are, in fact, many people who suggest that religion is a pathology, a kind of mass psychosis. People may say that, but since I'm not a psychologist or psychiatrist I couldn't possibly comment.

I honestly don't know what the point of this drive-by trolling is. Had you read other posts, you'd know that I'm no friend of religious intimidation or theocratic politics. I'm a non-theist, which means that appeals to religion mean nothing to me other than that they're mere lame justification for prejudice against LGBT people.

But hey, I value robust debate, which is why I haven't deleted your comment. That doesn't mean, however, that I take it seriously. Next time you may want include some real, verifiable facts, rather than re-regurgitating tired, over-used rightwing religious political dogma.

Godslast Angel said...

Thank you for your update and spelling errors found. I always like this debate and I know my views maybe old fashioned and your correct on some details. One last thing someone pointed out to me when I was on the gay defence, I said that some animals turn gay and its natural she replied some animals eat their young ! Well thats the last time I try to be smart.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Well, if that comes up with your friend again, you can kindly suggest it's irrelevant. While, I'm not a zoologist or biologist, and so, can't be certain, I'm pretty sure that it's highly improbable that any animal can "turn gay", just as human beings can't. In fact, the words gay and homosexual aren't applicable to non-human animals (for this same reason, I should have said homosexual behaviour is a natural variation among all mammals, which goes to show I can use the wrong words, too).

I wonder if your friend is aware that there are human populations to this day where cannibalism still exists. In other human cultures, mothers eat the placenta of their babies. Less gruesomely, in New Zealand, sometimes Māori mothers will take the placenta and bury it, often planting a tree on the spot.

The point is, human culture is nearly as varied as animal behaviour is, with one important exception: Homosexual behaviour is found in hundreds of species, but prejudice, bigotry and violence against it is found in only one: Humans.

Godslast Angel said...

How did the word homosexual derive and I know your going to quote me if im wrong... homo? Human and sexual? Does that word really describe gay?

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Actually, that's a good question, because it's often misunderstood. The "homo" derives from the Greek homos for same, while "sexual" derrives from Latin sexualis. It's a totally made up word that didn't exist until the late 19th Century.

Because so many people assume the "homo" refers to man (as in homosapien), you'll often hear them refer to "homosexuals and lesbians", because they assume the first means men only (it doesn't).

The word gay to mean homosexual persons is quite old, with recorded references going back more the a hundred years, though it only becamse widely established in the 1960s. It was a reaction to the clinical sounding old word.

Personally, I don't think they're the same anymore. I use homosexual as an adjective to refer to people who have sex with persons of the same gender. A gay man or lesbian woman does that, too, of course, but they also live as openly gay or lesbian. The first are people who are largely hidden and often reject gay rights and the gay community, the second embrace them and are part of the community.

Btw, gay and lesbian are both adjectives, not nouns (another thing most people don't know). One should refer to a gay man or a lesbian woman (unless the woman prefers to be called gay, and some do).

Hope that helps!

rogerogreen said...

Just sent this link to someone who just found out Ellen Page came out and asked "Why do I need to know this, anyway?"

rogerogreen said...

Of course, ALL words are made up!

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

True, but many at least have a lexicographic genealogy. Words like homosexual are neologisms which, although they arguably serve a useful purpose, are nevertheless portmanteaux. In this case, it's kind of the bastard child of Greek and Latin. In my opinion.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...


Drew said...

Wow, arthur. You are usually a good read, but this is awesome.