As you all know, I'm a strong supporter of gay rights. The LGBT movement, which has been in full swing for the past thirty years, is the great civil rights battle of our time. Progressions towards gay marriage are sweeping the nation, including a trio of issues that are before the US Supreme Court. Support for gay rights has never been higher, and numbers are growing. Celebrities like George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt and Steven Spielberg (to name a few of many) are active supporters. Businesses are also taking note, adding protections against discrimination in the work place and giving benefits to their gay employees.
But there is another, more important, reason why I'm such a gay rights booster.
I'm gay myself.
Coming out in public isn't an easy decision for anyone, and it wasn't for me. I've come out in stages, starting shortly after I first realized and accepted it towards the end of my junior year in high school. Admitting it is threatening in and of itself, and telling others is even more so. But I've had the support of my friends and family, and I've come out in stages over the years. The question I've been asking myself isn't so much who knows but who doesn't know. I assure you, the number of people that I interact with on a regular basis who do not know are few.
The real fear of coming out is being discriminated against. It's like being bullied, and it's not fun. But my fear of that has lessened along with my other fears related to my sexuality to the point where I'm having trouble coming up with convincing reasons to stay in the closet in any form.
Let's start with the basics: Facebook. When I first created an account in 2006, after I got accepted into the University of Iowa, it was still a fairly new thing. For the first moments I had an account I listed myself as "Interested in Men and Women," not because I was bisexual, but because I was open to talking to guys and girls (silly me). Not wanting to encounter discrimination so early, I said I was straight on my profile, and it's been that way until now.
But why should I still set myself as straight on the world's largest social network? Will people unfriend me if they knew? I'm not sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did. Still, I have over 1,000 friends on Facebook, about 90% of whom were people I met at a party in college or just on Facebook and haven't talked to since. Why should I care what they think? If they unfriend me, it's their loss. They won't get updates when I post a new review (ha ha).
How about the job market? The job market sucks enough as it is, so I don't need to publicize anything that could keep me from getting a job. But here's the thing: it's 2013. There are lots of protections against discrimination because of sexual orientation (not so much in the government...yet) in many businesses. If it came out that a business refused to hire or fired me because I was gay, the backlash would be huge. Their company would take a massive hit in the public eye, and they would have to make their PR department go into overdrive to do damage control. And even if that were the case, would I actually want to work at a company that wouldn't be accepting of my sexual orientation? Of course not. Being out saves me a hell of a lot of grief.
Then there's the potential for violence and bullying. This is a very real threat, but everyone has that threat by simply breathing in and out. I live in a big city, and while Missouri is pretty conservative, Saint Louis is not, especially when it comes to gay rights. It's more embarrassing to be against gay rights than it is to be gay or an open supporter.
Finally, there's the potential for stereotyping. Again, everyone is stereotyped in some way, so why should this be any different? And I'm my own best defense against the stereotypes. I'm not feminine; I don't talk like Chris Colfer (although I love "Glee"). I drink beer, although I won't say no to a mixed drink. I have terrible fashion sense, mainly because I don't care about it (I feel more comfortable in a t-shirt and shorts than in a button down and slacks). My brother is a much better dresser than me when he's lounging around the house, and he's been dating the best girlfriend ever for so long that I've lost count. I don't have a weird hairdo (provided that I've had a haircut recently, because I do have Irish hair, despite the fact that it's brown). I don't have any piercings or tattoos (neither of which are predominantly associated with being gay, by the way).
In practice, I'm essentially out in every way but in name. I date. I hold hands with guys I like. I've even kissed them in public places. Who cares? I'm certainly not in your face about it, but I'm not doing to live in fear of my actions being construed as me being gay.
And it's not like I can keep it secret forever. I mean, I plan on getting married and having a family someday. That would be really awkward on my wedding day and for the family album. Why not start now?
I'll admit that doing this is a little threatening. But I'll get over it. Living openly and being comfortable is refreshing. I don't have to worry about how I word things in my reviews or online. I can openly say in the next Paul Walker movie that he is the most gorgeous individual I have ever seen (and for someone who is going to turn 40 in September, he still looks fantastic).
With all the progress in the fight for gay rights, I think it's a little hypocritical for me, who is comfortable in his own skin, to still hide behind this small bastion of insecurity. It's not worth it unless you take advantage of it.