Editor's Note:This guest post comes to us from Julie R. Enszer. Julie is a writer and lesbian activist living in Maryland. She has been widely published in gay and lesbian publications and is a regular contributor to the Lambda Book Report. You can read more about her work at JulieREnszer.com.
October 11th is the twentieth anniversary of the second March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights. It’s an important anniversary to mark. The March was a significant organizing moment in the history of queer liberation—many grassroots organizations and much activism was spawned by it.
At the time of the March, there was a real and palpable fear that HIV/AIDS would decimate the gay male community forever. Lesbians, as well as gay men, were concerned that gains made by feminism were being eroded by courts and legislatures. After seven and a half years of the anti-gay, anti-woman Reagan administration, a quarter of a million (maybe even a half a million) people gathered on the mall in Washington, DC to demand queer rights. It was an incredible milestone – one worth remembering and honoring.
That said, National Coming Out Day as a celebration of the March falls flat. Coming out in 2007 just doesn’t meet the tone of courage or honesty that people who gathered on October 11, 1987 demonstrated.
The notion of “coming out” suggests that being queer at this time and place is not easily identifiable. Since it must be shared, coming out suggests that sexual orientation can be hidden or kept as a secret. Both are not true any longer.
For some, being queer may be something that can be hidden, but for many it’s not and never has been. Sissy boys and bull dyke girls have never needed to come out. The assumption, because they transgress their biological gender, is that they are queer. Many have been out since adolescence. Coming out for them is not optional – their queer identity is evident. When we celebrate coming out, we erase those for whom coming out is irrelevant. We normalize queer people who can pass—and even among those who can pass, many reject passing.
For some, being queer is a secret, but for most of us, it isn’t. We’re out and have been out for years. Let’s make that experience the norm instead of celebrating “coming out.” Let’s not focus on those who are still holding queerness as a secret; let’s focus on those of us who can’t keep it a secret, those who tell and tell and tell again. It’s time for the rest of the queer community to join with obvious queers and reject the notion that being queer is something that is shared by one’s.
It’s time for the queer community to reject that being queer is a secret. It is not a secret, just another facet of our lives that we can – and must – share freely and regularly. Doing that is not “coming out” of a household artifice; it is simply engaging honestly in the world. Talking about our queerness is like talking about where we live, what we do for work and what we do for fun. This talk ends the hiding and ends the secrets. This talk simply demonstrates how we live in the world.
Let’s make coming out irrelevant. Then, there will be a variety of new opportunities that will open for us. We’ll no longer bemoan the closet, the creation of which has caused us as many problems as we experienced before we had a way to talk about it. We’ll remove the need to tell and explain our lives. We will be more visible and more accessible to a broader group of Americans. This will be a real honor to the hundreds of thousands who gathered in 1987.
Ending the coming out celebration has profound consequences. Those still left in the defunct closet will no longer have it as a crutch to enable their duplicity. Those intent on erasing the sissy fags and the bull dykes from our community will have to embrace them. Those calling for more people to come out will need to come up with some other strategy to achieve political and social advancement for queers in America today. The reliance on individual action to the exclusion collective power reclamation will have to end. Then things really will get interesting.