Matthew H. Birkhold is an openly gay assistant professor at Ohio State University. Read his WaPo OpEd here.
I read his proposal to end National Coming Out Day with interest but in the end I was a bit confused and wholeheartedly disagreeing.
In one breath while affirming that NCOD “...continues to affirm our lives, worth and dignity,” and through his interpersonal experiences, affirming that coming out is healthy and cathartic; Prof. Birkhold in the next breath states; “Coming out,” we’ve been trained, is one of the most important parts of a gay person’s life — something he or she gets to do on his or her own terms, when ready.”
“We’ve been trained?” This phrase seems cynical at best. It’s as if some conservative thinker would tell folk, “you’ve been trained that government cheese is good but you actually live in the devil spawned welfare state... and government cheese continues to affirm your lives, worth and dignity.”
Let’s change the context for a moment and talk about coming out in terms of personal congruency and self actualization.
Carl Rogers (1902-1987) was a humanistic psychologist who agreed with the main assumptions of Abraham Maslow, but added that for a person to "grow", they need an environment that provides them with genuineness (openness and self-disclosure), acceptance (being seen with unconditional positive regard), and empathy (being listened to and understood)..
Carl Rogers stated that the personality is like a triangle made up of the real self, the perceived self, and ideal self. According to Rogers, when there is a good fit between all three components, the person has congruence. This is a healthy state of being and helps people continue to progress toward self-actualization.
Being real with one’s self is healthy and being in an an environment to walk out or carry out that truth is also, ergo National Coming Out Day, a tool to accomplish this.
Although he readily admits the benefits of coming out Birkhold has a better idea: “stop coming out.” He seems to assert that America is a safer place in 2017. Coming Out day has outlived its usefulness therefore away with it. Birkhold thinks that... “for people in different circumstances, this day might provide much-needed support and strength.” OK... so forget about them, it’s all about him and his privilege or comfort, or what is he saying?
Safer doesn't mean safe. Although Birkhold tips his hat to his own privilege as a well paid, well educated, gay college professor at a liberal college, noting, “writing from a place of social, institutional and personal security;” he indeed stops shy of outing it as privilege. So let’s end, “we shall overcome and no justice, no peace" ignoring police brutality because the streets are safer than they used to be? Parenthetically the streets are not safer for the powerless. He also asserts that coming out is stigmatizing. Possibly this perception may be more to his point than not needing National Coming Out Day since we are in a kinder gentler America. Many are avoiding coming out effectively continuing to remain in hiding often in fear or self loathing.
Birkhold asserts “Coming out” implicitly announces — to LGBTQ individuals, allies and enemies — that gay people are aberrant. Our homosexuality is so different that we must proclaim it; heterosexuality, however, is normal and expected... “ It ain’t necessarily so but I agree.. a little. I agree that to “enemies” who I’d like to define as brainwashed and uninformed this is often perceived as gay people being aberrant.
In years passed heterosexuality was not only normal, it was the norm, two different concepts. It is still considered the norm but the mantle of non-aberrant status is falling by the wayside giving into the truth of a sexual continuum and not an “either or” sexual universe. The general population is becoming more aware of such concepts as “gender fluid, sexual orientation” and relatively new vocabulary as “cisgender” (Naw, look it up.) enters popular conversation and “sexual orientation” replaces “sexual preference.” Much of the general population is unaware that there is no dualism in sexuality, one is either entirely male or female or whatever is in between, gay, lesbian, transgender or fluid. It was only 44 years ago this Dec 2017 that being gay came out of DSMII as aberrant. Where is the DSM on most people’s radar? A’ight I’ll give you this one:
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the handbook used by health care professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders. DSM contains descriptions, symptoms, and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders.
Coming in contact with this broader understanding doesn’t mean you embrace it or even believe it.
According to Gary J. Gates, Gallup News 4.1% of Americans identify as LGBT. In 2012 the number identifying was 3.5%. This is a significant jump. By 2058 10% of the population will be identifying as LGBTQ. However many see our American society falling to the enslaught of the “Gay agenda.” If you have a phobia here this number shows how many people are are identifying, not how many people are “turning gay.”
To quote many pastors and religious folk, “The Devil is busy yall!”
Romans 1:22-28King James Version (KJV) Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, ... Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves...
This worldview exists on any given sunday throughout the U.S. sans Jamie Fox and Al Pacino. So there’s that; A whole bunch of people don’t give a good goddamn what science says in this area. I’m not talkin’ Westboro “God Hates Fags” churches. I’m talkin’ “Love the sinner hate the sin” churches that exist in abundance brothas and sistas.
As an African American I relate this conversation to the 60s, many labeled us racist, felt something was wrong with us that we shouted, I Am Somebody! I’m Black and I’m Proud! At what point does this message need to stop what is it’s shelflife? This language has be displaced by “Queens and Kings” mindset in many parts of the black community. Now that we’ve established, at least rhetorically that we are human and being black is a source of pride we struggle to affirm our history does not start in slavery but in the rich culture and monarchies of Africa. and we should respect each other as royalty, especial in marriage and other interpersonal reltionships. I think it no coincidence we levitate to Egypt in light of the white washing of Egypt in the movies vis a vis Liz Taylor, Yule Brenner, Charlton Heston and many others. Note this commercial for Cleopatra soap from the 90s in which Cleo is white but the servant pouring the water has lots of melanin. Regardless of history Cleopatra soap is pretty sure that many of the servants are black.
Changes in the law are not indicators of social progress. As any mystic worth her salt will tell you, you can not legislate righteousness. Social change comes through appealing to and challenging one’s humanity. If you don’t know LGBTQ people you are subject to prejudice, bigotry and misinformation.
Birkhold notes that current polls suggest most Americans consider same-sex relations morally acceptable and that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. He points to a Gallup survey indicating that most Americans favor new laws to reduce discrimination against LGBTQ individuals.” Again to be clear laws don’t reduce discrimination they may reduce acts of discrimintion and yes if they do we need them.
I prefer to see the proverbial glass partially empty for safety’s sake right now. While believing “we shall overcome” let’s see how far away overcoming is before the end of the struggle is officially anounced.
Here is another statistic; 19.4% of hate crimes in 2015 were based on sexual orientation bias (17.7%) and gender identity bias (1.7). There were 7,121 victims with 5,818 single bias incidents. Over 1,100 people were victimized in our kinder gentler USA. A surprisingly high percentage considering the Williams Institute estimates that 3.8 percent of the U.S. identifies as LGBTQ.
Though I shouldn’t dignify this with a comment, to proffer, “Straight people don’t come out. Why should gay people?” is a false comparison at best. Of course straight people don’t come out our culture assumes unless otherwise noted everyone is straight. People assume the traffic light, the gas mask (Garrett Morgan), the first successful open heart surgery (Daniel Hale Williams), and the popular expression, “the real McCoy typically meaning the real thing, refer to white men. They are black men.
Here are two more suggestion to add to Prof. Birkhold’s idea. Number 1) Make it a national holiday... too soon? 2) Imagine if in the early years of National Coming Out Day it had begun in a rites of passage flavored event recognizing the new freedom, the challenges and solidarity of being LGBTQ being out. The emphasis was centered on coming out to one’s self damn the rest of the world. It could happen! Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
“ Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966. After the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Dr. Karenga searched for ways to bring African-Americans together as a community.”
Has it been successful? Well how does one measure success, does one need to measure it? It’s been around since 1966 and in 2017 a significant number of black folk have not participated in a Kwanzaa event. A signifcant number, however, have made it central to their holiday activities and many embrace it as a rule of thumb. I would say it is successful.
One thing that makes identity and orientation in this arena seem aberrant has more to do with the fact that LG don’t always readily accept T. Look at the beginning of the fight for equality and acceptance in LGBTQ and you will see Transgender folk often felt kicked to the curb, pushed to the back of the line. As Prof. Birkhold shows, LGBTQ sounds good together and has a flow but they are more than letters and more than a monolith of ideas, points of view and experiences.
SOME REASONS NOT TO END NCOD NATIONAL COMING OUT DAY
- It can improve your mental health.
- Coming out is a part of personal empowerment.
- Everytime someone comes out they are affirming their humanity and human rights to be unapologetically, celebratorily of who they are. They may no longer feel that they have to hide their every move.
- Everytime someone comes out it is a signal to those hiding that you’re ok and you are not alone.
- the more people that identified as LGBTQ the more the view of sexual status quo broadens.
- As more and more people are “out” and discussions... and arguments happen the arc toward truth becomes stronger.