Is It Ever Okay to out Someone?
Last Friday, amidst everything else going on in the country, a curious thing started to trend on Twitter: the nickname “Lady G.” No, it wasn’t about Lady Gaga, it was about a sitting US Republican Senator and the nickname he allegedly is referred to by the male sex workers he hires in Washington D.C. It started trending because those sex workers might finally speak up, break their (possibly unenforceable) NDAs, and finally out this Senator to the general public.
Now, we cannot confirm the rumors or allegations about Lady G. It’s all conjecture now, even though it is apparently an “open secret” in DC circles that this man is gay. Until there are verified, public reports about this we can’t really comment on that. But what we can comment on is when, if ever, it’s okay to out someone.
Now, the idea of outing is tricky and can lead to painful, traumatic experiences. A person’s sexuality is their own business, and our choice to come out should be our own. For many people, they chose to remain in the closet for reasons of safety or because they fear the response of those closest to them. Coming to terms with one’s sexuality is an on-going journey and the choice to publically proclaim our sexuality should never be taken away. As a queer person, we have the right to decide when to share that and when to stay safe, and that’s very important.
In theory, this shouldn’t be any different for people in the public eye, but they are very much subjected to different standards in practice. In the past, the argument for outing has been that more queer visibility helps the community and reduces prejudice. The idea is that we should push people to be out, even if they are no ready. Theorizing and rumormongering is rampant online and again it gets into the “everyone sorta knows or suspects” territory. At least now it does; the way people have come out has changed over the decades. No longer do celebrities get full cover spreads when they announce they’re gay, and some just live their lives never being in the closet and others make a statement, but it varies and it’s rarely big news.
We have many big-name LGBT people in the public eye now, so we don’t need to force anyone out of the closet. And some people were never really in there, right? The idea of “open secrets” and the way that some people in the public eye have simply never denied their queerness is also a complex part of the narrative. And the way we treat people who are not strictly out of the closet but not fully in it is tricky, to say the least. On one hand, we have pictures of very clearly romantic same-sex couples labeled as “good friends” even when they are kissing, but on the other accidental or unwanted outings are traumatic and we don’t have the right to control anyone’s narrative.
There are also high-profile people who are in the closet and queer people feel that they are both owed the truth about them and that it would help the world for them to be out. And then … there are the politicians.
Celebrities and regular queer people are in a different position from politicians. Whereas the way we represent ourselves is important personally, it’s different for the people deciding our rights. If a politician has used their platform to, say, co-sponsor the defense of marriage act, and to in general denigrate and harm LGBT Americans, all while secretly being gay themselves, that’s different. Shouldn’t hypocrisy be called out?
Outing is a brutal tactic that should be reserved for brutes. Lady G more than qualifies.
— Dan Savage (@fakedansavage) June 5, 2020
And then there’s the thorny issue of blackmail and whether a politician concealing their sexuality is something that other politicians or even foreign powers might use to manipulate them. For instance, fear of being outed could be, maybe, the reason why a politician went from saying a certain presidential candidate would get American destroyed to being their most virulent backer. Just a hypothetical. But can being in the closet become a literal national security risk?
It is wrong to out people, but when we’re talking about politicians who may have hypocritically used their platform to actively harm and insult queer people while hiding their own sexuality, the situation becomes more difficult. Doesn’t a politician who is hiding in the closet while supporting people and policies that kill and harm LGBT people deserve to be outed? Should we encourage the outing of “Lady G” or (other even more powerful politicians) as a statement about his bad politics? Does hurting the gay community erase your right to privacy as a member of that community?
These are complex questions and the answer is likely different for everyone. It requires us to choose between different principles: respect for privacy, and the supposed good of the entire community that outing (and thus potentially destroying his political career) could bring. Of course, the best course would be if Lady G made the choice to out himself, but … we’re not holding our breath for that. But it is Pride month and weirder things have happened in 2020.
(image: Twitter screengrab)
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