Social Question

elbanditoroso's avatar

Why is "coming out" such a big thing in 2012? Does saying that you're gay mean anything these days?

Asked by elbanditoroso (14915 points ) January 14th, 2013

This question is in reference to Jodie Foster’s supposed “coming out” at the Golden Globes last night – it has been getting some comment in the various news accounts of her talk and her award.

Back 15–20 years ago, when being publicly gay was very much the exception, coming out could be said to have had a purpose – showing others that “it’s OK to be gay” and so on.

But in 2013, gay rights are not where they were 20 years ago; gays serve in the military and in every other walk of life. I don’t remember what the percentage is of gay people in the US, but I imagine it’s larger than most of us would estimate.

With such changes, and a clear trend towards even more acceptance, what’s the purpose served by coming out? Haven’t we, as 21st century modern society, moved past that need into a more inclusive society?

[Note: I recognize that there are neanderthal bigots around who will never recognize the changes over the last 20 years. But then, there are people who are still promoting segregation and decry Brown versus Board of Education).]

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19 Answers

bookish1's avatar

Bigotry and discrimination still exist. People still get killed for being gay or ‘acting’ like they are, which generally means outside of narrow gender norms. People still demean them and make them the butt of their jokes, casually and in a targeted way, in school and work. It’s much, much worse for gender non conforming people, especially trans women.

I really don’t like, however, that we conceive of sexual practices as some sort of essential identity that is unchanging and marks us as a certain type of person, and we are lying if we don’t make it known to people. I think this limits everyone. But it’s the world we have to live with.

marinelife's avatar

Anti-gay sentiment still exists in a big way. For a celebrity to come out still has meaning.

mattbrowne's avatar

Because the majority still keep it a secret. In many countries there’s the death penalty, and even in Muslim communities in Western countries gay Muslims fear becoming the victims of violence.

Pachy's avatar

You might want to consider that a gay person comes out for himself or herself more than to anyone else, and you almost surely have to be gay and to have suffered the problems that come with that to know what a “big thing” it is.

Ron_C's avatar

Like Matt mentioned, coming out in certain communities is probably a death sentence. Being gay in the U,.S. or Germany isn’t that big of a deal. However in what I would call “low knowledge areas” like in southern U.S. or in a Muslim community it is likely to cost you, at least a severe beating or even your life.

The more educated areas are no problem but be very careful when you address the ignorant.

syz's avatar

It still has value. Public figures and entertainers and telelvision shows and movies that portray gays and lesbians as just normal people living normal lives are important; my parents still refer to my partner as my “roomate” and we have an unspoken agreement to avoid all-out warfare by ignoring the entire subject.

gailcalled's avatar

@syz” Does that make you crazy? Thinking about your parents is giving me an ulcer.

tinyfaery's avatar

Of course it does. For every person, famous or not, coming out is necessary if we ever hope to be just like everyone else. Plus, there are laws that discriminate against us, out right. It is not until everyone (or at least most people) can come out without fear of disgrace, without the fear of losing their jobs, homes, etc. that being gay will be accepted without question.

Famous people can show others that being gay is perfectly normal. In a way, celebrities are our biggest weapon against bigotry and hatred. People have loved J.F. for decades and now they will never know that she is not afraid to admit who she really is. Bigots already think we are unnatural and freaks of nature. It would be nice to know that J.F. did not just add fuel to their fire.

tups's avatar

I agree with the above answers. Many people accept homosexuality compared to some years ago, but I also know too many people who’s got a strange opinion about it. I also think some people respect and accept it, but they still feel weird about it. The world, as I know it, does make a deal about it. Not always a big deal, but it does mean something to many people.
I think bigotry and ignorance, which is was causes bigotry, is the sinner here.

muppetish's avatar

It is also still a big deal because only those who do not identify as heterosexual come out. Since we default the identity of those around as heterosexual, anyone who identifies differently (homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc), must “come out”. It is an experience that only select persons must go through, and must go through throughout a lifetime because when you come out that first time, you aren’t done. You don’t know that everyone is going to have to the same response, or be accepting. You might reveal parts of who you are to one person and feel the necessity to conceal it from another.

We don’t live in a world where two people of the same gender expression can hold hands without getting a look by someone. And while many now are fearless, we also do not live in a world where that couple wouldn’t be unfairly discriminated against solely because of their decision to present their non-heterosexuality in public.

Even though love and sex aren’t necessarily the same thing in the first place.

syz's avatar

@gailcalled My family is highly disfuntional, but we’ve found a sort of balance that lets us all coexist. Sometimes I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not – what’s more important, a peaceful coexistence or honesty? There’s no question that it’s unfair to Michele. I’ve taken significant steps to make sure that she’s legally protected in case of illness or death on my part, but there’s no getting around the fact that I’ve allowed her relationship to me to be a “secret”.

gailcalled's avatar

@syz: Sometimes I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not – what’s more important, a peaceful coexistence or honesty?

Don’t ask me. I stopped talking to my elderly mother for three years in order to get her attention. Big flop. She pretended to “get it” for several hours and then conveniently rediscovered her amnesia.

Does the state in which you live have obstructionist laws or can you be sure about Michele’s legal status?

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Of course it still has value, but I think Jodie’s weird, rambling speech last night was nothing more than, “Hi, I want more attention so here’s a bomb without really dropping a bomb because I want everyone to think I’m being a little coy about it even though everyone’s known for years, and just look at me and praise me and boost my ego. Mmkay thanks, goodnight.”

If she was trying to do something positive for people who want to come out, all she really succeeded in doing was turning it into an awkward, “this definitely needed more thought” event.

syz's avatar

@gailcalled We went to a highly recommended lawyer who specializes in same-sex legal issues. We have power of attorney for each other, right of survivorship, her name on the deed, etc. We also signed up for a wonderful service called docubank thant makes these legal documents available 24/7 via fax (in case of a medical emergency in the middle of the night so she won’t be refused access to my hospital room and makes clear that she can make medical decisions on my behalf).

gailcalled's avatar

FWIW, I have scattered copies of all legal documents, including health care proxy and medical power-of-attorney all over. I leave one set in the glove compartment of car, another with my PCP, another at the hospital that I use, another with lawyer, daughter, sister and one in red folder in my desk. Probably a good idea to attach one to Milo.

But I do not have the additional complications that you have. It does sound as though you have everything in place.

When my 96-year-old had a massive stroke and was in an irreversible coma by the time she arrived at the hospital, the ER doc. retrieved her med. and legal directives on file there and called me immediately to confirm the DNR orders.

wundayatta's avatar

I think that homosexuality is still largely not accepted in the US. We don’t have the right of same sex marriage in most of this country. These relationships are not generally accepted in many places.

But it’s worse out there in the rest of the world. There are many nations where the Golden Globes are shown where homosexuals are discriminated against, and even some nations where it gets the death penalty.

I would say that while it is easier now that many have done it, it is still very brave of Jody Foster to come out in such a forum. I think it’s also important. I didn’t see the speech, so I don’t know whether she seemed like she was on drugs or something (which is what I think of when someone is said to be “rambling”), but I’m sure she helped publicize homosexuality and this will serve to push more people into the supportive category. It puts a human face on it for those who don’t think they know anyone who is gay. Now half the world knows someone.

Shippy's avatar

Sometimes I think it matters less to people and more to the persons idea of what the person thinks other people will think.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Ron_C – The coming out of Germany’s gay secretary of state and Berlin’s mayor made a huge difference and encouraged a lot of people.

Ron_C's avatar

@mattbrowne good to know, thanks.

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