I believe this discussion is necessary for two main purposes:
1. To ease the pressure to come out felt by a lot of gay men and which strains our inter-relationships within the gay community
2. To deflect the unhealthy focus and scrutiny from the gay men who have sensationally come out, and redirect it to the proper issues of homosexuality in the public domain, and where responsibility for sensitization about it really lies.
Every man who acknowledges that he experiences sexual attraction to some/any other fellow man or men is out of the first closet—which is the closet of denial—as gay. (There are men who experience sexual attraction to both men and women, and properly prefer to be called bisexual; but they are at liberty to accept their gayness in the context of this discussion.)
The closet of denial is not usually denial of any attraction whatsoever; though sometimes it is (in the manic extremes). It is usually denial of the attraction being sexual – or rather, denying that you are attracted to his maleness and that it has physiological effects on you, such as causing you an erection and desiring the pheromone perks of physical proximity to (and contact with) him.
Gay men who are out of the denial closet in an embracing way do not fight the attraction that they acknowledge, or try to avoid it. They allow themselves to experience it enjoyably, and are in an ideal position to come out of the second closet I will later describe.
Some men, unfortunately, come out of the denial closet in a hostile way. They admit that they have an experience of same-sex sexual attraction, but they are combative against it. They may claim that it was a past experience that they no longer have, or that they believe that they can overcome and replace it. But really, as with masturbation, you can never be truly incapable of your sexual attraction as long as you are healthy.
Coming out of the denial (first) closet is necessary for every gay man to do, and to do in an embracing way, not hostilely.
After coming out of the denial closet, a gay man confronts the second closet. This is the closet of social ambiguity.
This closet comprises the entire set of misguided expectations of a gay man in the society. The society makes the gay man feel misunderstood and mistreated. These misguided expectations emanate from ignorance or misinformation—both intertwining with various associable societal priorities, biases and interests in individuals and social groups.
Unlike the denial closet, the social ambiguity closet:
1) is not of uniform character for every gay man. While for the denial closet, you have a straightforward criterion of what to accept in order to come out, in the social ambiguity closet, the mix of ignorance and misinformation, and of the priorities, interests and biases at stake differs from one society to another, and from individual to individual within it.
2) is not something whose existence and destruction the gay man is entirely responsible for. Wider society shares the responsibility. Meanwhile, the existence and destruction of the denial closet is completely the gay man’s responsibility.
3) is not always necessary to come out of. Such necessity is very circumstantial, owing to the complexities of human socialization and relationships. But coming out of the denial closet is invariably necessary.
4) is not destroyed by merely coming out. With the denial closet, once you step out of it, it crumbles, and the ever-increasing difficulty of returning to it is because one has to rebuild a bigger one from inside it. But the social ambiguity closet is notoriously stubborn, and must be destroyed in a joint effort with other members of society. Gay men spearhead the demolition effort because we are the closet’s immediate victims, but our straight allies can play a role that is even more far-reaching than our own.
For the gay man who resists the onus placed on him by the social ambiguity closet, he may emerge from the denial closet in the hostile way of EITHER confining the fight against his gay feelings to his privacy by deliberately appearing straight to everyone else while either completely suppressing the feelings or exploring them secretly, OR trying to involve others to help and support him in fighting (suppressing) the gayness: in both ways, attempting to replace the ambiguity with a deceptive clarity. This only magnifies and entrenches the damage that he and the society undergo as result of the hostile route chosen.
The gay man who embraces the onus of the social ambiguity closet has two simultaneous inter-dependent coming-out tasks to engage in. He ought to:
a) carefully consider social definitions of who he is, discard those which are inaccurate in his case and come to an exact understanding of his own sexuality that is proudly unique and true to himself, and
b) come across clearly to others concerning how he understands himself on his own terms, not theirs. (This is why being “outed” is such a horrible experience!)
The second task depends on the first. If the first one is not well done, the second one can be frustrating.
There are some people in a gay man’s life who may reasonably (though not obligatorily) require to understand his sexuality unambiguously. The reasons may include – security-related and health-related implications of his sexual lifestyle; discarding their unreasonable interest in and expectations of him, and relieving the attendant pressure this exerts on him, and; establishing credibility when having intimate discussions or sharing intimate assistance.
The gay man does not always have to come out of the social ambiguity closet first in order to destroy it. In other words, he does not always have to tell everyone that he is gay in order to challenge the misguided expectations of society. This demolition of the social ambiguity closet (challenging the misguided expectations in society) is accomplished publicly chip by chip: demystifying homosexuality (debunking myths and untruths); demonstrating its natural ubiquity and inherently harmless existence; showing the social and psycho-social benefits of embracing it, and; arguing articulately for mainstreaming of its acceptance/rolling back its ostracism in institutions and laws.
In conclusion, I invite us all to reflect on our experiences in coming out. Are we fully out of the denial closet? How can we help those who are out of it hostilely to get on to the embracing way? I propose that explaining to them what the social ambiguity closet really takes to deal with could relieve their fears of it. But how are we ourselves dealing with our social ambiguity closet? To what extent are we out? Are we benefiting shrewdly from its existence while we are outside, or are we committed to the ever-in-progress work of dismantling it? It is not just the heterosexuals who take advantage of the closet’s existence, you see.
The best thing is that it does not have to be gay men only destroying the social ambiguity closets. If we make straight allies and team up with them, we have a much better chance of success. We do not even have to be out of it to destroy it—all we need is to undermine it from within in a joint effort with those outside it, and be prepared to emerge from its shambles when it crumbles.
In other words, we do not need to say we are gay all the time to make our anti-discrimination and anti-bigotry message credible. But we must be gay – because like every human being, we must be ourselves. And I firmly believe that no closet can restrain or withstand the full power of our truth.
Written by Mwaniki