Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The Ethics of "Outing"

The  progressive  blogosphere  has been  all a buzz over the past few days over the  potential "outing"  of a  Conservative Republican Congressman  as Gay.    The Young Turks  give us the  details...

The Congressman in question  is  Aaaron Schock of  Illinois,  who has faced  questions  about his sexuality in the past.   The initial posting by  Journalist Itay Hod, and  the  subsequent  coverage over on Americablog,  has  once again  put the issue  of  "outing"  on the front page of the LGBT blogs.    A number of people have asked me  what I thought about all this.    It's a complex question.

outing -ˈaʊtɪŋ  noun
  1. 1.
    the practice of revealing the homosexuality of a prominent person.
  2. "the outing of gays by the press" -
    synonyms:exposure, unmasking, uncovering, revelationexposé 

There are two schools of thought here, which can simplistically be described at the Privacy Argument and the Hypocrisy Argument.  The first is pretty simple to understand.   I don't know anyone  who  has come through the process of  Coming Out,  who couldn't tell you in vivid detail of the  terror, and yes that is the word for it;  The terror they felt at one time or another  that  they might be outed to  friends, family, employers or  anyone else for that matter,  before they were ready to  Come Out.   

It is a fear that  drives  many  LGBT people to  suicide.  The tragic case of  18 year old  Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after being outed by his roommate, is one of countless cases where  the result of either being outed, or  the fear of being outed has been a direct factor in the tragic death of  someone  who was Gay.

Consequently,  Outing is seen by many as a grotesque invasion of privacy, and something that  can never be justified.   I can appreciate that argument.  After all,  having faced that terror  for  years,  growing up, it  is something I would never want to intentionally  inflict on anyone,  even my worst enemy.    Which interestingly enough leads right into the counter argument for Outing.

It is the  argument  that outing people who are Gay,  but  who actively work against  LGBT rights, is justified.  people who live a double life of attacking LGBT people by day,  and sleeping with them by night.  People like George Rekers .  The prominent anti gay activist and proponent  of the discredited practice of   "Reparative Therapy".   (The idea you can change Sexual Orientation through religion-based counseling.)     A practice that has been directly responsible for the deaths of  uncounted  Gay and Lesbian youth, who in despair over being unable to change who there are, took their own lives. 

Rekers was outed by a reporter  when he returned from a European Vacation with a young gay male escort he had hired and taken with him on the trip.   So the argument goes  that the Outing of  people like Rekers, and  Congressman Schock,  is a justified response to their own hypocrisy, and the damage their actions have done to other LGBT people.  

Yet interestingly enough,  the  basic  issue  still remains the same.   Fear.    It is a fear of being outed  that  drives homophobia  in many  people.  Causing  some closeted  LGBT people to  act out in ways that  they feel will  help convince  others (and themselves),  that they are really straight.  They see their actions as the way to fight the feelings they are struggling with.  Feelings they desperately want to see as  just some sort of temporary  anomaly.  Research  has  shown that many of the  people who demonstrate the most pronounced  discomfort with  Homosexuality  are if fact  reacting to what  they fear most  in themselves.  

There are many who argue that  Congressman Schock's   100% record of voting against  LGBT rights, and his public pronouncements  against  equal rights  for  LGBT Americans  stands in such stark contrast to his personal conduct  behind  closed doors, that it warrants  public exposure.    I myself  blogged extensively  about  the Rekers scandal,   and at the time basically  said  that any public humiliation  and harm that  George Rekers suffered  as a result of being outed,  was not only justified but  far was probably far  less than what he deserved. 

So why I am feeling  squeamish about the outing of  Aaron Schock?      

 I don't really know exactly.   Part of me feels that   Schock is not  "important enough", to  warrant being outed.    One could argue that Schock has  never been the  deciding vote on any of the major issues we are talking about here.  His anti-gay actions, whatever the motivation,  have not prevented Illinois from becoming  a state where Marriage Equality is the law of the land.  

Yet, at the same time  I can understand why many people are opposed to giving Congressman Schock a pass,   if  he IS gay.  As  his  actions in Congress certainly reek of  hypocrisy.   I have known other  Republican politicians  who are Gay , or who I certainly believed were Gay,  and  often wondered how they  reconciled their public actions with who they truly  are.   It must be said,  Coming Out  is not easy.  It is a tumultuous and  at times terrifying  process of self acceptance and discovery.   

Looking back on my own  journey,  I can in partially empathize with  people like  Congressman Aaron Schock.  I was a College Republican until I finally left  the GOP in 1992.  When the anti-gay rhetoric and policies  became more than I could in my own deep dark closet, ignore.   Yet up to that point,   I had campaigned and voted for  Ronald Reagan, and George HW Bush.  So  you could say, in my own small way, I helped enable the  massage damage  both those Presidencies  wreaked upon the LGBT community.    Yet  as with most things in life,  the issues we face, and  choices  we make when living in that state of constant fear,  otherwise known as,  "the closet",  are never as black and white as many would like to claim.

If Aaron Schock is Gay, I can only  hope he  realizes  what people like former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, and other people  who once  were driven by their own internalized homophobia  to work against  the rights of people just like them,  have discovered.   Coming Out is not only liberating,  but  you find a community that is first and foremost,  accepting and yes... forgiving.    

After all,  most of us  have been there too,  and can honestly say that  life  truly is better on the other side of that closet door.

No comments: