What is the glass closet?
Well, the glass closet is a place created by gossip columnists, such as Mike Signorile and Perez Hilton, to put pressure on allegedly closeted gay men and women to come out of the closet. A closet is considered to be made of glass when someone, such as Anderson Cooper, is openly gay in his personal life, but hasn’t yet come out in his professional or public life. And while I understand the activist strategy behind the creation of the glass closet, I do not agree with its existence whatsoever.
Here’s the thing: there are many different types of activists – those of the “we’re here and we’re queer” variety who believe that the louder they are, the more attention their issue will receive in the mainstream media and, thus, trickle down into society; those who believe actions speak louder than words; and those who speak up through their art, journalism, writing etc. ALL are important. Interestingly, none of them can exist without one another – which is why I’m a little frustrated.
Why can’t we all realize that we’re working towards the same goal?
Of the different types of activists I mentioned above, ironically the most closed-minded and conservative of the bunch, are the loudest of all. They have an extremely myopic and absolutist point of view about the world, and have no interest in entertaining other ways of thinking. If the “we’re here and we’re queer” queers bust open the doors, the more tempered activists keep them open. But what I’ve come to find is that often times (but not always) the loudest activists are a little older, and have a tough time relating to younger activists (and vice versa) – leaving so-called ‘communities’ in total disarray; not relating to one another.
While struggles between older people and younger people are certainly nothing new, the gay male community feels like an out of control high school cafeteria as opposed to a united force. Older gay men who lived through everything from the Stonewall riots of 1968 to the AIDS crisis of the 80s have spent a good majority of their lives fighting for the lifestyle and rights that we younger gays now enjoy – AND sometimes take for granted, I might add. But with the recent comings out (coming outs?) of Anderson Cooper, etc, the bickering around the “glass closet” has been louder than ever – and it’s mostly coming from older gay men who believe Anderson should’ve come out sooner.
When Anderson (of the actions speak louder than words/journalist activist variety) came out of the closet a couple of weeks ago, I had the same reaction that many of my 20-30-something friends had: “And?”
You see, in 2012, coming out of the closet is not as big of a deal as it was even 5 years ago; largely due to the efforts of the men and women that loudly came out before us. It’s a good thing, and while I know the pressure needs to be kept up, there are ways to do it and ways not to do it. Creating a glass closet is not the way.
Here in NYC (and in many other circles across the country), Anderson Cooper has been known to be gay for years. Why didn’t he come out publicly and declare his gayness? I have no clue, but it’s none of my business and none of yours either. Yes, he’s a public figure – but does that mean he must adhere to some kind of gay rulebook just because he’s well known? I mean, for what it’s worth (and I think it’s worth a lot), Anderson has devoted countless segments on his show to the bullying crisis in America. One could argue that his entire show portrays Anderson as a quiet activist who reports stories of injustice – no matter the type. He lets his journalism do the talking.
So, what’s wrong with that?
The argument for following the gay rulebook is something that Mike Signorile and Perez Hilton have been preaching for years. They believe that by not coming out of the closet publicly, people like Anderson Cooper send a message of shame to the rest of the community, country, world, universe, solar system, etc – especially to those in the closet.
Is the world a better place for having Anderson out of the closet? Sure. But let him and other public figures do so on their own terms. Shame is something that is created. In the case of the glass closet, the shame behind it has been created by the media – not the person inside it (Anderson). Unless you’re watching Sex & The City, glass closets don’t exist. They’ve been fabricated by the media as a way TO SHAME the people supposedly living inside them.
As someone who’s spent a good portion of his life living in shame created from sexual abuse, I can tell you right now that it’s an awful feeling – one that you would not wish on your worst enemy. <—— See that word? Enemy. In essence, people such as Mike Signorile and Perez Hilton are creating more enemies than friends within their own community. Most people I know have never heard of Mike, but everyone I know despises Perez Hilton – largely because of what he’s done to ‘out’ the personal lives of his fellow gays.
If people such as Mike Signorile and Perez Hilton are not going to evolve with society, then maybe we should help them to realize that it’s not the private lives of public figures, such as Anderson Cooper, that should be held responsible for holding the torch-of-societal integration of gays. Being an activist is a choice, not an obligation. If you want to really help to change the small minds of middle America, people need to be able to come out on their own terms. Instead, why not spend your time helping to educate ignorant parents about how to support their children through their journey?
Who someone has sex with is their business. The kind of sex they like is their business. Who you are in the bedroom and in your personal life is not a juicy piece of gossip. The real shame is in people such as Mike and Perez making people feel a-shamed about their own personal decisions. Shaming someone is an awful way to get your point across. I appreciate the intention to ‘normalize’ and integrate gay people in with the rest of society, but there are better ways to do it than trying to make public figures speak about their personal lives.