I’ve gotten a number of messages in the last few days — from both supporters and opponents of gay rights — expressing sympathy over the rude and hateful messages I’ve been getting (and publishing) ever since I started writing about Phil Robertson.
This is sweet, but misplaced. The worst of my problems from being openly gay is that I get some nasty email. That means I have it really easy. In a country where gay teenagers are being bullied at school and thrown out of their homes by their parents and told by their clergy that they’re going to Hell, we should not count my inbox as a hardship.
Rather than hurting me, these emails are a reminder that I have not just an opportunity but an obligation to be out of the closet — an obligation of which other people in my position should be mindful.
Being openly gay has always been pretty easy for me. I came out in high school in an affluent suburb of Boston, where attitudes toward gays were fairly positive and upscale New England standards of decorum stopped people from expressing negative ones to my face. Then I went to Harvard, where being gay is practically encouraged.
As far as I can tell, being open about my sexuality has never caused me any professional hardship — not when I was a banker, not when I worked for conservative think tanks, and certainly not now that I work in an industry that’s more or less run by the gays. And if being openly gay has been a silent hardship — if there’s some job I would have been offered or some piece that would have been commissioned but for my sexuality — then I’ve enjoyed enough offsetting advantages to easily survive that problem.
I have friends and family who love and support me for who I am.
Most importantly, my side is winning the culture war. Legal and social acceptance of gays is improving every day. The yelps of the haters (and even more tellingly, their whining about “civility”) are just acknowledgments that we’re winning and they’re losing.
In that context, why should I react with anything other than derision when somebody tells me God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve? (Seriously, some loser actually used that line in an email today.)
What can that guy actually do to me? Nothing. I hold all the power here.
And if some hater messages me on Facebook to ask questions like “What do you and your male partner do during sex?” and “For instance, when someone looks at your photo and imagines a man’s penis in your mouth. Does that not embarrass you?”
, why shouldn’t I just answer him forthrightly and unashamedly?
The only reason these emailers make me angry is that I think about how their insults affect other people. I’m too arrogant for self-loathing, but that’s not true of everyone. A lot of gay people still live in communities where these hateful attitudes are dominant. A lot of gay children and teenagers are at the mercy of parents, teachers and clergy who hold bigoted views.
Being open and unashamed about being gay is just one small thing I can do to change the culture and make life easier for people who haven’t had my luck.
And that’s why I’m mystified by prominent gay people in business and media and Hollywood who choose to be in the closet. They have the ability to help lots of people who don’t have their advantages, and they’re selfishly passing on it under the guise of “privacy.” Often, they do this while living quite gaily in places like New York and Los Angeles and reaping the benefits of social acceptance in their non-professional lives.
Imagine, for example, that you were a prominent daytime news anchor on a national cable news channel aimed at a conservative audience, and you were gay. You would have the potential, by coming out of the closet, to change millions of viewers’ perspective on gay people for the better. You’d make it easier for your closeted gay viewers to love themselves, and easier for your viewers’ gay children to come out.
Or you could live a fabulous gay life with your boyfriend in New York City while staying closeted to the national audience. Wouldn’t that be a pretty decadent choice?
And that’s why I think the condolence emails from my readers are off base. Treating nasty reader emails as a real hardship to me lets me off the hook. If I let those messages cow me, I’d be doing a disservice not just to myself but to others. So I don’t. And other people shouldn’t either.
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