A Second Coming Outby Raymond Rigoglioso on 03/25/16
When I see the kinds of awakenings that happen among guys who take Gay Men of Wisdom's Powerful U, I see the seeds of a significant cultural transformation. The profound shifts that take place amount to a second coming out: an emergence of a submerged sense of self. Guys have actually used the language of "a second coming out" to describe the experience.
Men who take Powerful U come to understand how being gay has as much to do with same-sex attraction as it does being different from other men, possessing special gifts, and playing critical social roles. When the guys recognize this within themselves, they vibrate with certainty, confidence, and a rooted power. They change.
We know how powerful coming out is, but we also know it requires overcoming negative and limiting messages. For as much success as the LGBT movement has had, we have lost a sense of vision and purpose. I see three obstacles in our way to creating a new vision: fear, assimilation, and eschewing "labels."
Many gay men intuitively understand the idea that we are inherently different and possess special gifts. For others, it can provoke an almost knee-jerk resistance. I've noticed that the premise itself can ignite a deeply held fear: That if we distinguish ourselves, call attention to ourselves, or take up too much space, the dominant culture won't accept us. Of course, we've already called a great deal of attention to ourselves, and our movement takes up a huge portion of social and cultural space relative to our small size.
Ironically, straight people seem to understand and accept the concept of gay people having special gifts more easily than many of us do. They know us. They observe us. They raised us. They understand we're different, yet they are afraid to say so for fear of offending us. It's as if we're the last to know.
This idea also runs against the grain of current LGBT culture. It challenges the shift toward assimilation.
Gay marriage, which is not even a year old, has already exerted considerable pressure to embrace the social mores of the dominant culture. I see this as temporary, however. I predict that, ultimately, gay people will reinvent marriage, because we will quickly come to chafe under the spoken and unspoken assumptions of the heterosexual version of this institution. I already see it happening.
We will give back to heterosexuals a model that has profoundly more freedom and equality inherent to it. In other words, we will accomplish what conservatives, who had fought against gay marriage, had feared all along.
The trend toward assimilation follows years of implicit and explicit messages from high profile LGBT organizations that claim gays and lesbians are just like everyone else. As I point out in Gay Men and The New Way Forward, in past years, we could look to the gay media for ideas and vision, but most of it has long since abdicated that role. So much of gay culture now pressures gays and lesbians to conform.
Among some young people, there seems to be a trend to eschew labels--to look upon sexual identity as limiting, to identify as "post-gay." Freedom, as the argument goes, lies in allowing oneself to be open and fluid. Labels restrict and place oneself in a box.
For people who fall along the trans spectrum, this argument makes total sense. The trans experience, as suggested in the name itself, transcends notions of fixed gender. Some trans people will choose to fully live in the gender other than how they presented at birth. Others feel more comfortable remaining somewhere in between. For bisexuals too, fluidity makes complete sense. If you find women and men sexually attractive, this gives you a broader perspective on gender than those who are completely heterosexual or homosexual.
But this trend seems to go well beyond trans and bi people. Notions of "gay" and "straight" seem to be blurring among some young people. And while this trend claims freedom as its cause, I cannot help but predict a train wreck at the end of it.
To believe that one is similar to those who are different sends oneself a profound message of disrespect. When young people emerge from their experimentation and enter young to mid-adulthood, straight and gay men will diverge. Straight men will partner with women, and gay men will partner with men.
Straight men won't believe they are gay--there is far too much social programming to confuse them about their identity. Gay men, however, won't understand themselves--because they will have convinced themselves they were just like their counterparts who are, ultimately, different. Because they have eschewed a label, they won't meaningfully connect with other gay men. They won't have access to the cultural transfer that happens among gay people, because they will believe they are beyond it. In discarding an identity, in claiming to be "post-gay," they will lose themselves.
Why Come Out Again?
Specificity matters. It helps us understand ourselves. Identity, differences, and categories all help us distinguish who we are from who others are.
No doubt, humans are much more alike than we are different. But differences are real. When we convince ourselves that our differences don't exist or don't matter, we tell ourselves that we don't matter. This is what I worry most about for young gay men--that by embracing fluidity and eschewing labels, they are telling themselves they don't matter.
For all these reasons, coming out as different and having special gifts takes on even greater urgency. Gays and lesbians, queer people, will never blend into the mainstream. We may convince ourselves we're doing so, but no one else will be fooled. When we distance ourselves from our differences and special gifts, we deprive everyone of their benefit. Everyone loses.
Coming out always takes courage and self-knowledge. Only when we come out can we recognize the closet we had been living in.
To echo the words of Harvey Milk, I invite you: "Come out! Come out as different and having special gifts!"