Tuesday, September 23, 2008

In Defense of Outing

The following is a snippet of a long paper I wrote for a Queer studies class, I figured no time like the present to defend my position on outing.

Outing is the act of someone disclosing someone else’s alleged sexual orientation or gender identity without their consent and making it public. The act of outing has been used as a form of revenge, and as a political, social, and emotional tactic to expose truth, and institute awareness and change. The people who are usually targets of outing are generally in a position of power or hold some form of prestige within their respective communities or within the society at large. The tactic of outing has largely been a controversial topic within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community. There are different schools of thought that take on the issue with varying degrees of fervor that are in favor, in opposition to outing, or a middle ground choice. People in favor of outing often cite hypocrisy, revenge, and exposure as their main motivation for engaging in the act. People who oppose outing generally feel that the act is unfair, reflects negatively on the queer community and is an insincere motive because it disregards a person’s right to explore and determine their own identity. Opponents of outing feel that it is an unnecessary tactic that does not yield positive results.

As with all political issues, there lies a continuum of opinions on outing within the gay community. I personally believe outing to be a strong and persuasive technique that has and can further be used to foster awareness and create social and political change. I support efforts to out those whom I deem as hypocrites, and by that I mean someone who preaches or votes in opposition to LGBTQ equality and civil rights legislation. On the other hand I am not in favor of outing people who wish to remain private about their own sexuality, while not actively campaigning against or in favor of gay rights. I feel we must work to expose the truth of those who work against us, while keeping silent on those who we suspect to be queer, but do not hold prejudices against us. We must remember the closet where we came from and where others may very well still be struggling with their own individual identities.

I feel that while outing may be controversial for a variety of reasons, it is still an important and useful social and political tactic. I think the positions completely for or against outing are both “radical” and unreasonable. I believe the stance that I take is more of a middle ground and reasonable approach based in logic, as well as sincerity and compassion. I think outing as a general rule needs to be used objectively and subjectively. Individual scenarios and consequences need to be taken into account before action is taken, because every situation is different. I believe in outing hypocrites who speak prejudice, and advocate for discriminatory legislation against the LGBTQ community, while they themselves hide or reject their own homo or transsexuality. I agree whole heartedly with a well known gay African-American activist, Keith Boykin when he says “it doesn’t matter if you’re a preacher, a performer or a politician. Your right to privacy ends when you violate my right to liberty” (Boykin). The people who seek to hurt queer people in my opinion lose their right to privacy. I feel that after one seeks to destroy the rights of others, they effectively should be taken down by using political power and social capital as a weapon of attack.


Laurie said...

A girl at school last year 'outed' a gay
student to the kids in my line. None of them
cared (thank god!) but I did have a talk with
her the next day about it because it could
have gone bad.
It isn't my place to 'out' someone. When they
are ready they can tell me and that's as
far as it goes till they decide otherwise..


Anonymous said...

Hmm, a Queer Studies class, huh? Well, if I were your professor I would feel compelled to point out that while your argument seems to use ethical and moral considerations, at one and the same time you devalue the very same ethics and morality you espouse. If you believe in ethics and morality you must believe they are a constant and not a convenience to espouse when it suits you or your purposes. Case in point: either we all have the right to privacy or we do not. The circumstance (sorry, Mr. Boykin) is irrelevant. Two wrongs do not make a right. To bend and twist issues of ethics and morality degenerates and pollutes both concepts. In this country our justice system has evolved to grant rights to criminals regardless of the nature of the crime. Though admittedly there are those who believe in moments of crisis our sensibilites should be suspended (Guantanamo?). In a sense, outing is sort of related. Outers, if you will, have appointed themselves judge, jury and executioner. What right have you to break into another person's life on philosophical or idealogical grounds and then pretend to protect others who may hold the very same views but are simply not vocal about them? Your position is morally, ethically, intellectually untenable. Let us call a spade a spade. Outing is just a sophomoric act of revenge-pure and simple. So what if you uncover a hypocrite, big deal. They're a dime a dozen. How does that change anything or help our cause?

Wonder Man said...

great blog, I agree

Lauren said...

I personally believe that outing another person is never okay, bigot politician or not. Sexual orientation is a personal thing, and no one has the right to comment on another person's sexuality no matter what the situation.

It's disrespectful and in my opinion, bigotry in itself.

But your essay was well-written and I valued your viewpoint. We simply have different views.

Unknown said...

I'm one of those rare people who believe that outing is justified under certain circumstances. I see it, personally, as self-defense.
I'm someone attacks me, I'm not going to think "oh, I shouldn't go for the groin, that wouldn't be nice."

I think of it this way: I'm polish. And if I were to try to ban polish people from marrying, adopting, or being prevented from any other rights --- you can best bet my family would not stand for it. You can best bet they would be up in my face, and if I refused to do the right thing they would show the world my birth certificate and anything else that proves that I'm polish.

Another point I always find curious about this is the notion of "privacy". If Batman doesn't want anyone knowing he wears the cape during sex, he probably shouldn't be having sex with people unless he's sure they won't talk. Invading someone's privacy is going through their purse when they're not looking. But if the person opens their purse and goes "look what I have in here!" it's not invading their privacy if I go tell people what I saw. They freely offered it, and I am under no obligation to keep other people's secrets. If they want them secret, they shouldn't involve other people. Or, they should only tell people they trust. It becomes even less reasonable to expect me to keep their secrets when they are stabbing me in the back afterwards.

Anonymous said...

I too thought it was a well written article, but you know where I'm going to come down on this subject. Regardless of the situation, nobody has the right to make that sort of life altering decision for another. I can't make medical decisions for you. I don't have the authority to even pick out what color socks you should wear and if I don't have the right to do that, how on earth would I possess the necessary judgement to know what is best for you regarding your orientation? Politics or no politics.


Diane J Standiford said...

Funny, I just finished a similar post. OK, I agree with you. Ethics? Morals? We are an opressed group.Who made YOU Solaris, the judge? This is not an issue of ethics, it is a life and death arena in the U.S.A., ask Matthew Shepard's mother. It is a war. It is our moral DUTY to show hypocrites who attack us for what they are. And it DOES matter. People have changed how they see us since the closeted 1960s. Nobody outed Ellen and she was shunned from jobs for years. Now str8s sing her praises. I would never out someone for the reasons you state, Solaris, you demean us if you think us so stupid. Sure there will always be jerks, but that is not what the issue is. Your freedom ends when your fist hits my nose. I hit back.

Sofia said...

I definitely see your point. Luckily, I've never been faced with this sort of decision. Having trained in self defense and the ethics that are needed to defend oneself responsibly, though, I definitely see the value of a proportional and thought out defense against violence. It's not generally polite to knock someone on the ground, but if a person comes at me with a weapon, that's exactly what's going to happen to them. In the same way, it's not right to go around outing everyone, but it may be an excellent (and sometimes appropriate) way to take away the force they're actively wielding against us.

Rob said...

QU, first let me say I'm against outing anyone, in fact many times when people do it, it's juvenile behaviour to just embarrass someone they might not like. Now in my opinion there is a big difference between a hypocritical Candidate, verses someone who is just working for that Candidate. Mark Buse did nothing to deserve being outed. If it was John McCain or Sarah Palin with the secret life, that might be a different story.

WickedGayBlog.com said...

Very well said BTW.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughts and boldness in exploring this topic... choppy waters for sure!

MasterAdrian said...

I think that outing fully OK when it concerns people in positions were they are able to stand up, and out, for people they are sharing their bed with.....
It is expected of an american to defend america, even when he dislikes the values and morals of the country, if not then he is referred to as unpatriotic,a nd a traitor. I think that when someone is gay, and acts against gay people, making or supporting laws that hurt gay people, he is can be considered to be a traitor!
When it is a private person, not serving people, then its another matter, but people in the public venure are expected to stand up for what they believe in!

Queers United said...

Thanks everyone for pitching in. I understand that this can be super controversial as seen here by the comments. I respect everyones opinion and you have all responded with your POV respectfully and eloquently. I guess sometimes some of us just have to agree to disagree. We all can agree on one thing though, and that is we are trying to do the best we can to advance the "gay agenda" hehe

Anonymous said...

I am not sure what the "gay agenda" is but I do know if I had outed my partner of 21 years he would not have been allowed to complete a military career that included him being in the Pentagon on 9/11. I can tell you it was hell for me not knowing if he was injured, dead, or alive for almost a week because a could not call his commander, his family, or anyone else but him and his cell phone, of course, was out of commission.

Should I Out him now that he has left the military honorably simply because the military would not let him serve as openly gay thus placing him in a position of, and I qoute your essay, "power or hold some form of prestige within their respective communities or within the society at large".

I must disagree with this philosophy of outing another person not simply for that reason but also because for many years, growing up in the rural south, my very survival depended on others not knowing I was gay (watch "Brokeback Mountain" again even if you have several times).

When you consider the act of outing could cause death, dismemberment, and/or disqualification for many otherwise highly able people; you must decide if you are willing to take the responsibility for another's death should your act of outing that individual have any part in it.

Enough of my sermonizing, as you can see I strongly disagree with the practice and know no other reason someone would want to do it other than to cause harm to another individual. I am an openly gay man in all areas of my life now but still find it appropriate to be discrete at certain times and in certain places.

I love you all!!!

Anonymous said...

"When you consider the act of outing could cause death, dismemberment, and/or disqualification for many otherwise highly able people; you must decide if you are willing to take the responsibility for another's death should your act of outing that individual have any part in it."

Well said, Rick Harris. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

Anonymous said...

I'm usually not for 'outing' people. Even people I do not like. However, I do think there are times when it is justified. Take people like Ted Haggard. His life's work was all about condemning gays. Here we find out from a gay male escort he's not only having homosexual relations, he's on meth. That kind of hypocrisy needs to be exposed. If that man was not on tv gay bashing, the escort in question would never have known the man he'd been seeing was a preacher. If Ted Haggard was a mechanic no one would care. But because he was preacher who constantly belittled gays, he needed to be called on his hypocrisy.

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