Most gays and lesbians move the sexual taboos they were taught as children just far enough over to accomodate some of their own desire. Sadly, battling homophobia doesn't seem to encourage most of us to look at the bigger picture of sexual repression. Our efforts to improve our status are hampered, not just by hatred of gays, but by the abysmal state of heterosexuality. We are trying to win our freedom from people who can't deal with protecting their own children from AIDS or teen pregnancy, people who seem helpless to stem a rising tide of violence against women and children. Thanks to heterosexual men, more Viagra is being sold than aspirin. And if Pfizer could come up with a drug that would work that well for straight girls, pharmacies would be leveled in the resulting stampede. No wonder straight people see exciting racy images of frolicking gay perverts and get so steamed up and self-righteous. Being at the top of the sexual hierarchy and legally validated is one of the few perks that heterosexuals get, and I'm not surprised they are so reluctant to share.
Coming out is such a hard process that it's no wonder most lesbians and gay men can only manage it once in a lifetime. Coming out begins when we recognize, in a stigmatized Other, something of ourselves. Something disturbing we feel we must bring forward--at first into our own consciousness, then to a community of like-minded people where we hope to find welcome, and finally to outsiders. Coming out transmutes what is loathsome or unimaginable into something valuable and nourishing--garbage into gold, sickness into bread. This is an inherently terrifying experience because it means disobeying the voices of social disapproval (and often self-hatred as well) to risk becoming a more honest, but not necessarily happier or safer or more beloved, person.
Coming out ought to be a normal developmental process of differentiation. But we do it in the context of our culture's sex-negative pathology. It resembles or encompasses other stages of adult life that vanilla, gender-congruent, heterosexual people are able to take more for granted--achieving autonomy from the family of origin, undergoing sexual initiation, learning courtship skills and other social skills, forming a relationship, consolidating ties to a friendship network and a community, and (sometimes) clarifying political, moral, and spiritual values that impel us to take action.
...One of the most crucial tasks of coming out is to defeat the shaming voices of self-obliteration and reject the temptation to live for others' gratification and approval rather than our own. By coming out to ourselves, we free up the energy we spent keeping a part of ourselves hidden. By coming out to our kindred spirits, we acquire allies and rewards for integration and openness. We strengthen our little corner of the world, the walled gardens where some of our secrets may be told. By coming out to outsiders, we serve the health of the entire social body. We shut down or at least contest the omnipotence of the institutions that foster stigma; we replace ignorance and invisibility with the faces and lives of real people. We widen and clear the path for others to come out as well.
None of this is meant to imply that the power to come out lies only with the individual. The dangers that greet sexual nonconformity are quite real and at times life-threatening. There are few situations more painful than needing to come out when it is too unsafe to manage it and survive the process. This is a loneliness like no other; it generates a level of stress that can also be life-threatening. Those of us who have come to any sort of sexual sanctuary, however narrow and beleaguered, must never forget those who are prevented from joining us, and we must never stop trying to extend them practical as well as psychic aid.
...Whether willingly or no, stage three of coming out involves service to the body politic. It is as its core an attempt to ease human suffering. And so it has inherent spiritual value...And the attempt to foster kinship, love, and mutual care in the face of hatred and violence is also, I believe, an activity that brings us closer to the divine...
...But there is another side of this: our grim combat with those who hate us. There is a powerful temptation to split and view everything bad as associated with the Enemy, everything good as within our camp. But that is distorted thinking, at best, and self-righteousness at worst. We cannot hope to grow as a community if we punish other people for speaking their sexual truth. Coming out is made more difficult because of the shortcomings of our own community. Some of these defects are not our fault; we may be so marginalized that we have few resources left to comfort one another. But we are responsible for doing better than our opposition, even if the only victory we want to achieve is on the battlefield of public relations.
...Storming the Bastille is a lot more scary than rooting out dissent within the ranks of the revolutionaries. I think, for activists, the paradigm of the farmer or the mason is much more useful than the paradigm of the warrior. If we thought of our work as cultivating the things that we will need to survive in the future or building a shelter to house our dreams, rather than as a war in which we must annihilate the opposition, we might be less combative with one another.
We might also be able to come up with gentler and more effective ways to disarm the fear that can hamper or kill us. When you become aware of how much injustice there is in the world, the enormity of all the suffering that we inflict on one another, it is very difficult indeed to have the patience to slow down and do the hard work of connecting, one at a time, with individual people who need to be educated or at least made aware that they will face resistance if they try to hurt or defame us. And yet this is the only way to guarantee that whatever social policies we manage to change or civil-rights laws we get passed will be implemented or obeyed...
--Patrick Califia, Speaking Sex to Power