On October 12th we will celebrate National Coming Out Day. This day acknowledges the fact that many individuals who are gay hide in response to a stigmatizing culture that does not fully embrace them. It also encourages individuals to throw open the closet door, and suggests that to do so impacts on that stigma and moves us toward a more accepting culture.
Each time a public figure comes out, it expands our idea about who gay people are, and makes the gay experience more ordinary and common – and therefore less scary and phobic. Most recently, Kevin McClatchy, former owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, came out publicly in an interview with the New York Times. He reminds us that the male pro-sports culture is one in which few individuals have ever come out at all, let alone while in the midst of their sports careers. This is evidence that we are harder on boys/men than girls/women, and that we confuse masculinity with sexuality in a way that keeps men in the closet and supports the bullying and harassment of any boy or man who doesn’t fit the tough, masculine sports warrior image – as if they are mutually exclusive.
Mr. McClatchy, in his interview, described that in the professional baseball culture – a culture that includes thousands of players, managers, and owners – not one gay individual has come out while still actively involved in the game. That silence has been sending a powerful message! And Mr. McClatchy got the message: he felt threatened, paranoid, suspicious, and angry, and decided that it would not be good for him or his career to disclose his sexual orientation. So, he kept that part of himself a secret. Who can blame him?
We know that if everyone in our communities who was gay would stand up and say it, that would change everything. Yet, that doesn’t mean everyone should! The gay closet is a tipping point. You go in the closet to avoid stigma, discrimination, rejection, and harm, and you come out when the benefits outweigh the risks. Mr. McClatchy didn’t come out to change baseball, though it would be great if his disclosure does impact this homophobic culture. He came out because he’s in a serious relationship, he’s turning 50, and he said, “There’s no way I want to go into the rest of my existence and ever have to hide my personal life again.”
We are glad for him to be free of the burden of hiding, and we're mindful of the difficult choices that individuals still in the closet have of measuring their own tipping points. We hope that there are more benefits than burdens to being out for everyone.