Forced Outing: “Disclosure is a process, not an event.”
There are many perspectives to an episode of forced outing. This is essentially any information, act or behavior that exposes the sexual orientation or sexual identity of a person without their explicit consent. Sometimes it is done by accident while at other times it is a deliberate act. Members of the LGBTIQ community have sometimes outed those who they feel must be outed forcibly. It is a tactic that has been used in many contexts for a range of reasons.
I would argue that forced outing can be something of a bullying tactic. You are essentially invading the privacy of another person and asking them to confront a reality that they may not be prepared for. In some terrible cases, the diagnosis is even wrong. You assume someone is gay because they appear to be effeminate when they are not.
A Dark Spot in the LGBTIQ Rights Struggle
The LGBTIQ community is not immune to the temptations of forced outing. It started as a tool of protest and offense. In the former context, it represented the notion that LGBTIQ people had nothing to be ashamed of. They were out there and going to tell the world that they were part of the community.
The second conceptualization focused on the tyranny of the majority. It was assumed that if many gay people came out of the closet, it would force society to recognize the fact that they were not as sparse as had once been assumed. We all know that minorities can be vulnerable to the vagaries of democracy, so it was important for the LGBTIQ community to be expanded through exposure and strategic alliances.
The Dark Undertones Begin
As the outings continued, some community advocates began to question the wisdom of forcibly recruiting people to the cause. We are all very different people. Some are in situations where they can come out without any serious consequence. Others must protect their sexuality because it is a matter of life and death. For example; outing a gay man living in the Iranian Theocracy is one of the most dreadful things you can do to them. Chances are that they will be dead before the year is out. On the other hand, someone living in liberal California or Massachusetts may not mind being outed.
Common decency calls for some respect. You need to obtain consent from the person that you are about to out. The LGBTIQ community has often fought war of attrition on the issue of identity and diversity. We cannot claim to be advocates for diversity when we insist on a single version of LGBTIQ identity. There are people who do not want to be militant or to get involved in the hassle and buzzle of fighting for LGBTIQ rights. They are nonetheless part of the community. We cannot send them away simply because they are not militant enough for our liking.
Hate Crimes by Carelessness
Although the person outing an LGBTIQ person may not intend to expose them to hate crime, the reality of their action is to open them up to homophobic harassment. People have lost their jobs and families as a consequence of being outed against their will. The person that is outing will most likely not even consider the consequences of their actions. They may argue that this is a public figure whose outing will give encouragement to the rest of the LGBTIQ community. I question this thinking: not least because it assumes that to be a member of the community; you must first be out of the closet.
There are very many members of the LGBTIQ community who have been able to support relevant community causes without revealing their personal lives. It is their choice and we should have the courtesy to respect that choice. Forced outing demands that everybody must be an openly LGBTIQ person that is willing to take on all the prejudice that that status entails. It is a process of forced homogenization that is a complete reversal of the unconditional positive regard that LGBTIQ people have fought to gain over the years. In that sense the “outers” may be unwitting betrayers of the cause.
What about the pleasure of exposing the hypocrites?
During the Reagan administration and in the immediate aftermath, it became fashionable to routinely out those LGBTIQ people who had been instrumental in suppressing the community. The logic was that these were hypocrites who had to be made to pay for their crimes somehow. There was some perverse satisfaction of seeing one of the “God Squad” getting the ultimate retribution of HIV/AIDS after years of saying that this was a disease that was a justified punishment for the homosexuals. Once again such attitudes forgot the basic tenets of humanity and respect for people which have been at the heart of the LGBTIQ movement over the years.
Those that outed the so called hypocrites failed to realize that these are people who might have been victims of circumstances. Perhaps they had been required to denigrate their own kind in order to win acceptance from the dominant cultural set. This is not the first time we have seen this type of thing.
The African American community has struggled to understand and come to terms with the notion of an “Uncle Tom”. To the uninitiated, this is a derogatory term that refers to a member of the black community who betrays it in order to gain acceptance from the white community. It is possibly one of the most painful insults you can ever level at an African American. The implication is that the person is a coward and immoral person.
By outing the so called “betrayers” of the cause, the LGBTIQ community was showing some of the signs of a Stockholm Syndrome (the victim beginning to sympathize with their oppressor). We were accepting the premises of the oppressor about how members of the LGBTIQ community should behave. That is why we developed this aversion to anyone that might be a stranger amongst the seemingly “straight” majority. By outing them, we also oust them from the wider society. This is the ultimate display of homophobia.
The Right to Anonymity
My argument is that any member of the LGBTIQ community retains the right to come out or stay in the closet. They can choose the time and circumstances of their outing or even not to come out at all. It does not make them any less valuable to the community. The consequences can be dire for breaking this sacred bond of trust when someone reveals their sexuality to you. In some instances; the breach of trust has led to suicidal thoughts, particularly for intersex and transsexual people. It is therefore such an irresponsible and heartless thing to do to out someone against their will.
I know that some of you will look back at the joys of doxing and say that it is all fair game. Doxing is essentially revealing the identity of a troll so that they are forced to confront the consequences of their trolling. It has been considered an illegal act by some experts but the victims are often so ashamed that they do not follow up. If the troll has been targeting members of the LGBTIQ community, there might be a temptation to justify the doxing on the grounds of public interest.
I still feel that doxing is never justified, even for the most obnoxious homophobic trolls. The best way is to report the transgressor to the administrators of the forum in which they are spewing their hate. In any case the person being doxed may not necessarily be a member of the LGBTIQ community. There are so many unknowns that it becomes a risk that cannot (in my view) be justified.
Helping People Come Out
Rather than forcibly infringing on the rights of LGBTIQ people, it is a better option to encourage them to come out if you feel that it is important. For example, there have been many sports personalities that have shown solidarity with those that are coming out or are even considering coming out. This must be a process of gentle persuasion rather than an ultimatum. If and when the person says that they do not want to be encouraged anymore, it is best to back off.
There are few things that are more irritating that overly militant LGBTIQ people who want everyone to be just like them. They get very angry when you tell them that you are worried about the impact of coming out on your loved ones. Instead they argue that you must always put the cause above any personal considerations. It is just the kind of pressure that gives LGBTIQ people a bad name. Coming out is a very serious and personal process. It should not take place within the context of undue pressure which is applied either directly or indirectly. Those who are still in the closet are committing no crime. We should never treat them as if they are.