Cleaning Out the Closet

May 17, 2011  |  


Imagine sharing shallow conversations with strangers that border dishonesty.  Picture not being able to talk about how you celebrated the holidays, where you are going on vacation or who sent carnations to the office for you all because you’re afraid any detail might reveal that you’re gay.

CNN anchor Don Lemon has recently joined a select group of public professionals who have revealed to their audiences that they’re gay.  Lemon states that he didn’t  exactly hide his sexuality from his co-workers at CNN, but decided to take this very public step after discussing his life and sexuality in his new book, “Transparent”.  “I guess this makes me a double minority now,” he remarked.

Being a member of the LGBT community is not without its challenges, but it seems being a black gay man still carries a stigma of shame, dishonor and emasculation.  Myths about homosexuality are abundant within the black community and embedded into many people’s beliefs causing them to form judgments on flawed information.  Many of us believe that homosexuality is unnatural and a personal decision, although homosexual behavior has been historically studied throughout species and human cultures.  We feed into popular stereotypes that depict gay men as feminine, flamboyant and promiscuous although there are plenty of men who identify as gay who don’t possess these characteristics and plenty of straight or “metro-sexual” men who do.

Many of us believe homosexuality is a result of flawed parenting or sexual abuse.  While covering the sexual abuse allegations against Bishop Eddie Long late last year, Lemon revealed that he too had been a victim of a pedophile as a child, something he had not even revealed to his own mother until the age of 30.   According to a 2000 web fact sheet published by The American Psychiatric Association, “No specific psychosocial or family dynamic cause for homosexuality has been identified including histories of sexual abuse.   Sexual abuse does not appear to be more prevalent in children who grow up to identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, than in children who identify as heterosexual.”

What does happen is that victims of sexual abuse often become confused about sexuality in general and question their sexual orientation as adults especially if they have been abused by members of the same sex.  Sexual orientation is based on strong feelings of attraction and one thing that sexual abuse isn’t about on the part of the victim is attraction.  In addition, many people who identify as gay have heterosexual parents.  Once again, sexual orientation is about attraction.  Did your parents teach you who to be attracted to?

We ‘d like to believe that the bedroom behavior of our favorite celebs is the property of public opinion, but the truth is that no one’s sex life, regardless of who they are, is anyone else’s business. The reason we love learning about what celebs are doing behind closed doors is that it gives us some sense of satisfaction that either they aren’t much different than us or that they are even more screwed up than we are. And unfortunately the personal lives of celebs have the power to affect their livelihood.

Coming out of the closet is no easy task and for every story I have of a friend who had a positive coming out experience, I have 10 more for whom coming out resulted in the loss of family, friends, shelter and even employment.  Lemon revealed that he lived a life of fear that coming out of the closet would mean he would be “shunned, mocked and ostracized” by many of the people he cared for most.  It’s a fear that many of us have in common.  Maybe we don’t care how many people know of our sexual orientation, but many of us have secrets, some of them shameful, that are shackling us in fear and holding us back from being who we truly are including secrets of addiction, mismanaged finances and other insecurities.  As much as we preach about “keeping it real”, how many of us have the courage to face what awaits us when we clean out our closets?

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