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Have the ethics of outing changed?

Ellen Page has been outed. Which isn’t really huge or scandalous news. A lot of people have believed she’s bisexual for a long time. She has never denied or confirmed it, but she has always been unambiguously pro-gay. Since she hasn’t ever confirmed or denied, it’s still, officially, all speculation.

What makes her outing interesting to me is the logic being used by the person responsible for the story. Christoph Topitschnig’s website V-Generation has published a couple stories about Ellen Page. There are no bylines so I’m going to go ahead and attribute all the writing to Mr Topitschnig himself.

Previously, I would have thought that most people would be in agreement with how Rachel Maddow worded her ethics of outing.

I’ve long held three basic beliefs about the ethics of coming out:

  1. Gay people — generally speaking — have a responsibility to our own community and to future generations of gay people to come out, if and when we feel that we can.
  2. We should all get to decide for ourselves the “if and when we feel that we can” part of that.
  3. Closeted people should reasonably expect to be outed by other gay people if (and only if) they prey on the gay community in public, but are secretly gay themselves.

I also believe that coming out makes for a happier life, but that’s not a matter of ethics, that’s just corny advice.
Rachel Maddow, Maddowblog

In a previous poll, our readers voted on what they believed were the rules for outing. Half believed outing was never acceptable. 42% believed that it was acceptable if the individual being outed was in some way a hypocrite. 6% of people who answered the poll said that it was always acceptable to out people. This end of the argument is best represented by gossip blogger, Perez Hilton, who says:

It upsets me that people think what I’m doing is a bad thing. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. If you know something to be a fact, why not report it? Why is that still taboo?I know there is some controversy about outing people, but I also believe the only way we’re gonna have change is with visibility. And if I have to drag some people screaming out of the closet, then I will. I think that lot of celebrities have an archaic fear that being gay will hurt their career but look at Rosie. Look at Ellen.
MSNBC

Topitschnig’s reasoning for outing Ellen Page is that he believes she’s being duplicitous because she publicly supports gay rights but remains quiet about her own sexuality. He, like Perez Hilton and Rachel Maddow, points to visibility as an important tool in giving hope to young gay people and asserts,

Ellen Page intentionally portrays herself as open-minded and honest person who stands for her believes. But her actions tell me that she is nothing more than just another Hollywood actor who is more concerned about a good public image and a good business deal.
Christoph Topitshnig, V-Generation

In another post that he wrote earlier, he accused Page of “flaunting” her sexuality in public. I’m curious how one can be called closeted if they are pretty open about being in public with their same-sex partners.

I asked the question “Have the ethics of outing changed?” on my Twitter and most people replied with no, commenting that the author of that post is out of line (I’m paraphrasing the less polite answers).

Writer and actor Racheline Maltese was the only one to answer differently.

The ethics of outing are changing. I think the argument if is we let people stay in the closet, we are accepting shame as valid. Of course, that ignores safety issues and personal right to privacy. On the other hand, at least in Hollywood, I am so over people staying closeted for the sake of their careers. I’m still not going to out people, but I do get where the impetus is coming from.

Nobody is going to argue that visibility isn’t what has got us as far as we are now, and that it realistically will be what gets us all the way to equality. Unfortunately, it’s like trying to find your glasses when you’re not wearing them. Until we have equality (and even after it, really), it will be a different kind of dangerous for everyone to come out. What we risk, individually, varies.

50 years ago, everyone faced serious, significant risk to all areas of their lives. Happily, that’s no longer the case. We hear more and more coming out stories where the reaction is positive — families who are prepared and able to support their queer children, friends and schools and even churches who are happy to embrace queer kids. That’s not the case for everyone, but it’s reality for an increasing number of people.

Could this generational experience of albeit limited acceptance be driving a change in how we view a celebrity’s reluctance to come out? For decades, many of us have experienced intense personal and professional losses for coming out, and while we did it, we understood why others would not. We knew, better than anyone, why someone would remain closeted.

But queer kids now are (happily) less and less likely to have these devastating experiences (many still will, of course) and may be far less patient with wealthy twenty-somethings with body guards who are still somehow terrified.

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9 Comments

  • For christ’s sake is the girl not entitled to keep her private life private? I’m out to pretty much everybody including the people I work with, but not the customers I serve, not because I’m ashamed but because its none of their business! Whatever about it being ok to be gay, its still brings unwanted stupid questions and wisecracks. Even if I wasn’t gay, I’d want to keep my private life private. That being said if anybody ever does say something like “thats gay” I will tell them to cop on! The girl isn’t out there saying being gay is wrong, she’s an LGBT supporter and so what if she wants to keep her private life private!

    This outing was not for the greater LGBT cause, it was to satisfy voyeuristic obsessions with celebrities personal lives. Not celeberity likes to wear their personal life on their sleeve, and their right should be respected, and god knows maybe we should admire Ellen Page for not being famous for her personal life and instead for her acting talent.

    Abi said:
  • [...] Have the ethics of outing changed? Ellen Page has been outed. Which isn’t really huge or scandalous news. A lot of people have believed she’s bisexual for a long time. She has never denied or confirmed it, but she has always been unambiguously pro-gay. Since she hasn’t ever confirmed or denied, it’s still, officially, all speculation. What makes her outing interesting [...] [...]

    Open FM » Today’s Links said:
  • I still think I’m inclined to agree with Rachel Maddow, but at the same time really understanding where Racheline Maltese is coming from. I work with the public too, and while I don’t tell every customer I’m gay, sometimes we’ll be talking and I’ll get asked about my wedding ring “Oh, an Irish man” they’ll say. And I do make a calculation in my head about each one and decide whether I’m going to play the pronoun game or whether I’m just going to out and say it. Everytime I have, it’s not been a big deal. But, yeah, it’s still my choice. And if I think it should remain my choice, I have to side with allowing public figures their choice too, even if I really wish they’d just get over it.

    CanuckJacq (author) said:
  • I have to agree with Maddow also. It does no one any good to see somneone outted and look terrified at the prospect, hiding from the press and crying faul.

    Gooner said:
  • [...] my colleague CanuckJacq wrote recently, Ellen has been outed and this she has neither denied nor confirmed.  If she is gay/bi it’s a shame she has been [...]

    Ellen Page: Alainn or Appalling | gaelick said:
  • The guy has outed Gov. Rick Perry.

    http://www.v-generations.com/v/content/view/228/30/

    Jason said:
  • Good catch. He’s taken it down, but it’s still in the Google Cache.

    CanuckJacq (author) said:
  • Yup. Liked it though, better than Ellen Page outing.

    He has a new article up. Going after Jolie. I wonder who this guy is.

    http://www.v-generations.com/v/content/view/227/30/

    Jason said:
  • The first girl I dated ended up getting me fired because she would not come out, and my boss thought I was sexually harassing her. When asked if I was doing this, she did not say ‘no’, for fear of coming out. My boss then refused to give me any holiday work when I came back from University, despite having given me some the previous holiday. Later, the girl I was dating told me why this was.

    This is the only time I have ever experienced serious homophobia that actually affected my life. I was out at this time, in 2000 it was still an odd issue for some people, especially teenagers (I was 17), but I would not have stayed in the closet for anything. I realised there are better places to work (the whole ethos was very homophobic within the older members of the team), and got on with my life.

    I would never out anyone intentionally, more for the reprocussions on my own life than anyone elses, but I think everyone should be out, proud and visible. If my 84-year-old Liverpudlian grandmother can deal with it well, treating me in the same way she treats my hetero- cousins, asking me if I have a ‘special friend’ yet, anyone can.

    Jenn M said:
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