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Thursday, March 07, 2013

Why the Closet?

The Harmful Effects of the Closet, Part 2: 
"Heterosexism, the Begetter of the Closet"

Preamble to each post: There is no doubt that "the closet" is the most harmful result of continuing to deny LGBTs a legitimate and equal place in society. By not acknowledging them, heterosexuals force them into hiding. The results are often catastrophic. What is also not in doubt is that the closet is of heterosexual making. Rather than wag our fingers and preach our condemning sermons, we should be doing all we can to eliminate this despicable situation. For a simple fact remains: if we eliminate the closet, we eliminate all those things that we negatively associate with gayness. Even better, LGBTs are freed from the inhumanity of closet life.

I ask you, if you are a heterosexual, do you (ever)…
...fear holding hands with your lover in public?
...fear your sexuality will be held against you at work?
...reject thoughts of having children and grandchildren out of hand?
...get apprehensive upon leaving a straight bar?
...hide your sexual identity from your family and friends?
...send out false signal regarding your sexual identity to appear otherwise?
...think that your heterosexuality is a burden in any way?
Or do you...
...remember fighting against your initial fears you may be heterosexual?
...loathe yourself for being “unnatural”?
...resent your feelings of attraction to the opposite sex?
...keep your sexual identity from your friends and family for fear of rejection or condemnation?
...often wish you were not heterosexual?
...ever consider entering therapy to try to reverse your heterosexuality?
...hope that your sexuality might rise to the level of acceptability, but never imagine it would be held in high esteem? deep in the closet because you are afraid to live openly as a heterosexual? 
Of course, Mr. and Ms. Heterosexual, you never were confronted by any of these situations. You have lived your life free from the burden of orientation pretense and openly pursued your life. How very different from our LGBT friends and family members. In order to keep their jobs, their standing in social circles (including churches), even their sanity, they must keep their true sexual orientation from us.  For if they don't, the personal and economic consequences are often very harsh, even life-threatening.  It's no wonder many choose to live a closeted existence.

So, just what is it that set up such conditions that LGBTs feel it necessary to hide from us? It's called heterosexism.
Heterosexism is an acculturated system of bias regarding sexual orientation. It encourages values in favor of heterosexual people and enforces prejudiced actions against LGBTs.
In other words, heterosexism is a means by which heterosexuals maintain their power. It is not unlike White racism in that regard.

Gregory Herek, professor of psychology at the University of California, distinguishes between two manifestations of heterosexism:
Cultural:  The stigmatization, denial, or denigration of nonheterosexuality in cultural institutions ranging from the church to the courthouse.
Psychological:  A person’s internalization of this worldview which erupts in antigay prejudice and homophobia.
Virtually every society has in-groups and out-groups. For keeping minorities subjugated to the dominant culture, two operations are used:  prejudice and discrimination. This results in the singling out of individuals or groups of people as targets of hostility even though they may have little or nothing to do with the evils for which they stand accused. Scapegoating is the result, with the closet as the only defense against heterosexism and homophobia.

This is why heterosexuals are responsible for creating and maintaining the closet. We like it this way. We maintain our power and keep opposition at bay.

How do heterosexuals further the heterosexist agenda? In ways both overt and covert. "That's so gay!" "You throw like a girl." "Marriage should be restricted to one man and one woman." "The Bible condemns homosexuality." "If you must have a same-sex relationship, keep it in private."

I once referred to myself as an "avowed heterosexual." The idea is silly on the face of it! I said it in response to someone who referred to another as an avowed homosexual, as though that was too horrifying to contemplate. We went on to discuss heterosexual privilege. I asked him why it was okay for him to show affection to his wife in public, but not for gays.  I asked him why we aren't allowed to discriminate in job hiring and housing against racial minorities, but it's perfectly fine to discriminate against gays.  I asked him why we keep straights in the military, but give gays bad conduct discharges. I asked him why straight couples are allowed to adopt children, but in most states, gays cannot.  I asked him why sodomy between straight couples was fine, but not with gay couples.  You get the picture; that's heterosexism doing its work.

My coming postings will feature aspects of the closet that no one appreciates.  Our tendency as straights is to  blame the situation on gays and attribute these offenses to their moral inferiority. However, the stark reality is that, by virtue of heterosexism, straights created each and every condition that we so easily condemn, when the accusing finger should be pointing at us. People of good will throughout the world are realizing the harm the closet perpetuates and are working diligently to dismantle it. Why not; we made it in the first place.

This video elaborates on heterosexism and explains it better than I can:

TOMORROW: The Closet and Inappropriate Marriages

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