Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Lunch On Me!

My lover and I watched a documentary on Harvey Milk last night. Somewhat of a downer, of course, but a great film.

One segment I found particularly interesting came in a speech Harvey was giving, I believe in opposition to California's Proposition 6. After defending the right-ness of gay rights, he moved into a passionate call for closeted gays to come out to their family, friends, and coworkers. He framed it as an obligation to the gay community, to come out and help break down anti-gay stereotypes. At the very end he tagged on something like "oh, and you'll feel better about yourself too."

I found it interesting that today's mainstream discourse on coming out basically flips these two arguments around entirely: the primary benefit of outness is one's own individual well-being and mental health, and "oh, and it'll make it easier for others" seems sort of tagged on as an afterthought. Or such is my perception anyway.

I find the older framing more appealing, though that might well be due to its novelty from my perspective. I feel like in general we see a lot of arguments, even (or especially) for positive things, made through appeals to self-interest rather than obligations to others: buy local produce because it tastes better, seek out school diversity so you can learn more about others, ride a bike to lose weight1, and so forth. Any notion of personal sacrifice is limited to religion (or environmentalism).

I can see why people like these arguments, since they do seem more likely to meet with success, but they have the unfortunate side effect of reinforcing the attitude that there is such a thing as a free lunch, and that the more you can live responsibly and morally, the more strings-free personal benefits you will accrue. It's a dangerous implication, because giving up or trying to counteract real privilege (and staying closeted can be a privilege) does necessarily result in personal detriment; otherwise it would not be privilege.

There are movements away from the pure self-interest appeals. Sarah sent me a link yesterday to a Q&A with the author of a book that deals with closeted rappers and the damage they do to their (both gay and straight) communities. There is very much a sense of "yes, coming out could in all probability be disastrous for your career, but you owe it to society." It's an encouraging turn.

1 This one's a particular pet peeve of mine. One hundred fifty years of technological innovation has gone into making bicycles as poor exercise as possible. Bikes are great for going places, but if you want exercise, jump rope.


DU said...

I've noticed exactly the same thing and in fact from the same source you originally cite: old movies. If you watch movies from even as recently as the 70s, you'll see public duty taken fairly seriously (even if only to abuse or ignore it). "Anti-social" is a terrible insult in these movies.

I wonder if the movement from social to individual is one way or if there's a way to get back.

DU said...

Shorter me: Kids of yesteryear. Get off my grantparents' lawn!