In her piece, “A Tale of Three Coming Out Stories,” Roxanne Gay begins by examining the privacy rights, or lack thereof, of those who have risen to success, fame, or power. Arguing that privacy should be a right afforded to anyone —regardless of race, class, or sexual orientation— Gay proceeds to protest the general society’s “need” to become privy to the private matters in these public figures’ lives. She maintains that those in the spotlight are “flesh and blood” (162), too, and just because they choose to be in the spotlight does not mean that they have “shed their inalienable rights” (162) and expectations of privacy.
Gay also asserts that because of their social status, these public figures are expected by society to assume responsibility for larger societal issues, namely, the stigma surrounding homosexuality. Using the examples of Matt Bomer, Anderson Cooper, Neil Patrick Harris, and other celebrities that fit the “acceptable” level of homosexuality and contrasting these individuals with the artist Frank Ocean, Gay emphasizes that “coming out” is not equally difficult for everyone and that some have more to lose than others. In this case, just because Frank Ocean is well-known and well-liked by many, he was still taking a big risk due to his part of the “notoriously homophobic R&B and hip-hop community” (167).
I agree with Gay in that those in the spotlight should not feel the social pressure to come out in order to alleviate the stigma surrounding homosexuality. Arguing that in order for progress to be made, we all have to take a stand, no matter how small, and those in the spotlight should not have to “forge these inroads on our behalf… [and] carry the hopes of so many on their shoulders” (168).
Roxanne Gay’s “A Tale of Three Coming Out Stories” examines the relationship between privacy, social visibility, and the responsibility to promote progress that often falls upon those in the public eye. Essentially, Gay argues first that society places an unnecessary pressure on celebrities and public figures to disclose aspects of their personal lives, especially then it comes to sexual orientation. Gay argues that the reasons we give for overstepping these bounds aren’t sufficient—to “reveal hypocrisy” for “the greater good” is not a justifiable reason for “forcibly out[ing]” someone. She argues that our society, so comfortable with freely sharing personal information, feels entitled to everyone else’s information as well.
I found Gay’s argument linking class to privacy interesting, though I’m not quite sure if I agree. Keizer claims that people in a higher social strata have more access to privacy, using the example that a pregnant woman to show how her “condition” becomes more visible. I don’t know why a pregnant woman’s visibility would change if she were more privileged, so I found that argument a little confusing.
Keizer then examines celebrities coming out, such as Anderson Cooper. Her observation of a “right” kind of gay was very powerful, I think—recently, a celebrity coming out is a fashionable public statement where the celebrity asserts him or herself and protests against social stigma. But Gay is right in that Cooper is in a less risky position to assert his sexual orientation, considering that he is, as Gay describes, “not too flamboyant, not too gay,” and that it’s often a lot more difficult for people to come out that Cooper makes it seem.
I really appreciated that when Gay demanded social change from heterosexuals, she gave specific examples of stopping using “gay” as a slur, stopping supporting artists like Tyler, the Creator, and voting for marriage equality. I’ve found it really frustrating when authors simply spend their time explaining a problem and then just saying, “this is wrong,” without ever really citing specific examples of how a reader might be able to help the issue, so I found Gay’s outcry more powerful because of her specificity.
In her article “A Tale of Three Coming Out Stories,” Roxane Gay makes three major points: one, privacy is a vital right for everyone, regardless of fame, sexuality, or social class. Two, coming out is not equally difficult for everyone; people who are part of other minorities and people who are in less considerate communities often have far more trouble than anyone else. Finally, in order to advance equality for everyone, we must do everything we can, no matter how small, to stop discrimination.
While these ideas generally coexist easily, there is a slight contradiction in some cases between always taking action and maintaining privacy.
One assumption that Gay makes is that coming out is a single, universal event; once someone is out of the closet, they are out and everyone knows. However, coming out is a constant process. Since anyone who isn’t famous doesn’t usually have a constant buzz about their everyday life, they have to come out to people almost constantly if they wish to be fully open.
The contradiction comes when it’s time to speak up against a prejudice of a friend or a slur. People are often forced to reveal their sexual orientation in order to combat prejudice, and if we are all required to take action whenever this situation arrises, then they are forced to give up privacy for the greater good. As a result, this puts people in a very awkward position, choosing between privacy and action.
Overall, however, Gay makes many excellent point, and I agree with her fully.