Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Closet as a Given

I've noticed something in my work with GLBT people that I wanted to mention.

Over the years, I've begun to recognize that people conceptualize "being in the closet" as a default state. Queer people are thought to be "in the closet" unless they tell someone about their sexual/gender/romantic orientation. And so, it can seem that the normal state is for queer folks to be closeted.

But really, the opposite is true: The dishonesty that queer people engage in to be in the closet is an action, not the lack of action. It is not accurate to say, "I'll just do nothing and stay in the closet." One cannot stay in the closet by doing nothing; one must make an effort at being perceived as heterosexual or cisgender.

The heterosexism and cisgenderism that our society maintains--that consciousness that presumes heterosexuality and cisgender status for everyone--is a web of actions, not the lack of an action. Heterosexism and cisgenderism are not default states, either: They require work to maintain.

So "being in the closet" requires work--but so does "coming out." And one reason that coming out also requires work is that so many of us queer folk have internalized the avoidance, the dissembling, and the general dishonesty as part of our lives. But make no mistake: Presenting a false-front to the world is an active process.

There are implications for therapy, and for social justice, in the recognition that being closeted is the created structure. Maybe I will go into detail about how that has played out in my practice in later blog posts.

For today, I just want to make this point: The process of being in the closet requires action. Of course, the process of coming out, of living authentically, also requires action--but not because being closeted is a default state, but because queer folks who come out are in resistance to a society that is also acting--the active process of assuming all individuals are heterosexual and cisgender.

(PS: This makes me wonder what the "default" state for queer people is, in regards to our identities. Perhaps it is that our society has eliminated any possible default state for queer identities--and perhaps this is just another reason why the word "queer" is so appropriate: There is no default for that which is queer.)

Image credit: "MCCALL'S MAGAZINE, KIDS IN LINEN CLOSET," from the George Eastman House Collection. The commentary below the image is mine.

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