A friend asked me what closet cases are. Initially, I fooled around but after a while I realized that as I had used the word previously in the conversation, I probably owed it to him to expand on what I meant. Now, I was being careless when I used the term, and that was wrong of me. But explore “closet cases” with me in the next few paragraphs. In each of them, we will explore what closet cases are not before describing what they are.
At the risk of simplifying the human race into dichotomies, we can say that not everyone has the capacity to deal with certain truths in one sitting. Some scientists aren’t good with identifying feelings or managing relationships. Some people who are good with colors are terrible with numbers. Some people are brilliant at dealing with head-stuff but not body-stuff. Every person has a combination of strengths and weaknesses and they’re more complicated than the examples I’ve used. Hence, a lot of gay people who initially do not know how to square what they are with what they’ve been told to be will stay stuck in that place for a long, long time. They simply don’t have the tools to come to terms with their identities. These are not confirmed closet cases.
But some people know that they’re gay yet continue to play it straight. Worse still, they preach and legislate against gays by day and molest boys and solicit male prostitutes by night. More than capable of reading and managing their emotions than the people in the above example, they play with their consciences like yo-yos, allowing guilt to ebb and flow just enough to keep them interested in the tension and duplicity of their own lives. For these people, morality is a game they’ve mastered as a result of their superior emotional intelligence. Playing God with secrets and with lives, they get a rush from the risk that goes with making the world revolve around themselves and the many places they get their kicks. They reinforce the current homophobic status quo because they know how to navigate it – they have the emotional and financial resources to do so, even at the expense of those who are crushed and confused by a world that excludes and penalizes them for being gay. But that’s just collateral damage; see, these people realize that in order for the world to be primed to serve them, it has to also be primed to devour the unsophisticated. Getting the best of both worlds, this group of people gorge on the validation and the hetero-respectability of the straight sphere, and then turn around to soak up the dignities and cum of the very fags they hold in contempt in the gay world. Manipulative, soulless, self-seeking, self-centered, hypocritical, emotionally dangerous, without a global conscience and no sense of moral responsibility, these are the first group of people I’d happily refer to as “closet cases”. I have about as much respect for them as I have for members of the KKK, and according to some sources, some of them are card-carrying members of the Klan and other human hate sewers.
Instinctively knowing that the underbelly of the world seethes with secrets – for they themselves keep such secrets – they are empowered by playing off the ignorance of the world against the innocence of those that don’t fit into the world. They are the pastors whose collection plates are weighed down after sermons against the sin of Sodom who, away from the pulpit, will employ their emotional subtlety to seduce boys and then make them feel bad for bringing it on themselves. It’s not every closeted priest or pastor who does this, but I’ve seen the whole spectrum.
Should one come out to their families, friends and the world in order not to be a closet case? Yes and no. Let me tell you a little more about myself. On the one hand, my sexuality is only a part of who I am and does not need to enter every conversation and activity I am involved in. On the other hand, it would be naive of me to pretend that homosexuality isn’t a hot-button topic right now, and that many are persecuted for being gay and need as many people as possible standing up and saying, “I’m gay and I’m a part of the human world too” so that their persecutors may see that their hatred would eat away at more and more corners of society until there’d be nothing left.
In that vein, I feel I have a duty to disclose myself as far as is reasonable. Among the people closest to me that I haven’t told are my father and my brother. Using alcohol, chronic denialism and African patriarchy, my father has so tightly sealed himself off from the possibility of sober conversation that I cannot tell him. He had to do this because he knows, on some level, that if I can engage him for any amount of time in a sober and attentive state, I will surely guide him to a place where I will make him admit what he knows about me. He knows that I could do that. So he’s preempted it subconsciously. It’s a pity because I’m a good son and he’s missing out.
He does not have the emotional quotient to handle this truth about me because, being my father, he understands anything I do/am to be a reflection on himself. My younger brother is currently in Johannesburg and in the same emotional space. My choice not to tell these two rests entirely on their choice not to be told. I do not feel at this stage that more can be done to get them to make them more receptive than they are, until they relax and allow themselves to face the unknown about the world.
Notice how thoroughly I’ve assessed these two men before concluding that they’re not ready. Driven by an understandable fear, many gay people conclude that their families are not ready before doing the assessment.
Closet cases, on the other hand, are neither attentive nor afraid; they’ve just got too much face to lose if they come out.
Playing straight does not always earn closet cases power, but it does earn them the privilege of sneering down their noses alongside family members as inheritance rights are worked out on the condition of being straight. Let me not take the moral high ground: faced with the risk of being cut off from a cushy life, I would probably also be a closet case. But I wouldn’t try to defend my actions. Nor would I convince myself that I’m not a coward. It is a remarkable fact of history that many, by simply not saying “I am a Jew” not only retained the privileges they had but also silently neglected the plight of those who’d been caught by their persecutors.
Where some people stay in the closet to survive, closet cases stay in the closet to “remain in the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed”. They’ve sold out; they’ve given up on their truth and exchanged it for material privilege. What a bad bargain. It is better that they admit this than imagine that something more serious is happening.
The other day, I did an interview with the Sunday Tribune. I weighed the risks. Realistically speaking, I am not in danger of losing my job or my life for coming out (and if such a risk existed, then I’d prefer for it to happen and be faced rather than for the tension to continue unconfronted). So out of respect for what I could sense were the newspaper’s editorial preferences, the journalist’s unspoken need to sustain his credibility, and not to mention society’s need to see the faces, names and stories of actual gay people, I said that I would not remain anonymous. I derived no pleasure from putting myself in a position where I could lose the respectability of people around me, not to mention giving my father a stroke (he hardly reads the Sunday Tribune, nor do his friends – I weighed the risks).
Some people will say that being gay is a choice, or that I’m just looking for attention. To this, I answer that there are many ways to get attention in the world; if all I wanted was attention for attention’s sake, I’d find another way to get it. I did the interview because I thought I had to. I won’t put my face on a billboard to say I’m gay, but if there is a platform to give a name, face and life story to the state of being gay, I see it as a call to duty. Disclosing myself is my way of saying that I have done nothing wrong and neither has anyone else that experiences same-sex attraction. I’m not the one who ought to be ashamed and hidden; the homophobe is. By not coming forward when I could have, I would be agreeing with the default assumptions about homosexuality and therefore condemning gay people. Silence is just that potent.
A closet case is someone who would go to this other extreme, bending back-over-backwards to keep pretenses and retain hetero-respectability. So paranoid are they about this, and so important is the image of being “normal” to them, that the substance of who they are gets lost in the production of being “straight-acting”. That’s the best description of themselves that they’ll give on dating sites. I advise you to say away from these as well because let me tell you, though they’re very good at taking off their clothes, they don’t know how to be naked. Without the mask, they don’t know where they’ll hide so they’ll find a reason to push you out of their lives. They can never be known or loved for who they really are because they’ve locked their real selves away, beyond the legitimate love of the people who are now denied a chance to know the real them. That by itself is the worst punishment I can imagine for any human being. But by default, they inflict this punishment on the rest of the gay world as it struggles to coexist with the mainstream.
Closet cases are people who could, but simply will not stand up to the status quo and add their voices to the insistence that the majority is wrong and it’s costing lives.
Some people say that they prefer to protect their privacy and they’re not closet cases. Valid up to a point, this excuse is gradually exhausted by the growing environmental and moral demand that people of varying sexualities unmask themselves to put a more immediate human identity to those who are being persecuted both here and abroad for being gay. The “I value my privacy” justification is often stretched past the limits of logic and consistency, to the point that anyone can see it for the shallow excuse that it is.
Privacy doesn’t happen in privacy or in a vacuum; it is communal. The right to it is interwoven with many other human rights including the right to love members of one’s own sex. Using the right to privacy as an excuse not to confront other human rights’ violations, particularly by coming out and proving that there is nothing wrong with being gay, takes advantage of one human right (to privacy) while refusing to give back or pay forward for the other rights. It is like eating at a restaurant and then running the other way instead of settling the bill. Rights are not a given; they are fought for in every generation for every person. As a South African homosexual, I have a moral duty to be aware of, and responsive to, the plight of the Ugandan homosexual. I have a moral duty to women who are abused; as a human being, I have a moral duty to make justice a little easier to achieve for all; if justice is my guiding light, then convenience is expendable – and so is privacy. Logic won’t let me reason any other way. People who complacently wait for things to mull along are morally negligent, in my opinion.
There was a time when even a private gay life was illegal. The right to enjoy one’s privacy as a gay man is now possible because some gave up their rights and stood up to the System. So the argument that people value their privacy means they choose to ignore the cost of even that option. For that to be possible, sacrifices have had to be made.
Of course, we all have the right to still hold on to our prerogatives while ignoring the difference we could make in the lives of others. Closet cases have every legal right to benefit from the old victories of those who came out before them, without contributing anything good to the movement. Privacy is a right, but exercising rights is not always the right thing to do. Refusing to permanently put one’s human face on the identity of the marginalized in solidarity with them, if one is one of them, is on the same level as refusing to disclose the cure for a disease. Legally, one can stay in the closet or hog valuable information but it’s still unethical. Legally, we all have the free will and the right to exercise it for our own interests first.
Where some see ignorance, I see ignoring.
Where some see free will, I see ingratitude.
What is a closet case?
I cannot answer that question exhaustively. It could be argued that some closeted people do things for the gay community behind the scenes. The above is not meant as a precise definition; it is merely my attempt to show that as difficult as they may be to define, closet cases do exist, they walk among us, and we should soon learn to define and recognize them so we can see through their cowardice and not be tainted with the same qualities.