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Record: 1 Title: Authors: Source: Document Type: Subject Terms: Abstract: In or out? Pettit, Sarah Newsweek; 8/22/94, Vol. 124 Issue 8, p14, 1p, 1 Color Photograph Editorial *COMING out (Sexual orientation) Opinion. Presents observations by the author, a lesbian and an editor at a lesbian and gay magazine, on why men and women choose to remain in the closet or to come out. Full Text Word Count: ISSN: Accession Number: Database: 1120 00289604 9408167608 Academic Search Complete Section: My Turn

IN OR OUT?
To tell or not to tell Years ago, while I was an undergraduate at a Liberal Eastern College, a friend stopped me as we left the apartment she and her girlfriend shared and from the clear blue asked, ``You aren't a lesbian, are you, Sarah?'' I paused and, resolving to remain honest about my sexuality, answered, ``Yes, I am a lesbian. And so are you.'' At that time I sensed only instinctively what she was driving at, that she wanted my complicity in a kind of personal Don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue this way of questioning. I have over the years come to recognize more readily the feeling of banging up against someone's closet door, of coming face to face with the issue that lesbians and gay men have often found so difficult about ourselves. Even then I understood my friend's question to be less an inquiry than a challenge. Would I pretend along with her, would I say it wasn't so even though we both knew otherwise? I wasn't so much scared or disappointed in her inability to come clean about herself as I was puzzled. It was the early '80s -- the struggle for equal rights was in full bloom with battles like the Supreme Court's decision to uphold antiquated sodomy laws. The terror of AIDS was bringing people to their feet and out of the closet in unprecedented numbers. We were supposed to be part of a young, brave generation of lesbians and gay men; we didn't have to lie and hide the way the last generation had. I now understand that we all follow different roads as adults. Some of us choose to be out to tell the truth about that essential adult identity, our sexuality, while others do not. My friend, who has gone on to professional success and financial security, has never once, except in the company of trusted friends, opened that closet door any wider. I, by contrast, now identify and struggle with people's anguish about their sexual identity for a living. I'm an editor at the nation's largest lesbian and gay magazine, and the closet is, quite literally, my job. But I don't consider that she took the wrong road and I the right one; that I'm better, or healthier, or

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more well adjusted than she. In fact, one of the hardest lessons my job has taught me is that my friend is not only not alone, but that the great majority of American lesbians and gay men are probably still in the closet and, for the moment, feel more comfortable there. (Among our magazine's readers, for example, 60 percent ask to receive their issues in a plain brown wrapper.) Some are immobile with fear, terrified they'll lose everything they have: family, friends, job. Some have known only the caricatures of lesbians and gay men fed to them by most of the media. They worry they, too, will become like those images: one-dimensional, often menacing and frequently inhuman. Some are greedy for more of what the world offers you if you play by the heterosexual rules of the game. I say this without judgment, but as a frank observation about the choices lesbians and gay men have made and continue to make every day about the level of candor they will allow in their lives. Every day I receive mail from people in the midst of this battle with and for themselves; at least once a week I deal with public figures and their publicists who refuse to appear in the pages of our magazine, whether it be the teen TV darling who is ``just being strategic,'' the righteous African-American activist who fears losing one embattled community by adopting another, or the entertainment figure whose work tackles AIDS but not his homosexuality. Yet the more time I spend wrestling with the closet, the more I understand that it is less an awesome monolith than a slow series of turns, of decisions, of orientations toward honesty. (``Do I have a boyfriend? Uh, no. I'm single.'') It's not really about what is black or white, but rather a shifting series of contradictions. The line between being in or out is not always so hard and fast. The reality of many lesbian and gay lives is less one of discernible extremes, of purity and lies, than the actuality of shades, of gradations of outness. The gray areas can be confusing and frustrating, especially to a group of people who have suffered incredible attacks, civil and uncivil, moral and amoral, scientific and medical, at the hands of the Christian Right and even from our allies like Bill Clinton. There are days we wish we could speed up the clock, cut through the ambivalence and lies. Some have offered up the solution of outing, the term coined for the practice of publicly revealing the lesbian or gay identity of famous public figures against their will. Still others have proposed that we march on Washington in business suits and dresses, so that America will see how normal we really are. But our struggle doesn't need a silver bullet. We will never achieve a greater sense of openness about issues of sexual orientation by forcing people into the public eye. Yes, the revelation of some people's gayness is arresting, but a browbeaten spokesperson is rarely an eloquent one. Nor do we need a face-lift. Wardrobe changes will not convince a leery American public. k.d. lang, Elton John, Clinton appointees Roberta Achtenberg and Bruce Lehman, Martina Navratilova, and RuPaul came as they were -- it was their frankness that won people over, not their fashion. More of that frankness supported by a broadening of the American mind and the reinforcement of the basic rights of lesbians and gay men before the law (only seven states protect us from discrimination in housing and employment, and sodomy laws in 21 states effectively make criminals of any sexually active adult homosexual) is what will win the day in the end. I'm reconciled to the maddeningly slow struggle ahead, as are many others.

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Last Christmas, my college friend made a donation to a lesbian and gay legal-defense fund in my name -- no, she hasn't come out of her closet yet, but at least she now knows it's there. Everyone needs to make an individual choice to ask and tell when he or she can. But I, like the 40 percent of our magazine's readers who do receive their issues unveiled, also believe that we continually need to show our faces so that Americans know who we are. PHOTO: Sarah Pettit ~~~~~~~~ By Sarah Pettit Pettit is executive editor of Out magazine. Copyright of Newsweek is the property of Harman Newsweek LLC and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.

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