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A National Coming Out

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Oh boy! Itís National Coming Out Week. Quick. Everybody, letís all make like Clay Aiken and make a totally astonishing, never-in-a-million-years-would-anyone-have-guessed proclamation. Ready? On three. One. Two. Three. ďYes, Iím gay!Ē

Now, doesnít that feel better? Like youíve gotten some great big elephant off your chest and you can finally, after years of hiding who you really are by singing Broadway show tunes and donating your sperm, say to the world, ďTo hell with you and your antiquated, patriarchal notions of masculinity. Iím gay damnit, and I donít need your approval.Ē Good for you, and good for Clay...well, sort of.

While we certainly have to applaud Mr. Aikenís sudden change of tune, we also have to question his timing. Sure, his announcement came right around the same time as National Coming Out Week, which could only serve to buoy visibility wherever the spotlight may have previously been unfairly dim, but in addition to the message of self-love and openness, thereís also a fairly dangerous subtext. That his announcement came on the front page of a national magazine is one thing, but to have the words ďYes, Iím gayĒ tempered by a picture of him and his new born son basically renders his message mute.

Now, donít get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with gay people having children in non-traditional ways and in non-traditional families. Mr. Aikenís fatherhood is not an issue. Rather, itís his decision to finally come out on the heels of his sonís birth that bears the precariousness of ill-timing. If we only felt safe to come out once our duties of primogeniture have been fulfilled, are we not then condemning those who donít have childbearing wishes and abilities (or childrearing, for that matter) to a lifelong silence? By admitting to the world your homosexuality after youíve had a child with the words, ďYes, Iím gay,Ē as if it were some long sought after confession or some admission of guilt, only serves to reinforce the patriarchal norms of those traditionally acceptable lifestyles that being queer and coming out aim so stridently to subvert. Whereís the transgression in that?

Sure, a large part of coming out is acceptance, both of the self and by the public. But a huge part about coming out is transgression, about turning your back on a lifestyle thrust upon you and embracing a path of your own making. Itís not necessary to go against ďthe establishment,Ē per se, but there should definitely be a little bit of sticking your middle finger up at it. If we really want to move forward to openly discoursing on topics of homosexuality and self-love (mind you, acceptance doesnít always denote love), then we first have to decide to live life by our own terms. And thatís what National Coming Out Week should be about.

Maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe Clay Aiken is living life on his own terms, in which case, more power to him. Iíll admit it. I supported him on American Idol just as Iíve bought copies of all his subsequent albums. What I wonít admit, however, is liking this idea of upholding the status quo, even in the face of making an announcement like that. All of which begs the question, is there a right way and a wrong way to come out?

Letís face it. Front page coverage or not, it was never going to be a shock to find out that Clay Aiken is gay because his homosexuality just liked to bubble up to the surface. The same can be said for many of us. For some, coming out might be just a formality. But coming out is not a phenomenon necessary and exclusive only to those who can pass as straight. We should all be given the chance to tell the world who we are. And while there may not be a right or wrong way to do it, you would hope to change minds as well as diapers for having done it.