One of the proofs that America is an exceptional country is the fact that it invented National Coming Out Day.
Imagine that. A day—tomorrow, October 11, to be exact—that actually celebrates and encourages the act of telling your family and friends that you’re gay.
Not all nations of the world are so accommodating, to say the least. The government of Russia, for instance, recently passed legislation against “gay propaganda,” effectively prohibiting adults from acknowledging even the existence of homosexuality to schoolchildren, let alone assuring them that it is normal.
Not so here. While the United States contains numerous local legislatures and school boards with designs on stamping out public displays of gayness wherever possible, on a national level the so-called “gay agenda” is increasingly becoming integrated with American policy as a whole, with the repeals of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act as the most dramatic recent examples.
(National Coming Out Day is not officially recognized by Congress. However, it is “observed” in all 50 states, in one way or another.)
The insistence on treating “coming out” positively, thereby allowing that homosexuality itself is morally acceptable in polite society, is a key American insight that is imbricated with another one: The pursuit of happiness.
As duly noted by historians, the United States was the first country on Earth to assert the notion of happiness as a natural right, and a national value, right there in its founding documents.
The reason these two are connected springs from one of the most crucial epiphanies I have ever experienced, which is that living in the closet is incompatible with happiness. If you never come out, you will never be happy.
The thinking goes like this: By concealing the true nature of your emotional and sexual attractions, you are perpetuating a lie to yourself and to others. For as long as you attempt to keep this lie going, you will be all the time in a state of psychological unease, forever looking over both shoulders, never sure whether your secret is truly safe, terrified of what will happen when you are finally and irreversibly exposed as the fraud that you are.
With such thoughts eternally ringing in the back of your mind—that is, when you’re lucky enough not to have them intrude into the front—you are denied any possibility of inner peace. Without inner peace, the pursuit of happiness doesn’t stand a chance.
For this reason alone—to say nothing of many others—“coming out” is not merely something to be recommended. It is actually a moral imperative.
What is more, coming out is inevitable. It can be put off for only so long before the pressure that has been building up since birth becomes too overwhelming to withstand.
Like homosexuality itself, coming out is, ultimately, not a choice. And that’s good, because it shows that the pursuit of happiness really is a natural phenomenon, not an artificial construct.
Accordingly, my sentiment to the still-closeted is that they could not possibly come out soon enough. What on Earth are you waiting for? In doing so, you have everything to gain.
Now, this is easy enough for me to say, having grown up in the liberal Northeast, which welcomes its gay brethren as warmly as anywhere in the civilized world, and where same-sex marriage has become settled law.
But the fact remains that there are many places here in the States—even liberal ones—where the reward for coming out is getting beaten to death by people who are not as keen on the idea of sexual liberation as the rest of us.
It was 15 years ago, in October 1998, when a University of Wyoming student named Matthew Shepard suffered such a fate. Just last week, we found a performance of “The Laramie Project,” a play based on the Shepard case, interrupted by gay slurs shouted from the audience on the campus of Ole Miss.
We can dismiss such horror shows as outliers against an otherwise encouraging trend in the United States toward respect for all people. But they nonetheless illustrate why many closet cases view full disclosure as impossibly risky and a direct threat to their physical well-being. For them, the choice is not between misery and happiness; it is between living and dying.
Such is the dilemma of the “coming out” proposition in the world we presently inhabit, which is not likely to be reconciled so long as homophobia is allowed to endure in the darkest corners of the public square.
Therefore, it must continue to be the obligation of the U.S. government to insist upon moral neutrality with respect to one’s sexual orientation, if the right to pursue one’s happiness is to remain at the core of what it means to be an American.