Joe Weinberg, University of Minnesota, Crookston
LGBT studies is generally focused on the members of the queer community who are/were at some point ‘in the closet.’ That closet becomes a focal point of their identity, and the process of coming out of the closet is seen as an important and momentous occasion in that person’s life. But there are some groups that fall under the wide umbrella of the queer community that live in an ‘invisible closet.’ While their particular practices are not considered ‘mainstream,’ they are so tightly focused that sharing that identity with others is tantamount to involving others in their sexual practices. In particular, the fetish community lives in this invisible closet. If they tell anyone of their interests, they are literally sharing the details of their sexual activities, something that is often seen as “none of their business.” When a homosexual ‘comes out’ to friends and family, they are not providing details or involving these groups in their sexual activities. This ‘coming out’ instead allows them to express their identity freely, but maintain a modicum of privacy. When someone involved in the fetish, kink, or bdsm community ‘comes out,’ they express their identity, but by the nature of the beast, they do NOT maintain that privacy.
That said, the ‘invisible closet’ is no less restrictive to those within it, and often times it is a worse place to be, because the person inside has a conflicting desire: they want to maintain their privacy, but also be true to their own identity.
This balancing act is all the more difficult to maintain because it is invisible. While those within invisible closets don’t have to worry about the same discrimination faced by other members of the LGBT community, as they can easily ‘pass’ or ‘hide,’ this very capacity makes the pressure to break out of the closet even stronger. It is frequently driven home, both by society at large and by the members of the LGBT community who DO and CAN come out, that members of these other groups face a much more subtle, but no less intense, discrimination. By drawing attention to this closet, it can be seen how important it is to allow these subcultures to identify themselves without facing discrimination. There are no laws or even politically correct trends that support these groups, and while it is easy for them to hide, it is nonetheless incredibly hard ON them to do so.
Introduction: Coming out of the Closet
Coming out of the closet can be seen as a sort of rite of passage for the queer community. And the closet is not limited to homosexuality. As Sedwig writes: “The gay closet is not a feature only of the lives of gay people” (p. 68); anyone who does not fit into the heteronormative definition of sexuality is potentially in a closet, and coming out of that closet is a significant moment. This moment where a young man informs his friends and family of the identity that he has hidden from them for so long can be cathartic, can be dangerous, and can be freeing. Sometimes it is met with anger. Sometimes it is met with misunderstanding, suggesting that maybe this is a phase, something that can be gotten over. Some people come out of the closet to support and applause. Some come out only to find that no one was surprised in the slightest.
Whatever the reaction, the moment of coming out of the closet is a significant one. When a girl tells her parents that she is a lesbian, she is exposing her inner most self, raw to their criticism and desperate for their acceptance. But she is also doing it with the knowledge that things may end badly, with results ranging from ostracism to outright physical violence. Somehow, though, the possibility of acceptance has finally outweighed the fear of rejection. Maybe she wants to bring a girlfriend home for the holidays. Maybe her parents don’t have the same authority they once did. She has finally come to terms with her identity, and is ready to present that identity, that true self, to those whose opinions truly matter to her…