Coming out is a monumental moment in a queer person’s life. The experience is often wrought with nerves, fear, and excitement—which is why I was devastated when somebody took that moment away from me.
I was at home when I got the text. “Shawn knows,” it read. My stomach dropped what felt like 10 stories and my body temperature spiked. The warning came from my best friend, who, at the time, was the only person I had come out to. Apparently, I had been spotted at a queer party (my first one) in a nearby city and the news spread. By noon the next day, everybody in my hometown, a conservative rural suburb, knew.
I wanted to throw up. In fact, I did throw up. I then shakily picked up the phone and called Shawn to confirm that the rumors were true. My narrative was hijacked by somebody who wanted to spread gossip. I was devastated.
Not long after, I met with friends at a nearby bar and the subject of me being outed emerged. “Weren’t you kind of asking for it?” Shawn’s wife (also, the sister to the man who outed me) asked. “You were at a gay bar.”
Her remarks were void of empathy and rooted in hetero privilege. But she had a point. I assumed the risk by frequenting a queer space. Still, I can’t help but think the urge to out someone is mean-spirited, that to gossip about something so personal in someone’s life serves a more vindictive purpose. This is why I have mixed feelings when Aaron Schock’s sexuality became piquant fodder for the media.
On April 17, images of the anti-gay congressman posed alongside several shirtless gay men at Coachella emerged online. Later that day, a second, more damning image surfaced. This picture captured Schock (whose record in Congress includes votes against marriage equality and against queer people serving in the military) making out with a man while his hand rifles through his paramour’s shorts.
Now, by “mixed feelings” I’m not saying that I think Schock’s outing was unjust. But it does bring to light a rather interesting dilemma: Is it ever ethical to out someone?
A poll I published on Twitter found that eight in 10 people think it’s not okay, under any circumstances, to out somebody.
“Coming out is an intensely personal experience that is unique to everyone, and no one has the right to take that away from someone else,” Jeffrey Ingold, head of media at Stonewall, shares. "We don’t live in a world where LGBTQ people are accepted everywhere, so to out someone ignores the real, important reasons they may have for not being out publicly ... That doesn’t mean a person isn’t out in some areas of their life and not others, but their choice of whether or not to be out should always be respected.”
Despite voting against outing someone in the poll, a few of the voters believe Schock deserves everything that comes to him. “If you are actively working to make life worse for gay people then abso-fucking-lutely” was the response to my poll that collected the most likes. Former Rep. Barney Frank is on the same page. As he told ABC News, “Anyone who is gay and votes in an anti-gay fashion has, it seems to me, lost their right to privacy, because it’s been converted to a right to hypocrisy.”
Obviously, Schock posed for and liked the first image (the men in the photo insist they didn’t know Schock, but “hope if or when Aaron does decide to come out and own his actions, he apologizes and makes amends with the LGBTQ community”), and he did aggressively make out with another man at one of the most popular music festivals in the world, so some argue he was asking for it.
“If you spent your energy making it hard for your own kind while closeted, then absolutely you should be dragged and outed,” said a social media voter. Another argues Schock was not outed in these photos, but simply observed.
Still, playing devil’s advocate here, I can’t help but sense the hypocrisy in these statements. The majority of us feel that it is never okay “under any circumstance” to out somone, yet Schock’s is justified. I spoke to Daniel Olavarria, a New York-based therapist, to find out why.
“Aaron Schock may be another example of someone whose internalized homophobia led him to say and do things, aimed at queer communities, that reflected the deep sense of loathing and shame that he felt toward himself,” Olavarria tells NewNowNext. “That is a devastating truth for so many people due to the continued discrimination that exists in our society.”
What’s frustrating is that the situation may very well be entirely different if he had apologized for his anti-LGBTQ voting record and advocacy, whether he chose to come out or not. “Something that seems difficult for much of the LGBTQ community to accept is that someone would be able to benefit from the freedom and affirmation of queer spaces, while at the same time playing a direct role in the oppression of queer communities without seeking reparation for those wrongs,” Olavarria adds. “Implicit within this are the ways in which more latitude may be given to someone like Schock because of the privilege he enjoys as a conventionally attractive, fit, cisgender, white man. This taps into ongoing resentment and frustration around the varied value that we place on segments of our own communities.”
Until Schock uses whatever social capital that he has left to right the ship in favor of the queer community that he now so boldly revels in, the popular refrain may continue to be that he doesn’t get to enjoy it unchecked and without consequence.
“The public way that he exercised his power to disenfranchise LGBTQ people has translated into his very public shaming by an empowered queer community,” Olavarria says. “Underneath the anger and pain of queer communities seems to be the message that whether Schock chooses to come out or not, he has some apologizing to do before he can freely dance in the house that he tried to burn down.”