In “Tacit Subjects,” Carlos Ulises Decena discusses the idea of sexual subjectivity and the possible circumstances that may surround a subjects’ reluctance or active refusal to “come out of the closet. According to Decena, increasingly, American society has carved out a place of legitimacy for white, middle class gay men and lesbian women. These wealthy, gay whites have taken on certain characters in popular media and public imagination. In Will and Grace, the imagery of impeccable taste in apartments and shoes had every teenage girl with a television on the hunt for a fabulous gay best friend. And Queer Eye for the Straight Guy showed that even straight men could not only coexist in the world, but benefit from the assistance of these miracle tastemakers. The Second City Network has even produced a series of videos in which the unfortunate demises of a series of historical and literary characters could have been avoided had they had the advice of a “sassy gay friend.” Below, the stereotypical tough love expertise of the sassy gay friend character saves Juliet from her suicidal fate:
Sassy gay friend, Juliet
This relative comfort American society feels in the presence of these characters as normal, functioning members of society is by and large predicated on their full disclosure. At some point, it is thought that there must be an act of confession, or a “coming clean.” You are in a sense normal, as long as you define to the world around you exactly “what you are.”
In the first thirty seconds of the clip below, we see just how expected this action of “coming out” has become. Jack from Will and Grace is being pressured from his friends to come out to his Mother. Although the intention is obviously humor, it is representative of the “conventional views of coming out in contemporary queer communities” that Decena discusses:
Decena discusses the way that for his subjects, homosexual, Dominican, immigrant males, coming out does not represent the “liberation” this clip promises but rather represents a sort of rupture to the relative peace they have enjoyed as “tacit” or implied subjects.
Cultural and ethnic differences can certainly change the dynamic of the “coming out” experience. In the clip below, a 19 year old Indian male living in the United States shares his coming out story on youtube. He discusses the challenge he faced coming out to his Southeast Asian family and the way they took him to the doctor to try to “cure” his homosexuality:
Our society has ritualized “coming out” as part of a normal homosexual existence to the extent that this young man felt that telling his parents was in a way the necessary last piece of the puzzle. He also felt that the capital of his intelligence, the fact that he had a 4.0 GPA would somehow soften the blow when he admitted to his parents that he was what they would perceive as “flawed.”
The idea that a sort of social capital could give his subjects room for legitimacy within the contexts of their own families was a very pronounced in Decena’s text; he calls them “power dynamics that shape how individuals negotiate information about their sexual identites, (341).
One of the most puzzling aspects of “Tacit Subjects” was that several of the subjects’ associations and activism in the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender community would have made them abundantly aware of what “normative coming out models looked like,” (347). But perhaps for some, like Desena’s subject, Parades, not “coming out” in a conventional way was a more important assertion of sexual ownership than coming out would have been.
Decena explains that the right not to tell is a luxury that not every one of his subjects was afforded before they immigrated. Rogelio Noguera, another subject was outed after police raided a bar that was known to be a gay hang out. His name was published in the newspaper, and the public acknowledgement of his private life resulted in an estrangement from his father that lasted for years. This state driven “shaming” of his homosexuality broke the absence of dialogue that allowed him a certain sense of belonging in his private family life.
Another issue the Decena reading deals with is the difference between his subjects’ intentional expressions of their sexuality versus the unintentional ways that their gayness might be signified. Intentional expressions often occurred within the context of their own families, but often they wanted their public and private lives kept separately. For some, an effeminate self-presentation was not necessarily a choice, but a natural stance. Parades claimed he was lucky to have the ability to pass as a heterosexual male.
Other times however, self presentation is about the way one dresses, acts and consciously carries oneself, and even in a nation where being openly gay is seen as less deviant in a way than being closeted, these overt displays of ones homosexuality are still a point of contention. Below is a link that New York Magazine publishes entitled, “Ten Things that Look Too Gay.” While the tone is clearly tongue is cheek, I think it is constitutive of a lived and experienced anxiety.