Tamal is gay and our response is harmful

In an interview with Radio Times magazine this week, Great British Bake Off contestant Tamal Ray was asked about his relationship status and responded “I wouldn’t have a girlfriend; I would have a boyfriend, but I’m single at the moment”. It’s been described as him “coming out” (Attitude, Passport), or a “revelation” (Daily Mail, Digital Spy) – but it’s neither of these things, and it has been met with a response of dismay and disappointment from the straight women of twitter, contrasted nicely with a good deal of excitement from The Gays Of Twitter.

It’s all got me rather irritated.

All of the response – from the reporting of the interview, to the tweets from, well, everybody is indicative of a society that views heterosexuality as a default. We’re assumed straight until we specify otherwise [I’ve written about this before and how I’m not putting up with it any longer] and even our friends who otherwise oppose homophobia still view sexuality not established as meaning heterosexual. Heterosexual is default, so unknown means straight, not specified means straight, anything other than a widely announced public coming out means straight. We have to stop doing this.

We also have to stop referring to incidents of people making comments that indicate that they are not straight as “coming out” or “revelations”. In the case of Tamal, this appears to be him simply correcting an interviewer who mistakenly assumed he was straight, but it happens all the time – people correcting lazy interviewers or making comments to colleagues are referred to as coming out. This sucks because it puts the onus on us to be clear about our sexualities and to comply with society’s rule of Straight As Default. But even worse, because it shames us. It furthers the idea that when society doesn’t know details about us (mostly that we’re queer), it means we’ve been hiding it – but this is usually just not the case. With Tamal, but also with almost every other celebrity who is known to be queer, we haven’t seen a change of status (despite how it’s reported); we just have some new information. And we have to stop believing that we are entitled to this information. We are not entitled to this information.

But we are also not entitled to other people’s bodies, their affection, their love, and their attention – and that’s what I say to the straight women of Twitter who have expressed disappointment or heartbreak over finding out that Tamal is not straight.

Firstly, he was never available to you anyway. Same with Ricky Martin, Lance Bass, Neil Patrick Harris, the list goes on. They were never available to you – not just because of their celebrity status, but because they were gay before you knew. You haven’t “lost” anything except, perhaps, your sense of entitlement. And because your sense of entitlement instills within you an expectation for us to disclose our availability (or lack of) at our earliest opportunity, you feel disappointment when that entitlement is taken away.

Secondly, please stop making public announcements of your disappointment. What you are saying is that being gay is a bad thing. Maybe you don’t hold this belief more generally, but even when you express disappointment about a specific person being gay for a specific personal reason, you are coming from a position of regarding being gay as being a bad thing. So please stop that.

But think also about the people who read and hear your announcements of disappointment. Young queer people who are establishing their identities and how they want to present themselves. Do they care about your own personal celebrity crushes? No. But what they do hear is that you value people less if they’re not straight. That you cannot celebrate their lives unless they are straight. That their being queer will be regarded by some – maybe including you – as a disappointment. So please stop doing this.

There has been mentioned a contrast with gay and bisexual men expressing excitement or joy each time they discover a beloved celebrity is gay or bi or anything other than straight – but it really isn’t the same thing. Part of the excitement comes from the pleasure representation brings. Seeing ourselves represented in the world of celebrity brings validation and a sense of positivity. (It’s true for other underrepresented groups, but I’m not in a position to speak for those.) Having role models to in positions we can aspire to really does bring excitement.

But I shouldn’t shy away from the fact that some of this excitement does come from a sense of entitlement. We see celebrities who are known publicly to be gay or bisexual as (newly) sexually available to us, and we now feel entitled to their bodies and their affection. It seems odd that we appear to be contributing to the very system that tries to keep us down, but we must remember that we grew up in the same heteronormative society that everybody else did. We are not removed from that and our responses are influenced by that. We have homophobia built into us the same as everybody else does. It’s no different because we’re queer.

I suppose personal responses to finding out high-profile people are queer may seem little things that are mostly inconsequential, but they’re not. They come from, and further society’s insistence that heterosexuality is default. They come from and cement heteronormativity, and that is so much more harmful than we realize.

I’m Not Coming Out Any More

Note: this piece discusses my experiences as a cis gay man. I’m making a huge assumption that some of those experiences might also apply to lesbians and bisexual people. I am certainly not in a position to speak for or about trans people, so any references to LGB people are deliberately limited.

An ask.fm correspondent asks:

How old were you when you ‘came out’ to family/friends? Were you scared?

I’m pretty sure anyone who is openly gay or bisexual is on the receiving end of this question – or a variant thereof – from time to time. On the face of it it’s a fairly innocent question: “when did you first tell your family you were gay?”, and I actually don’t mind answering usually. Although I’m not going to do that here.

Innocent though it is, it’s also a very misguided question. It assumes that we have one grand “coming out”, that there are two states of being: secretly gay/bi and publically gay/bi, but also that we have some sort of duty to tell people details of our sexualities before actually living our lives in the open.

I often speak about “everyday” coming outs. Little events that happen almost daily where we reveal that we are not heterosexual – often when speaking about a partner (“what does she do?”). They are usually very mundane, and certainly not the grand events that the original question wants to know about. Because we don’t only come out once. We come out every single time we meet someone new, and we have to reveal our sexuality.

The more I think about it, the more I dislike it. And I’m not doing it any more.

The Closet is a wonderful invention designed by mainstream society to keep us in our place. We are deemed to be “in the closet” until or unless we announce our sexualities to the world. And always a focus on the announcement part. It’s not just a place for people who choose (for whatever reason) to hide their sexualities, it is for everyone who is gay or bisexual and who has not done mainstream society the courtesy of making clear their sexualities.

Grand or everyday or otherwise, I’m not making announcements any longer. I’m just living my life the way I want to live it, and people can work out for themselves what category they want to put me in. I wish I’d done that from the start, if I’m honest. Wish I’d just told my parents about my first boyfriend, instead of feeling like I had to pre-warn them by making it clear that I was gay first. I wish I had realised that The Closet doesn’t exist, that I didn’t have to come out of anything before I started living my life the way I wanted to.

It’s how society works: they won’t acknowledge you unless they have full disclosure from you first.

I’m not complying any more.

And to my ask.fm correspondent, I was 18, it was damned scary, and it needn’t have been.

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