"So, Gaya,” the company CEO said to me, “we still don’t know who you’re going on vacation with – a male or female partner?” Everyone was looking at me. Silence pervaded the room. The nibbling that always occupies people during staff meetings – stopped. I cleared my throat. “At the moment, neither one, but when there will be one, she will be female,” I said in embarrassment.
And that was how the CEO of my prior place of employment decided, through a comment purportedly made in jest and off the cuff at a staff meeting, decided to get me out of the closet in front of the company’s entire workforce. The reason that I had not already come out of the closet there was that I had only just begun working there. Among efforts to figure out exactly what my new job involved and rushed hallway conversation with my new work colleagues, I hadn’t managed to raise the topic in a natural way. After all, I could have said something like: “Hi, I’m Gaya, your new employee and lesbian.” But then people would have jumped down my throat with, “Why do you people need to wave it in our faces all the time?”
Yes, I too have been outed, and it was no great pleasure. On the contrary, it occurred in a setting in which it was not clear whether the comment was made jokingly or out of curiosity but without respect for proper boundaries. I experienced it as a violent and humiliating act that deprived me of the right to choose to tell it to whomever I wished when I found it comfortable to do so. My choice when it comes to my personal life was taken from me by someone else. My privacy was trampled and my personal life was turned, against my will, into the subject of a staff meeting discussion.
The Internet in Israel has been abuzz for several days now over a call directed at Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog by media figure Gal Uchovsky. He has been seeking to have Herzog instruct a closeted Knesset member in his party to immediately choose between the closet and the Knesset on the pretext that a Knesset member in the closet projects problematic messages to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in distress. Uchovsky’s contribution to the gay community over the years has been substantial, but as someone who grew up in a relatively small place a bit before the era of the Internet and the smartphone, and who hadn’t considered coming out of the closet in high school, I can tell him with full confidence that this in not how salvation is to be achieved.
One of the known phenomena that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community experience after coming out of the closet is that they are automatically appointed, whether they wish to be or not, as “ambassadors of the gay community to the world.” Without their seeking it out, all of a sudden people say things such as, “Tell me, why do you all need to dance in underwear on the backs of trucks in the Gay Pride parade?” We lesbians and bisexual women have the “benefit” of dozens of responses like these from men who are certain that our only problem in life is the (unfortunate!) fact that we have never had the privilege of experiencing the splendor of their masculinity for ourselves.
It is therefore important and desirable for everyone, male and female, to live their lives out of the closet in happiness and with pride both at the Knesset and elsewhere. This involves an important act of educating those around us, because in that way, people can be shown that we come in all shades and colors, that we can be found everywhere and, no, we are not going away.
But, and this is an important “but,” it needs to be a personal choice. Outing someone is a violent and humiliating act that violates the right of privacy and independence. In my view, it is part of a violent, crude outlook that has become a regular fixture of our lives. It is identity politics of the lowest and most vulgar form, confining men and women to single categories without regard to their complexities.
Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz is not only a gay member of parliament. He is also one of the leading Knesset members on environmental issues. Emily Amrousi is not only a religious West Bank settler, but also one of the best and most interesting female writers in Israel. Arguing that because she is a religious settler she is necessarily homophobic is no less racist, pretentious and demeaning. And most importantly, it doesn’t contribute to the debate but only intensifies the repulsive stereotyping of gays. That stereotype is repulsive and regrettable for a great number of reasons, including the fact that in the course of my short life, I have encountered no small number of instances of misogyny, chauvinism and the exclusion of women actually coming from even very liberal, secular, gay Tel Aviv men.
Instead of asking straight people, Is that what’s important to you? Okay, we’re playing the game, too: Ta-dah! Outed! – it would be far preferable to provide hope to youth in distress by showing them life outside the closet, and not using sexuality or gender identity as a tool for scandalous outing, scoops or headlines that can threaten to harm them.
Every male and female who comes out of closet and lives life with pride is a reason to celebrate, but it needs to be the product of free will and not because someone else decided for them. It suffices to recall statements by actress and entertainer Orna Banai, who tried to dispel “baseless” rumors regarding her sexual orientation with the statement that “the gay community, when all is said and done, is a collection of embittered people.” Thus, it’s worth remembering the people who are not yet ready to take the step and who would not only not be allies of the community but may even be its sworn enemies. And it also doesn't help us within the community to out people with a swift kick, with volleys of harsh criticism and shame, because it actually, inevitably sends a message that is totally contrary to the idea that you should be proud of who and what you are.
The writer is an adviser to Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat.