Coming out, for some, means making the decision to be true to who you are despite the possible loss of everything in your world. It is being willing to leap the void, and it is valuable training for the creation of the truest art.
For many people, most of all the closeted, there is a stigma against homosexuality. Due to a combination of social pressure and real or perceived persecution, one may wish to hide who one is and deny ones nature.
For some people, it’s not a question of hiding. They have accepted who they are, and they don’t feel a need to share with people who are not involved, but for a vast majority, in my modest sampling, it is rather a fear of “complications”, persecution, or what-have-you which keeps people in the closet.
At some point, and for some reason, one feels driven to declare their sexuality to those closest to them. It’s important to note that I don’t mean a lover, but rather family and friends. Coming out is completely auxiliary to any functional sexuality. It is, rather, a sheer expression of self. For the magician and artist, it is easy to understand, as these people often (but not always) understand sexuality to be at the core of a person.
Still, it need not be sexuality which someone is in the closet over. Heston once said, I don’t believe in jest, that there were more conservatives in Hollywood closets than homosexuals, and while a historical look will reveal much less OBJECTIVE persecution of “conservatives” I don’t believe this is an unfair statement, as the work of closeting is based entirely on the individuals perception of potential persecution. We build strange demons in our own heads, and while something might be silly and unimportant to a right thinking non-involved person, it can be the end of the world to the person in the middle of it, who has locked themselves in their own head.
In any event, one is convinced that to share this with the world will result in a real and personal loss. The longer the closeting and the more strongly held their belief in the social taboo of their particular quirk, the more they are convinced that they will hurt people and lose friends and family, perhaps their job, really that their entire life will be ripped from them. There exists, in many people, a very real fear that to come out of the closet is to die.
A shamanic initiation is a method of creating a spiritual healer. Allow me to grossly oversimplify the process: In a shamanic initiation, a potential shaman is exposed to a situation that should kill them. They are, at that instant, forced to learn to heal themselves, and thusly having learned the art of healing, can now live the rest of their life, able to practice this art for others as well as themselves.
To our closeted queer, he has created for himself a true crisis. He will have a growing desire to express this core part of his being (Remember, the homosexual who does not hide, but does not tell, specifically one who feels no need to express this isn’t closeted) But with his growing desire to express his nature, comes a growing awareness of the “differentness” of his nature, and hence, a fear of rejection. At the point of coming out, he has chosen that to die in a valiant act of self-expression is better than to live without it.
Afterwards, of course, life goes on. Sometimes with the family and friends, and no one rejects him, other times after a rejection, where he can go build a new network based on an honest expression of who he is. In either case, he has crossed a threshold. He has decided that he is capable of expression, and that expression is more important to him than certain death. (although the “strength” of that depth, and hence, the strength of the initiatory process is directly related to his own perception of the risk of the process)
This need to express self is, of course, the core of the artists dilemma. As we grow more accepting as a culture of homosexuality, and the barriers to coming out drop, the strength of the closet shrinks, and as such, the impact of coming out itself becomes less traumatic.
What we see in the gay community today is a normalization. It is no longer made up of people who have had this coming out experience I detailed. They are no longer all possessed of the artists soul, and of those who are, many have not had it tried in the fire of coming out despite a strong fear of social death.
This is not necessarily problematic. Most people will agree that it is better to allow people to follow their own path, and leave shamanic initiation to those who willingly seek it out. However, for this to be an expressive shamanic experience (as opposed to a healing experience caused by physical trauma) does require a situation where expression of truth as we know it has for it, the price of death. As we allow expression freely, many will argue, we don’t need to break through non-existent barriers. Many people who grew up in a community fully accepting of whatever others have been persecuted for have created beautiful, meaningful, and often far more intricate and detailed expressions of things, primarily because they are in a culture of acceptance, and because they have been able to be fully immersed in a thing, rather than experiencing it only as a beast in their own head, a stuck thing which needs to be unveiled, but which, ultimately, until the point of coming out is only personal and no bigger than that 1 man.
I would argue though that only those who have broken through a barrier can really express the idea with the passion and vigor that comes from it being an incredibly personal thing. While those who know no fear associated with a thing can often more clearly elucidate on the topic from a social perspective, there is a certain beauty that comes only from people who have had an idea stuck in their mind until the breaking point. For those who wish to express this way, there will always be personal taboos, but one can not really manufacture this, and we have decided as a culture that the societal mindsets which lead to this initiatory process are bad.
With the broadening of gay culture, and the fight for government recognized gay marriage, adoption, acceptance inside of family circles and the type of suburban existence which once was the object, at least publicly, of the collective scorn of the gay community, is now the desire which is the driving force behind the gay political movement.
We watch artistic movements come and go. We watch cultures fight to maintain their identity, while still seeking to integrate themselves into the larger tossed salad of American culture. We all strive for a position of understanding our cultural, social, and political place within our communities. I am not advocating for a society of hate or suppression. I am instead asking us to examine the roots of our gay culture, and to ask ourselves what we want from ourselves, and from our community. If we want art, we must accept that the source and nature of the art is going to start evolving in a different direction than it has before, and will, most likely be consumed into the greater movements within the art world, being less “Gay art” as we will, as we diversify within our ranks, have a less defined gay culture, and more art of a certain type, which happens to be influenced by our sexuality, in no more important a way than one is influenced by a specific lover, or by one’s home life or the town one lives in. It must return to being a personal art, and no longer a communal art, and we as homosexuals, can no longer hide in a convenient community of likeminded individuals who have all shared a similar formative experience.
We are, in the end, forced to be individuals, and to take account for ourselves and our art. While we may have lost a non-voluntary initiation, the only thing we have been robbed of is our victim status, and this may be the greatest service that has ever been rendered to the gay community. Now the task, for those like me, who, however fearful we were, faced no real discrimination, is to find within ourselves the courage to express whatever art we know, whether we have been forced through a previous doorway or not. The opportunity for initiation through bold expression is always available to anyone bold enough to take it.