Thursday, September 27, 2007

thursday's word: out

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karol radziszewski, faggots, 2005


short for ‘out of the closet’—the ‘closet’ was initially (in the early 1950s) a metaphor for the provisions made to hide or disguise one’s alcoholism, but soon referred to hiding one’s homosexuality.

‘coming out,’ which was first recorded as a phrase in the mid-1960s + used widely within the gay community in the 1970s, should, then, mean no longer making those provisions.

‘out’ is a fairly recent adjective, following a line of increasingly positive modifiers that included ‘admittedly homosexual’ in the 1950s + 1960s, ‘openly gay’ + then ‘out of the closet’ in the 1970s.

recently, people speak of degrees of ‘outness.’

once, presumably, a person was either ‘closeted’ or ‘out.’ there was no middle ground.

now it’s common for people to be, for instance, ‘out’ at work but ‘closeted’ with family members, or vice versa.

terms like ‘straight-acting’ + ‘discreet,’ when they don’t actually mean ‘closeted,’ further suggest to some people that ‘outness’ is relative + gradated.

‘out’ is a word with some social + political importance.

the phenomenon it describes is a recent occurrence in societies worldwide, but the visibility the word ‘out’ suggests may arguably be diminishing everywhere except on t.v. since the 1980s.

with wider mainstream acceptance of homosexuality, distinctly niche-oriented enterprises like the ‘gay bookstore,’ ‘gay night club,’ and ‘gay news weekly’ appear to be disappearing in many american cities.

likewise, a large number of people who once united under the ‘gay’ banner argue that ‘gay’ no longer applies to them, + many who do accept being ‘out’ + ‘gay’ prefer to qualify the terms with ‘mostly’ or ‘straight-appearing.’

(unfortunately, the word ‘gay’ has taken on the additional meaning of ‘uncool,’ so it may be time to return the word to those poor offended snobs who, decades ago, claimed the homosexuals had stolen the word from them + preferred its earlier denotation as ‘festive’ or ‘brightly colored.’)

the verb form ‘to out’ is also recent, especially used in reference to political activists who ‘out’ public figures who, though secretly homosexual, openly condemn homosexuality + work in the interests of laws + organizations that discriminate against gay people.

this form of ‘outing’ had wider acceptance during the height of the aids epidemic among white american gays, but now the glbt community apparently feels more ambiguous about this tactic.

old english ‘ut’ from proto-indo-european ‘ud,’ meaning ‘up up + away,’ from the sanskrit ‘ut’ (‘up’) + ‘utterua’ (‘higher, upper, later, northern’)

lureen newsome. he always said he wanted his ashes scattered on brokeback mountain, but i wasn’t sure where that was. i thought brokeback mountain might be around where he grew up. knowing jack, it was probably some pretend place, where bluebirds sing + there’s a whiskey spring …
--brokeback mountain, 2005

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