Apparently, the right to privacy has its limits. Pro-choice advocates want women to admit openly and honestly that they have had abortions. Gay rights advocates believe that all gays should be open and honest about their sexuality.
At times those who refuse to “out” themselves of their own free will risk being “outed” by activists who believe that they are thereby advancing a righteous cause.
The reasoning, such as it is, goes something like this: if you hide something about your behavior, you are saying that it is abnormal and shameful. Therefore, if you are open and honest about it you are declaring that you are not ashamed, and that you are unwilling to accept a value system that requires it to be hidden.
Your action helps to normalize something that other people consider to be abnormal, deviant, and shameful.
Yesterday, the Jezebel site ran a long, impassioned column by a woman who has chosen to resist the pressure from feminists to reveal that she had an abortion.
The woman has chosen not to do it. Thus, she writes as Anonymous.
Hers is one of the most thoughtful and intelligent pieces about the implications of the pressure to “out” oneself.
In the short space of a column Anonymous shows that the deficiencies in the will to publicize private behavior and experience.
Anonymous opens with a declaration:
My abortion is no one's business. My abortion is something that should be between me and my doctor, and going public with the details in an attempt to destigmatize choice could ruin my career. So why would I ever "come out" about it?
Private matters should be subject to choice, she argues. Perhaps it was right for Anderson Cooper to admit publicly that he is gay, but the choice was his and should have been his alone.
In her words:
I've been thinking about privacy quite a bit since Anderson Cooper came out of the closet after years of pressure from groups who accused him of doing gay the wrong way. Sure, naysayers were probably right that Cooper's a handsome, glamorous celebrity that could help inspire others to come out without shame. But, the guy's got his own life to live. His personal life shouldn't be beholden to opinion polls. No one's should.
Those who cheer Anderson Cooper for taking one for the team should keep in mind that he is an exception.
When gay teenagers listen to the debate and when they watch television shows where gay teens are out, they might be believed that outing oneself is a necessary step toward maturation.
Unfortunately, the average teenager in the average American high school is not Anderson Cooper. The average teenager does not have a sufficient understanding of the real world to understand the potential consequences of such an action. The average teenager is surrounded by other average teenagers and average teenagers, as brain science has demonstrated, are morally deficient beings.
In some communities and in some companies being “out” is not a problem. In others it can be, not so much because people will hold it against you but because they will see you differently.
It might not be because you are gay, but because you have made a political statement that declares you to be loyal to an ideology. Having an opinion is one thing. Behaving a certain way in private is one thing. Pledging your loyalty to an ideology is quite something else.
Anonymous explains that people should be very wary before sacrificing their lives to an ideology:
Just as pro-gay rights folks who nudged Cooper out of the closet thought they were doing a good thing (even though it might not have seemed as fantastic from Cooper's perspective), so too are women's health advocates who aggressively promote "coming out" about abortion think they're increasing visibility and acceptance of the procedure, when they're really placing the onus on women to sacrifice themselves, their careers, their families, or their safety on the altar of ideology, especially if the woman is the wrong kind of woman or having an abortion for the wrong sort of reasons.
Shame, as Anonymous understands well, is an extremely tricky thing. Shame involves how others see you, not how you feel about yourself. Once you expose aspects of your intimate or private life others will see you differently. And you cannot control how they see you.
Let’s be absolutely clear, as Anonymous is: once you have exposed your privacy other people will think what they will, and you have very little, if anything to say about it.
When you speak openly and honestly about your intimate experiences, people will often think less of you.
So, Anonymous declares that her own sense of self-respect makes her consider her abortion and other private matters to be out of bounds and irrelevant.
I don't want to talk about my abortion in polite company, or impolite company, or any company at all, really, just as I don't want to talk about having hemorrhoids or the consistency of my menstrual flow.
She is saying that no one need feel obligated to publicize details of his or her private life or the workings of his or her private parts.
Those who insist on full disclosure believe that their activity is going to destigmatize and normalize the activity in question. Activists believe that if abortion and homosexuality had not been closeted they would naturally be recognized as normal.
Of course, the reasoning is fault and deceptive. Let us count the ways.
As Anonymous says, menstruation is a normal biological process. Should teenaged girls stand up in front of class and announce whether or not they are menstruating?
Covering up does not mean that it’s abnormal. It means that it is none of anyone’s business.
Having external genitalia is certainly a normal fact of life. If all human beings at all times and inn all places have covered their genitals does that meant that there is something abnormal about having genital organs?
If children are told not to be ashamed of their sexuality does that imply that they ought to be sending pictures of their developing genitals to their friends? Does sexting destigmatize sexuality?
Once you lay down the predicate that covering up is bad and that being open and honest is good, you cannot control what people are going to expose.
But, Daniel Mendelsohn wrote in the New York Times, “in a post-Freudian age… sexuality is seen as a core aspect of identity,” so therefore Cooper had to out himself.
To which James Taranto responded:
That strikes us as a rather abstruse description of what is, in fact, a biological drive. It would be accurate to describe us as "straight," but it is not a term that is part of our "identity," or indeed that we ever think about except when it is necessary to distinguish people who are not homosexual from those who are.
Anyone who chooses to reveal socially irrelevant aspects of his intimate behaviors will compromise his social identity.
One’s sex, which is now called one’s gender, is a core aspect of one’s identity, but one’s sexual orientation, preferences and behavior are not.
If they are exposed they distract and detract from one’s social being, thus one’s identity. And they make it look as though one does not have enough self-discipline to afford other people the most minimal respect.
The general public does not need to know whether Anonymous had an abortion or whether she ever miscarried. Drawing attention to such aspects of her life compromises her in ways that we have difficulty imagining.
Similarly, the general public does not need to know sexual orientation. People deal with people on the basis of character, not on the basis of sexual orientation.
But, activists like Mendelsohn reply that every straight person who gets married is announcing to the world that he is straight. The world knows that he has engaged in a specific sexual act, lest his marriage be considered null.
What is the difference?
When it comes to conjugal coitus, the act in question has a specific and unique social relevance.
Communities need to know whether couples are trying to procreate because their survival depends on it.
Even so, no one really discusses conjugal coitus. No one asks about it. No one announces it on the public square. It is an intimate secret, and does best to remain that way.
It’s about respect for the sensibility of other people. You do not normally form images in your mind of the kinds of sexual behavior that other people indulge in. If they insist that you do then they are disrespecting your sensibility and inviting you to think less of them.