What Does Getting "Outed" Mean Anymore?

As we hurtle toward a future where young people are queerer than ever, when more and more people (famous and not so famous) openly identify as LGBT, the very concept of “the closet” seems less and less applicable to the complex realities of modern queer life. One of the aims of queer liberation is abolishing the closet altogether, doing away with the increasingly outdated notion that LGBT people must formally pronounce their identity. (Though it is not the sort of concept that’s applied to every queer person to begin with; trans and gender-nonconforming people who don’t “pass” for cisgender or straight often aren’t given the privilege of naming their identity on their own terms.) But even though the closet has never applied to everyone, it remains a reality that for many LGBT people, not drawing attention to their sexual orientation or gender identity is the only surefire way they can keep their jobs, their families, or even their lives. The closet (glass or otherwise) remains a social fixture when some of our most powerful cultural and political figures remain crouched inside of it, oftentimes using the language of “privacy” to defend their place there.

Privacy is often invoked when it comes to the issue of whether or not outing is ever justified. Peter Thiel, the billionaire Silicon Valley investor who bankrolled Hulk Hogan’s sex tape lawsuit against Gawker, invoked what he thinks is his right to privacy in an op-ed for the New York Times in August 2016, shortly after Gawker Media Group was forced to put itself up for sale following its loss of the lawsuit. Thiel bankrolled Hogan in large part because, back in 2007, Gawker’s Valleywag blog published a post under the headline “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.” Thiel accused Gawker of outing him: “I had begun coming out to people I knew, and I planned to continue on my own terms. Instead, Gawker violated my privacy and cashed in on it.”

Thiel is one of the most famous invokers of his “right to privacy,” though he’s certainly not alone — it’s been used by singer Demi Lovato, who said in her recent documentary that she’s open to dating both men and women, but previously told reporters that “I like to keep my personal life as private as possible.”

And so has Spacey. Four years before the Advocate ran Dennis Hensley’s conversation with Anthony Rapp, Esquire published a cover story on Spacey titled “Kevin Spacey Has a Secret,” with a lede about how “sophisticates” in New York and LA all spread the same gay rumor about him. In response, Spacey called the piece “dishonest and malicious,” saying in a statement at the time that “Esquire has made it abundantly clear that they have now joined the ranks of distasteful journalism, and this mean-spirited, homophobic, offensive article proves that the legacy of Joseph McCarthy is alive and well.” Read more via Buzzfeed