Telling Sexual Stories: Power, Change, and Social Worlds

By Ken Plummer | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

Coming out, breaking the silence and recovering

Introducing some modernist tales

When did you come out?

The question is inescapable. Every gay man has his story, and his Mends and lovers will, sooner or later, ask him to tell it. It is our common bond with one another, uniting the different races, classes, educational backgrounds and other groups that make up the gay community. Whether or not our lives have shared the same experiences, a coming out story stirs a powerful empathy in each of us, and brings to mind our own years of fear and pain…. Coming Out is not only a personal statement of worth and self-respect, it is a statement of dissent—a voice raised in defense of diversity and genuine democracy.

(Wayne Curtis) 1

A truly radical feature of feminism has been the permission we have given each other to speak. We understand that through speech we could discover what women were and how we had been constructed; talk and the analysis that followed were the first steps towards change. And so we spoke. We shared our doubts and disappointments, rages and fears; we nurtured the strengths we discovered and the insights that had been unappreciated for so long. We talked about our mothers, our fathers, our lovers or the ones we wanted to have. We sought through the comfort of words to articulate in a collective effort at clarity, what had been vague, confusing, debilitating, and painful. We spoke the unspeakable: we broke the taboo on silence.

(Paula Webster) 2

The modern world is cluttered with all kinds of sexual stories. Yet one major pattern has proliferated and developed most rapidly in the latter part of the twentieth century. These are the stories of sexual suffering, surviving and surpassing. 3 They have grown from being insignificant to being widespread; they have prefigured major social changes as a result of being told; and—like all good stories—they have been replayed, copied and borrowed over and over again. They are a story of our time. They may by now—at century’s end—have started to become somewhat ‘tired’ or ‘clichéd’ and new story ways may well be in the making. We shall examine how far this is true in Part III. But in the late

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