Magazine article Tikkun

Coming out of the Closet as Politically Correct

Magazine article Tikkun

Coming out of the Closet as Politically Correct

Article excerpt

CURRENT DEBATE

"A Closet of One's Own: On Not Becoming a Lesbian," by Daphne Merkin, in the November/December 1995 issue of TIKKUN, provoked an outpouring of reaction and a huge volume of mail, much of it from lesbians offended by Merkin's perspective and angered by TIKKUN's decision to publish the article. In the ongoing debate about Merkin's essay, TIKKUN presents three articles which represent a variety of responses to the original piece.

Well, I admit it. I spend a fair amount of time and effort trying my best to be politically correct. I have never, for example, during a polite conversation, asked a heterosexual to explain to me about her activities in the bedroom, although they might seem exotic to me. And it's been years since I've told a joke that begins, "a priest, a rabbi, and a minister ...." I have come under a fair amount of criticism for this behavior, and become the butt of many jokes in society these days. But I can't for the life of me figure out why, since I believe that what some deride as "political correctness" is really only a caricatured description of what I always defined as common decency; a variation on the Levitical precept that what is hateful to you, you should not do to others.

But these days, common decency seems to be out of style, replaced by the passionate desire to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, no matter what the consequences to the listener. Like they do on those T.V. talk shows. And sometimes the results are tragic, as when a heterosexual man who learned on air on "The Jenny Jones Show" that he was the object of a gay man's affections shot his admirer.

From my perspective, this kind of "let it all hang out and damn the consequences" type of honesty is not a good thing. First, inflicting pain is wrong. We Jews do not value suffering. When someone tells me that what I've said about them is hurtful, my impulse is to stop saying it. Nor do I really want to know all the lurid and evil thoughts that lurk in the minds of those who don't respect me.

Second, there is no great value to saying everything you think. Free speech is a complex ideal. It should be thoughtful and bold, not hateful and undisciplined. And honesty is not a virtue when it causes pain. My mother taught me about the moral value of occasionally telling small lies. (We used to call them "white lies.") Being PC, I don't use the phrase anymore, since it must be tiring for people of color to have white stand perpetually for all that is good. Besides, the English language is versatile; finding linguistic substitutes is half the fun of being politically correct. Not telling everything all the time, when your goal is to avoid hurting another person, is in fact a virtue. Learning when and when not to speak and what and what not to say is a value in itself.

You might conclude from my position on the virtues of silence that we were better off when gay men and lesbians never discussed our sexuality. Why do we get to be honest and our critics do not? Yet I do not accept this conclusion; it would be like suggesting that American Jews return to a time when assimilation was a primary value in our community, when we hid being Jewish. Honesty is appropriate when people talk about their own lives. Honesty is not appreciated when its goal is to suppress or trivialize a group to which you do not belong. Argue with me about what I think, but don't call me names or question my right to talk about my group's culture in public while you're doing it.

I came out as a lesbian in the progressive Jewish community when being PC was fashionable. And I came all the way out, as publicly as possible. I am politically involved in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community; my name and face are often in the news, and I write and teach on lesbian subjects in the Jewish world as well. It's a great strategy to avoid being wounded by others. I've never had my feelings hurt. …

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