By now, if you’re part of the internet reading class, you’ve inevitably heard ad nauseum how Niko Hines of The Daily Beast went to the Olympic Village and got into some capital-T Trouble. Armed with a handful of dating apps, a disregard for their sanctity, and his very straight privilege, he proceeded to collect hook-up invitations from a number of—mostly male—Olympic athletes. He dug deeper, learning more specifically who they were, then wrote about his digital invitations and (perhaps?) accidentally outed a number of them as having same-sex proclivities in the process.
The internet determined this was, without a doubt, wrong.
It makes sense why this determination was reached. Some of the athletes who were outed come from countries where their very governments might imprison individuals simply for being gay, or even worse, impose capital punishment. Similarly, other governments may not harm these gay individuals outright, but they would look a blind eye when attackers others to commit hate crimes on those athletes now rumored to be gay.
In addition, the internet—and, yes, for this issue du jour the internet seemed to have a single, unified voice—argued that a person’s desire to stay in the closet was something of a human right. Individuals should have full control, many argued, of when, where, and how they come out as something other than straight—if they come out at all.
Knowing full well from experience that I will be attacked...allow me to make a counterargument. A case against the closets, if you will. (It makes sense to write about this topic here seeing as it has been written about it before.)
Closets are, no matter what country or culture you’re in, a place for gay people to hide their true identity. They protect the benefits of presumed straightness and they block out the deleterious effects of gayness (or bi-ness, queerness, etc.) As a tangent to misogyny, gay men are seen as inferior to straight men, whether it in regards to leadership, power, or authority. Gays have also borne the brunt of many religions/societies imperfections, playing the scapegoat for national shortcomings, occupying the lowest depths of the well of immorality. It makes sense why one would not want to outwardly label themselves as anything other than straight.
But closets function at a cost. They create a world where the occupant must constantly lie to others—family and friends—just to maintain the illusion that they are part of sexuality’s mainstream. They wreak havoc on the occupant’s emotions and psyche, causing dissociative identity disorder, chronic depression, and low self esteem among other conditions. They produce false relationships and hurt others, such as when unknowing beards are brought in to keep up the facade of straightness.
But perhaps most importantly, closets perpetuate the falsehood that gay men and women are lesser individuals compared to their straight counterparts. Instead of the spectrum of human sexuality being put on display for all members of society to see, closets reduce our differences to a sameness, where all men love women and all women love men. Instead of gay boys and girls entering puberty with the full confidence their differences will be welcomed and celebrated, closets provide an alternative where their own individualities can be ignored.
So then we get back to the question of outing these athletes. Reading Hines’ initial piece, it certainly did not feel to me—a gay man—that his intention was specifically to out these athletes or even make light of their sexual activities. He was writing a piece on Olympians having sex! Who doesn’t want to fantasize about endless six packs rubbing up against each other? We’ve all heard how promiscuous that Village is. It was simply that the people who responded to his requests were gay men, which led the piece to take on a gay-focused feel.
And this is where the moment of truth entered the equation. Knowing that the piece now centered around gay individuals, should Hines and The Daily Beast have taken more care to protect their identities? The internet said yes, but I say, hold on.
Were these gay men not aware they were attending the biggest sporting event in the world? Were they unaware of the visibility this event draws? Were they unaware of the risks and dangers associated with being labeled as gay back home? If in fact, they would be in harms way were they to return home with a big rainbow GAY stitched onto their jerseys, why would they have done something so reckless as invite a complete stranger—identifying himself as a journalist—over for sex? Why would these athletes have provided enough information to pinpoint their identity (or at least discover their identity through minimal follow up?) Are we supposed to believe their actions were reckless without question? Are we to coddle them into safety after providing enough personal information to out them? We have to admit that they were foolish in their actions if we truly believe they were in danger.
If instead these athletes were in the closet but knew there was a chance they may be outed, why shouldn’t a journalist report on his findings? They provided their height, weight, nationality, sport and their desire to fuck him. I think people would enjoy reading about that. I know I did. And to those that think Grindr is some sort of safe-space for gay men to interact with other gay men solely for mutual sex, you could not be more wrong. Grindr is a hot bed of racism, transphobia, prostitution, fat-shaming, and slut-shaming. I know this first hand. But it’s also a place where gay men can chat about HIV, PrEP, current events or differential equations. In short, it’s whatever gay men want to make it. The idea that a curious, married straight man is not allowed to ask gay men questions on Grindr is downright laughable.
Famed gay-rights activist and politician Harvey Milk famously said “if a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet shatter every closet door.” He was fighting during a time when gays were not safe in this country, and he knew the power of getting gay people out of the closet and vocal about their gayness. It had the power to change the times. Maybe a strong, vocal, gay athlete is just what some of these countries need to change their views. Not just another man trapped in his own closet.