Let me start by stating my intent. I'm not writing this to give an opinion. I'm not writing to claim a truth. I'm writing to start a conversation about the words we use. I want and need your participation to have this conversation, and I hope you will be willing partners with me. I am not trying to convince you, and I affirm your right to disagree with anything that I say. But, after this, at least we will have all considered the implication of our words instead of just speaking. That's what is important to me.
It has become more and more common for members of the ex-Christian or other ex-religious communities to use the terms "coming out" and "in the closet" to describe their experiences. Although these phrases have been historically used to describe the experiences of LGBT people, they are very versatile to the ex-religious community. After all, many people who have abandoned their religions hide their unbelief from family members, friends, or employers for fear of discrimination or harassment. Many of them seek out only select safe spaces to reveal their actual beliefs. The rest of the time, they are silent. Closeted. And the moment that they go public with their new faith or lack thereof, they have come out into the open.
I can understand this. I am an ex-Christian myself, and certainly I have experienced pressures and discomfort as a result of that identity. However, I am also a member of the LGBT community, and something about the co-opting of phrases historically associated with queer folks unsettles me.
I think it can be problematic for various marginalized groups to begin appropriating the language which other groups use to describe their experiences. I often hear people compare the Gay Rights movement to the Civil Rights movement for racial equality in ways that also make me uncomfortable. I do not think most people intend to call the two movements equivalent in every way, nor do oppressed groups need to waste their time arguing who is the most oppressed. However, in co-opting the title of the racial equality movement, the LGBT community may be minimizing the ongoing struggles and problems of racial minorities. I frequently hear people claim that racial discrimination is a thing of the past and the LGBT movement now takes forefront in the national stage. This is unfortunate, as there is still much work to be done in both movements. Has the appropriation of the Civil Rights movement by LGBT activists contributed to this problem? Has making the racial equality movement "all about us" with our language perhaps caused racial minorities to have less of a voice? I think it is likely.
It is for this reason that appropriating the language of the LGBT movement makes me a little uncomfortable. I worry that, in taking their language, we may be taking away some of their power. These are the words that they use to describe their experiences and we are making it "all about us." Maybe this is a problem, and maybe it is not. I expect to get a very varied response to this. I am almost 100% of Western European decent, so I have no experience with living as a racial minority in the US. However, I have heard from some people of color that they support calling the LGBT movement the new Civil Rights, and I have heard from others that this is offensive and harmful. In the same way, I suspect many people in the LGBT community will have no problem with our ex-religious friends using the terms "coming out" and "in the closet" and others will see it as disrespectful. And I suspect that those outside of the LGBT community will have just as varied of opinions.
That is okay. After all, I am not advocating for the censorship of these words, or claiming that one group should have sole ownership of them. What I want is for us to ensure that we are giving each other respect and consideration before we use them. Does appropriating the language of LGBT experiences minimize those experiences or does it bolster unity between the communities? Is the ex-religious community talking over their queer friends when they do this, or are they talking with them? I think, as our communities have long tried to be allies (and there is much overlap within them), that these are questions worth asking. Probably many of us won't agree. But at least we will have given each other consideration before we speak. And that is important.