On Identity, Pride, and Coming Out – A Personal Essay

Today we continue our celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month with an original, personal essay under this week’s theme: family and relationships.

Today we continue our celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month with an original, personal essay under this week’s theme: family and relationships. While recent horrific events may discourage us, we tread onwards in support of the LGBTQ community and hope to meaningfully contribute to the conversation around respect, dignity, and equality for all.

Please visit our blog each Monday in June as we post think pieces from Wiley authors and LGBTQ advocates centered around a new theme. You’ll also get unlocked access to journal articles and book excerpts that examine the ethical, social, and philosophical issues faced by the LGBTQ community. Thanks for joining us as we continue the necessary conversation on LGBTQ rights, awareness, and support.

Author’s Note: I wrote this a few days before the horrific tragedy that unfolded in the early hours of this past Sunday morning in Orlando. I wrote this with an immense feeling of pride for who I am, pride for who my family is, and pride for all the progress that we as a community have made. I wrote this with an immense sense of hope and happiness for the future as we continue to ride on the wave towards true equality. Yet Sunday’s events have rattled the soul and have shaken my determination… but that can only be temporary. I still feel all of these things – more deeply so now – despite that fact that there are people in this world who do not want me or my brothers and sisters to exist. But we do exist and someone else’s narrow reality is never going to change that.

aerial view of an autumn landscape
aerial view of an autumn landscape

When I told my family that I was gay, I remembered thinking to myself beforehand that I wanted the act of telling them to be more about the fact that I had met someone special as opposed to an epic proclamation of something that frankly they had already heavily suspected. Not because I don’t feel pride for who and what I am. Let me be clear — once I came to understand what these feelings were, I have never once wanted to be anyone other than myself. Rather, I wanted my family to understand that I wasn’t any different. I was still the same sometimes quiet, sometimes loud little boy that I had always been. I wanted it to be no different than when my brother brought his first serious girlfriend home to meet my parents. I wanted that for myself because I don’t view myself differently from my brother in that respect, and I felt that I deserved that moment.

Homosexuality is not a stranger to my family – deriving mostly from my mother’s side. My father likes to joke about this openly. My closest cousin erupted out of the closet in the early 90’s and it landed like a thud on the living room floor when we were all told. But it was a sign of the times. He was living in New York City, AIDS was continuing to ravage the community, and discrimination was driving the greater reason to speak out and be proud. My other cousin never needed to come out because he was just born with that authentic sense of self and his sexuality was never questioned. And so on and so on, as there are several others. They are all older than I am – I am the baby – therefore again came into themselves at a time when the sexual preference proclamation was intrinsically necessary.

It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I was getting ready to leave my parent’s house in Connecticut to return to Boston, but before I left I needed to have this conversation with my family. My brother already knew – I had told him months prior. I expected my father to bristle and stiffen in that classic, New England Irish Catholic way – immediately shutting any and all emotion inside – and for my mother to embrace me with a million motherly arms, telling me she always knew, that she was so proud, and that she wanted to know all about this new boyfriend.

So when I muttered the words “I have a new person in my life,” what I didn’t realize was that it truly did come as a surprise to my parents. My father sternly looked at me for a moment, paused, and said that he had been all over the world, that he had met and worked with all kinds of people, and that it made no difference to him who I loved. He came over to me to give me a hug and said he was happy that I had found someone. I could tell that my mother’s back had straightened and she said things like “I’m disappointed” and “don’t put yourself at risk” and “I wish your life was going in another direction.” It was hard for me to hear, and to be honest, I was the one who was disappointed and felt very much that my life was finally going in the right direction. I left relieved but also feeling a sense that something had changed between parent and child.

Time passed and feelings began to ease. A few weeks later, my mother apologized for reacting the way she did. And then she wanted me to tell her all about this new boyfriend. Obviously, she needed the space to absorb this new reality. I am not sure if my very traditional parents truly understand the situation, but we move forward with the hope that one day they will. I continue to say things like “when we get married” and “if we have children” just to remind them that this is the life I have – unexpected as it is. And it sinks in. A few months ago, we were on the phone and my mother said that she couldn’t understand how a family could disown a child for being gay. It was a horrible example of the flaws within our human makeup. She hopes that we can reach a place where all of this isn’t necessary because people are people and family is family.

People are people. And family is family.

It is such a parochial statement with no real depth within the syntax, but the meaning is clear and profound. You are who you are and that isn’t something that should ever change. Your family members are your greatest champions and should be there for you always. I was proud to hear my mother say these words, especially after our rocky start. The latest research shows that 73% of millennials support same-sex marriage, whereas the Baby Boomer generation, i.e., my parents’ generation, is still stuck underneath 50%. This presents a seismic shift in attitudes towards both gender and sexuality, especially as millennials begin to have families of their own.

The fight for equality and acceptance is far from over though. This month, President Obama hosted a reception in honor of Pride month and in his closing comments said, “So some folks never imagined we’d come this far — maybe even some in this room. Change can be slow. And I know that there have been times where at least some of the people in this room have yelled at me. But together, we’ve proven that change is possible, that progress is possible. It’s not inevitable, though. History doesn’t just travel forward; it can go backwards if we don’t work hard. So we can’t be complacent. We cannot be complacent. Securing the gains this country has made requires perseverance and vigilance. And it requires voting. Because we’ve got more work to do.”

World map of sexual orientation laws by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)
World map of sexual orientation laws by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)

There are parts of this world – including the United States – where parents and communities do not accept this type of progress. And so he is absolutely right; we’ve got more work to do. The month of June is a time for everyone – the LGBTQ community, allies, parents, brothers, sisters, friends – to celebrate the progress that we’ve made and to also look towards the future progress that needs to come….

Happy Pride!

About the Author

Brian GiblinBrian Giblin is a publishing professional living and working in Boston. He currently works at Wiley as a Journals Publishing Manager in the areas of Business, Management, and Policy Studies. In his spare time he enjoys baking, reading paperback books, and riding his bicycle.



Closing the Question about Trans-Identities

3111086451_91879a4b16_oWas there ever a time in which a person could have argued for the moral acceptability of slavery without doing something gravely wrong in the very arguing? Maybe not, but it ever there were, it is now long, long, past; some questions are simply closed.

Questions about the validity of transpeople’s identities—of whether, e.g., transwomen are “really” women, eligible to apply to Smith College and to use women’s restroom, have been considered fair game since we emerged into public view. Whether expressed in academic prose, in political posturing, or in outright sneers, such questions are heard by many transpeople as profoundly disparaging, and sometimes menacing.

Yet if the tide of social attitudes and practices easing passages between genders keeps swelling, such debates might become as out of place as, say, a serious discussion about whether homosexuality is a mental illness. The sound you hear may be the closing of yet another question about how human beings may live together.

What I wonder about is this: in the time remaining before trans becomes just another way of having a gender, as, say, adoption is just another way of becoming a parent, is there anything that need not be disparaging, that might actually be helpful, to be said? Might it be good for transpeople to take a moment to think about whether their own understandings and practices might sometimes be politically retrograde, or to have some insight into the challenge their lives pose to how cisgender people now have to reimagine themselves?

Jamie Lindemann Nelson

The Hastings Center Report

Professor at Michigan State University

New Philosophy Compass Issue, June 2011

The latest issue of Philosophy Compass is available on Wiley Online Library


Aesthetics & Philosophy of Art:

Drawing the Line: Art Versus Pornography (pages 385–397)
Hans Maes

Chinese Comparative Philosophy:

Caring in Confucian Philosophy (pages 374–384)
Ann A. Pang-White

History of Philosophy:

Locke on Personal Identity (pages 398–407)
Shelley Weinberg

Legal & Political:

Constitutional Interpretation: Non-originalism (pages 408–420)
Mitchell N. Berman

Philosophy of Science:

Mechanistic Theories of Causality Part I (pages 421–432)
Jon Williamson

Mechanistic Theories of Causality Part II (pages 433–444)
Jon Williamson

Teaching & Learning Guide:

Teaching & Learning Guide for: Mechanistic Theories of Causality (pages 445–447)
Jon Williamson

Philosophy and LOST

Now that LOST has officially ended after six seasons, the question being asked is “was this a ‘long con?'”  Those of us who have been there since the beginning and stayed until the end are likely to have mixed feelings following this week’s finale, though the fact that there remain unanswered questions cannot be too much of a surprise.  Lost is well known for its elaborate and suggestive use of Eastern and Western mythologies, and for characters named after philosophers from the obvious (Bentham, Hume Locke, Rousseau) to the cleverly concealed (Bakunin, Burke, Godwin, C. S. Lewis) and the downright obscure (De Groot, Baba Ram Dass).  In addition, many scientific theories – including quantum mechanics, time travel, atomic energy and electromagnetism – all play an central part in the plot of the show alongside more fundamental philosophical questions about truth, identity, memory and morality.

Given the range and complexity of the ideas that make an appearance, and compounded by the temporal dislocation which serves as the show’s leitmotif, it’s no wonder that casual viewers started to feel increasingly ‘lost’ with a show  which finally ran to more than 90 hours. But it is undoubtedly the complexity and openness to interpretation which is woven into the narrative structure of the show that makes it such a flexible forum for exploring philosophical themes in a pop culture context. Continue reading “Philosophy and LOST”

Trust me, I’m a Doctor… but the same one?

BBC's 'New' Doctor
Image: BBC Publicity Photo

Saturday 3rd of April marked the beginning of a new era in television broadcasting. And no, I’m not talking about the first 3D broadcast of a football (soccer) match being aired in some UK pubs. I am, of course, talking about the first episode of the new series of Dr Who on the BBC, featuring a brand new ‘Doctor’ (played by Matt Smith, to generally warm and enthusiastic reviews). A colleague of mine recently posted on the Philosophy and Popular Culture series; whatever one’s view of the series as a whole, Dr Who – like many sci-fi programmes – is ripe for the treatment (the volume from Open Court is, predictably, on its way in late 2010). For those not in the know, a new Doctor is a different proposition to, say, a new James Bond (where only the actor changes, though this too happens). Each time the actor playing the Doctor – an alien humanoid from the planet Gallifrey – changes, the character himself undergoes a ‘regeneration’, written into the plotline to explain the appearance change. The precise mechanism of ‘regeneration’ is never elaborated in the series, but at the end of the process, the Doctor’s appearance and personality is fundamentally altered. The New Doctor is the character’s eleventh such incarnation.

The introduction of a new Doctor raises metaphysical complications. In particular, how do we make sense of the Doctor’s alterations from the standpoint of personal identity considerations: can we think of a new Doctor being the same person as his pre-regenerative self? Continue reading “Trust me, I’m a Doctor… but the same one?”

Photos of Phineas Gage

Phineas Gage is a staple example in debates about philosophy of personal identity and philosophy of mind.  In 1848, Gage survived an explosion that drove a 13-pound iron rod through his skull.  After months of convalescence, he was able to work again, though his personality was so sharply changed his former employer refused to re-hire him.  He died in 1860.

Through a series of coincidences on Flickr, the first-known photograph of Gage (posing with his tamping iron!) came to light last year.  This led to the revelation of a second photo a few weeks ago.  Enjoy!

Related articles:

Defining Physicalism
By Alyssa Ney, University of Rochester (July 2008)
Philosophy Compass

Personal identity and race in Avatar

James Cameron’s Avatar is a cousin of some famous thought experiments from the philosophy of personal identity. For example, here’s a product of Daniel Dennett’s imagination circa 1978:

Several years ago I was approached by Pentagon officials who asked me to volunteer for a highly dangerous and secret mission. [They] had succeeded in lodging a warhead about a mile deep under Tulsa, Oklahoma, and they wanted me to retrieve it for them. … The difficulty that brought the Pentagon to my door was that the device I’d been asked to recover was fiercely radioactive, in a new way. According to monitoring instruments, something about the nature of the device and its complex interactions with pockets of material deep in the earth had produced radiation that could cause severe abnormalities in certain tissues of the brain. No way had been found to shield the brain from these deadly rays, which were apparently harmless to other tissues and organs of the body. So it had been decided that the person sent to recover the device should leave his brain behind. It would be kept in a safe place as there it could execute its normal control functions by elaborate radio links. Would I submit to a surgical procedure that would completely remove my brain, which would then be placed in a life-support system at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston? Each input and output pathway, as it was severed, would be restored by a pair of microminiaturized radio transceivers, one attached precisely to the brain, the other to the nerve stumps in the empty cranium. No information would be lost, all the connectivity would be preserved.

Sounds pretty Avatar-like to me! Even the plot devices are similar: In Avatar, one reason why the hero needs to remotely control an alien body is that the alien planet’s atmosphere is toxic to humans but not aliens; in Dennett’s thought experiment, the hero needs to remotely control his own body in order to avoid exposure to toxic radiation. (Of course, there are some differences. Dennett’s essay has a cooler ending whereas Avatar has more dragons.)

Anyway, it looks like Avatar’s implications about race have gotten a little more attention than anything it might have to say about personal identity. I was especially interested by this widely-linked io9 piece by Annalee Newitz accusing Cameron of being motivated by “white guilt,” as if that’s a bad thing. I’ll put a few spoiler-ridden thoughts on this below the fold.

Continue reading “Personal identity and race in Avatar”

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