“When you are not living an honest, open, true life, you are taking advantage of a privilege granted to you by older, gay, lesbian, queer people who have sacrificed tremendously.”
The language of being “out” or “out of the closet” has evolved into something broad and imprecise — something that looks and feels different for everybody. When Charles M. Blow was married to his ex-wife, she knew he was bisexual. And after their marriage ended, he dated men and women, so while he didn’t publicly talk about his sexuality until 2014 when his memoir, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, came out, describing him as having been “in the closet” isn’t fully accurate.
Few of us have to contend with the added layer of having to come out publicly. For Blow, it became a necessity when he started writing a column for The New York Times in 2008. “In that very first moment, I knew what that meant, that I was now a public figure,” he says. “I knew that from a life in newspapers, that if you tell your own story, it belongs to you. If somebody else tells your story, it belongs to them. And they’re not going to be as kind to you as you will be to yourself.”
He came out, publicly, and what he found was not a community waiting with open arms to embrace this new, high-profile addition to the fold. Instead, the more common response came in emails, almost always from white gay men, who denied the existence of bisexuality and said things like “Oh, easy to come out now because you are well-off and you are old. I’ve suffered through this since I was 17…” People were not kind. “The power architecture around queerness has long been dictated by a very narrow band of people, and I wasn’t in that. I just wasn’t,” Blow says on this week’s LGBTQ&A podcast.
In more recent years, Blow thinks about the queer elders, both those whose names we know and those we don’t, who helped pave the way for him to be out and have the career that he does. “When you are not living an honest, open, true life, you are taking advantage of a privilege granted to you by older gay, lesbian, queer people who have sacrificed tremendously so that you could come into this place. And they did so very often at great costs.”
It’s a debt he’s repaying with his visibility at The New York Times and on the Black News Channel, where he hosts the new nightly news show Prime With Charles Blow.
“Part of disclosure helps you pay that debt because you add your visibility.”
Prime With Charles Blow airs at 10 p.m. Eastern Monday-Friday on the Black News Channel.
LGBTQ&A is a weekly LGBTQ+ interview podcast hosted by Jeffrey Masters. Past guests include Pete Buttigieg, Laverne Cox, Roxane Gay, and Trixie Mattel.
New episodes come out every Tuesday.