I’ve often said that closets are hot, stuffy, and uncomfortable places to live. That doesn’t just apply to gay closets, but to atheist closets, Objectivist closets, and pretty much any other kind of closet. For a person to hide who he is, pretending to be something more socially acceptable, is deeply self-destructive. How so?
To hide who you are creates feelings of shame, often wholly unwarranted. It causes massive anxiety about being found out. It trains you to cowardice, betraying your values rather than standing up for them. It encourages you to focus on how others see your values, rather than why they’re your values. It creates strong incentives to lie, by implication or explicitly, to preserve the secret. It assumes the worst about other people, namely that they’d condemn or even disown you if they knew who you really were.
Closets, in essence, erode a person’s moral character, trust in others, and emotional well-being.
In a blog post for the Harvard Business Review — Come Out of the Closet at Work, Whether You’re Gay or Not — Dorie Clark makes some interesting remarks about how social media destroys the pretense of closets. Basically, the connections forged by social media mean that “the boundaries are breaking down, privacy is a shimmering mirage, and we’re stuck in a world where you’re expected, and required, to be yourself.”
That isn’t merely good for a person’s integrity. It can help a person succeed:
While it’s not always easy to share personal news at work, it can have an unexpected payoff. As Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Karen Sumberg reported last year in the Harvard Business Review, it actually pays for GLBT employees to come out of the closet. They’re more likely to be promoted because they spend less time worrying about secrecy and hiding and more time focused on their jobs.
That’s hardly not surprising. The mental energy, effort, and anxiety required to keep yourself a secret from people that you’re interacting with on a daily basis can be overwhelming.
Does that mean that a person should share everything? Are people wrong to value their own privacy? No, of course not! A person being reserved is very different from a person stuffing himself into a closet. The reserved person will not share his thoughts, feelings, values, and activities with strangers at the drop of a hat, but he will share relevant information with people in his life. Moreover, he doesn’t quake in fear at the prospect others knowing him, nor actively work to hide himself from others. The closeted person does not share relevant information, does quake in fear of others knowing him, and does actively conceal himself.
Yet even for the reserved person, to be more open might be of benefit. Dorie Clark writes:
Many people still argue there’s a fundamental right to privacy. But post-Zuckerberg, that illusion has evaporated — and, as I wrote in a previous HBR post, that’s a good thing: closing the gap between one’s public and private images results in more people being honest about themselves and their lives.
Whether you’re gay or not, it’s likely that you’ve faced complicated privacy issues: should you friend your co-workers on Facebook? How about your boss? How should you present — some would even say “curate” — your social media persona? As [Anderson] Cooper’s example reminds us, the best answer may be simply to open up and erase the division between public and private. You certainly don’t have to share everything, but it makes for a better world if you share the most important things.
In my experience, my sharing more about myself and my values means that I’m much better able to find and connect with people that I like — and that’s a huge win for me.