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Contested Closets

The Politics and Ethics of Outing

1993
Author:

Larry Gross

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A landmark exploration of the practice of revealing a public figure’s hidden homosexuality through the controversial practice of outing.

A landmark exploration of the practice of revealing a public figure’s hidden homosexuality through the controversial practice of outing.

“Combines a powerfully argued essay with a comprehensive anthology of articles to create an invaluable document on ‘outing.’ Gross’s fearless and fascinating book calls persuasively for ending a code of silence that has long served hypocrisy and double-standard morality at the expense of truth.” --Martin Duberman

“This is a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate among journalists and gay activists over ‘outing.’ . . . Gross is a defender of the controversial practice, but one of the greatest strengths of this book is the evenhandedness with which he presents the arguments of each side. He argues that outing is a practice with ‘a long past, if only a short history,’ and spends much of the book’s first half putting it into a historical context. In the course of doing so, he discusses the nature and construction of gay identity and a history of the outing controversies of the past ten years. Gross is a lucid writer who makes a difficult case well. . . . The second half of the book is a collection of key texts in the debate on outing-including several by Michelangelo Signorile, the foremost journalistic proponent of the practice.” --Publishers Weekly

This is a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate among journalists and gay activists over ‘outing.’ . . . Gross is a defender of the controversial practice, but one of the greatest strengths of this book is the evenhandedness with which he presents the arguments of each side. He argues that outing is a practice with ‘a long past, if only a short history,’ and spends much of the book’s first half putting it into a historical context. In the course of doing so, he discusses the nature and construction of gay identity and a history of the outing controversies of the past ten years. Gross is a lucid writer who makes a difficult case well. . . . The second half of the book is a collection of key texts in the debate on outing-including several by Michelangelo Signorile, the foremost journalistic proponent of the practice.

Publishers Weekly

“Contested Closets is about secrets and the telling of secrets, about lies and the telling of lies. It is about the codes that bind some people to keep others’ secrets, and the conventions that require some people to tell lies about others. And it is about the breaking of these codes and the violation of these conventions. It is about the deliberate revelation by lesbian and gay people of the hidden homosexuality of prominent people. It is also about the conflicting loyalties of journalists - mainstream and alternative, straight and gay - caught between the obligation to tell the truth as they know it (even if not the whole truth), and the rules of the game that protect the sexual secrets of celebrities and public officials. It is about the shifting boundaries between the public and private realms, and the dangers of building a political strategy on the narrow platform of the right to privacy. It is a book about outing.
-from the author’s preface

“Contested Closets combines a powerfully argued essay with a comprehensive anthology of articles to create an invaluable document on ‘outing.’ Gross’s fearless and fascinating book calls persuasively for ending a code of silence that has long served hypocrisy and double-standard morality at the expense of truth.”
Martin Duberman
author of Cures

“There is no question that this timely, well-written, and well-conceived book will make a significant contribution in the areas of gay studies, ethics, social movements, and cultural politics. . . . Quite simply, there is nothing like it.”
Kath Weston
author of Families We Choose

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Larry Gross is professor of communications in the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. He is cochair of the Task Force on Lesbian and Gay Concerns of the International Communication Association.

Book Default Image

This is a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate among journalists and gay activists over ‘outing.’ . . . Gross is a defender of the controversial practice, but one of the greatest strengths of this book is the evenhandedness with which he presents the arguments of each side. He argues that outing is a practice with ‘a long past, if only a short history,’ and spends much of the book’s first half putting it into a historical context. In the course of doing so, he discusses the nature and construction of gay identity and a history of the outing controversies of the past ten years. Gross is a lucid writer who makes a difficult case well. . . . The second half of the book is a collection of key texts in the debate on outing-including several by Michelangelo Signorile, the foremost journalistic proponent of the practice.

Publishers Weekly

Gross (Univ. of Pennsylvania, communications) maintains that the current issue of "outing" has its roots in the late 19th century. This timely narrative surveys the impact of contemporary identity politics, journalistic practices, and the AIDS epidemic on the controversial debate around disclosing the homosexuality of public figures thought to be impending the struggle for lesbian and gay rights. Studded with fascinating footnotes and augmented with reprints of significant articles from alternative and mainstream presses, gay and straight, this revealing study engagingly complements Michelangelo Signorile's Queer in America (LJ 6/1/92).

Library Journal

Contested Closets combines a powerfully argued essay with a comprehensive anthology of articles to create an invaluable document on 'outing.' Gross’s fearless and fascinating book calls persuasively for ending a code of silence that has long served hypocrisy and double-standard morality at the expense of truth.

Martin Duberman, author of Cures

There is no question that this timely, well-written, and well-conceived book will make a significant contribution in the areas of gay studies, ethics, social movements, and cultural politics. . . . Quite simply, there is nothing like it.

Kath Weston, author of Families We Choose

A thorough examination (naming names and reprinting controversial articles) of ‘the deliberate revelation by lesbian and gay people of the hidden homosexuality of prominent people.’ Gross, a University of Pennsylvania communications professor, generally approves of outing but explores it from all sides. For journalists who dismiss outing as simple invasion of privacy, Gross raises unsettling questions about ‘the obligation to tell the truth, ‘journalists who “collude in disinformation,” and the hypocrisy of ‘singling out this one area in which to protect a right to privacy that is routinely trampled in the interest of the public’s “right to know” everything.’

American Journalism Review

. . . a scholarly yet accessible and entertaining study of outing. . . . Gross brings a much-needed historical context to the debate over this still-controversial topic. . . . I strongly recommend Contested Closets to anyone, including Gunderson, who thinks outing is either contemptible or immoral. For Gross has clearly demonstrated outing is ancient and ethical. It may also be the best way to level the political playing fields, thereby giving homosexuals a chance of attaining parity with heterosexuals.

Lambda Book Report

Contested Closets is both a solid academic work and a brisk, entertaining read. Gross is particularly effective in skewering the hypocrisy of the mainstream media, and he also includes more than one hundred pages of original articles and commentarieis from both the straight and gay press - an immensely valuable contribution to historians and casual readers alike.

Los Angeles Times

. . . one of the few sources where original articles on outing have been collected. The book recalls . . . Michael Signorile's Queer in America . . . . They make great companion pieces, with Closets tracing the history of the outing debate while Queer discusses the media's blind eye when it comes to homosexual celebrities and politicians.

Contemporary Sociology

Contested Closets, The Politics and Ethics of Outing, provides a highly readable history of the ambivalence mainstream media have expressed toward homosexuality. Homosexuality, Gross argues, has almost always been used selectively by media in a way that contributes to confirming antigay biases.

Journal of Mass Media Ethics

The author’s powerful arguments make his essay something to devour. The demand to end the queer Code of Silence is rational, motivating, and compelling.

The Prism Newsletter

Contested Closets is a significant contribution both to contemporary media studies and to contemporary gay-lesbian studies. Gross tackles thorny issues such as secrecy and the construction of sexual identity in contemporary queer theory, and illustrates his claim that hiding is not the key to emancipation through an analysis of the media ‘outing’ controversy.

Quarterly Journal of Speech