Sedaris' "Barrel Fever" shows the politics of coming out

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While being gay in today's society may prove challenging enough, it can also be a trial to come out and share such an identity with others. Queer theorists have suggested the coming out may have political implications and consequences. Coming out can mean power and change, but in some cultures, it can also mean shame and hurt. David Sedaris illustrates in "Barrel Fever" that this may be true, as he wrote about characters who had come out to various responses.

The first short story, "Parade," shows how coming out can be a positive, empowering, gratifying experience. By being willing to express his sexuality without abandon, the narrator rose to popularity and power, ending up on the Oprah show and in People magazine for his pride. The narrator became a role model for tentative homosexuals who felt powerless, showing that there are gay people who are not afraid of visibility and who will not disappear amidst possible criticism and discrimination.

"Glen's Homophobia Newsletter" depicts a gay man who uses a publication to humiliate those who berate and insult him for being homosexual. Such a public work serves to fight homophobia by putting ignorant and hateful (or questionably ignorant and hateful) people he encounters in everyday situations in a negative light. By asking for subscribers, Glen rallies for supporters of his cause. Such an act can lead to support and power for other minorities as well.

Finally, in "My Manuscript," the narrator feels repressed by societal norms and a father who believes in them; his father made the effort to get him a nice set of golf clubs and his own guitar, and he couldn't even directly ask the narrator, his son, if he was gay. The narrator feels the need to hide any evidence of homosexual behavior, and expresses his forbidden desires by writing about them in a manuscript with assumed names. The narrator cannot come out comfortably because of the institutional (religious, educational) and societal barriers of his culture, but unfortunately, political change cannot occur if people do not come out and stand up against oppression.

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Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Glassvisage, nice review.

The downside of group politics is that it obscures the need for individual rights. Gays may be winning themselves a place in society, but as long as it is by virtue of group solidarity, it doesn't help other minorities -- or people who belong to a minority of one. Wouldn't it be great if we just accepted that people can do whatever they like in their personal lives, as long as they don't infringe on the rights of others?


glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 7 years ago from Northern California Author

Very true! It's hard to reach out to most, let alone all, members of a group. I do think that coming out is a powerful political move by anyone and for anyone who is gay, though I guess I can't really speak for homosexual people. I also think that there are different groups within the umbrella that individuals might find solace and commonality in, and hopefully people do :)


libyandiver 6 years ago

Unbelievable... You've completely missed the point of "Glen's Homophobia Newsletter." (Have you ever heard of "satire"?) The essay was actually "berating" its own (gay) narrator as a selfish, pretentious creep who exploits his own sexual identity to libel and bully people he doesn't like (or who rebuff his gauche advances), and as a self-pitying excuse for all of his own shortcomings and failures in life. Glen is an extremely negative character, his "newsletter" is just a crutch for a sick, possibly sociopathic, personality, and Sedaris himself has made no secret of his disgust w/ the sanctimonious (his word) term "homophobia" itself. Next time try reading the essay instead of skimming it.

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