When Is “Coming Out” Too Far Out?

So, we’ve established that we’re gay. If you guys didn’t know that, well, you have some serious problems. Anyway, we’re proud of our homo ways and that ain’t never going to change. A reader sent us this link, however, and makes us wonder: is there such a thing as too gay? Does a point exist at which talking about faggotry becomes less about a stance and more about offense?

As you collegiate and post-collegiate types may know, part of the National Coming Out Day tradition involves “chalking”: when the queers and their allies write pro-gay messages in chalk to be discovered the morning of NCOD. While most would say that chalking helps empower the disenfranchised, others wonder if some people take the message too far.

Consider a debate raging at Swarthmore College: some students have taken offense to some of this years NCOD messages scrawled across campus. And it’s not just the heteros.

It seems that a student or group of students used their chalk to depict a bit of so-called “queer” sexual activity. For example, one picture showed a woman with a strap-on fucking a woman we can only assume is her girlfriend. The text below read: “Anal sex is for everyone.” Another drawing, placed conveniently outside of the dining hall, simply illustrated a vagina. Not surprisingly, many students found the pictures offensive, sparking a debate over the so-called limits of “coming out”. Myrt Westphal, the liberal arts school’s associate dean of student life, says:

There was a feeling both in the queer community and outside the queer community that this had gone over the top and actually was hurting the cause of Coming Out Week.

Another student insists that the visual and textual messages are akin to pornography.

A queer student named Mark Kharas penned a letter to the editor of the school’s newspaper, writing:

As a gay rights activist and a queer person, I find the overtly sexual (some would say pornographic) chalkings done for Coming Out Week on Sunday and in years past to be offensive and counterproductive… The sexual chalkings don’t address issues of religious or legal acceptance, alienation or suicide of queer teens or any number of other issues that would be appropriate to raise during Coming Out Week.

Kharas insists that sexually-explicit messages hinder the queer cause by equating queer life solely with sex, an argument that sounds like a few others we’ve heard since the rise of the gay revolution.

While obviously issues of suicide and alienation need to be addressed, heteronormativity extends its hand to regulating so-called “perverse” and “queer” sexual practices, such as lesbian using strap-ons in sex.

So, our opinionated readers: is there such a thing as “too far” when coming out? Should queer sexual debates stay in the closet, if you will? Or do people have the right to spread their opinions – and subsequent visuals – of queer sex?

(Oh, and if you can’t read the above picture: it’s one of the more tame chalkings from Swarthmore and says: “An orgrasm a day keeps the homophobes away”.)

(Update: We misspoke when we credited Tatiana Cozzarelli as writing the Op-Ed. It was actually written by Mark Kharas. Sorry, Tatiana. We still think you’re pretty swell.)

Get Queerty Daily

Subscribe to Queerty for a daily dose of #activism #comingout #culture stories and more


  • Cullan

    I’m all for free speech but I would agree this was in poor taste and certainly no way to reach out to a campus community. We bitch about homophobia while scrawling vulgarities on the sidewalk? I don’t get it.

  • i.m. butch

    queer is about sex. not only about sex – it is also a way of life and a state of mind – but it is about sex-positive liberation. why is it that so often that the political action that is sanctioned is about sad horrible things that homophobia does to us – suicide, lack of legal rights, for example? but i can’t be sexual and concerned about suicide rates among queers? i am tired of this choice that folks in my own community plop in my lap. You know, i become alienated when i am told that the ‘proper’ way to be a queer activist is to be concerned with marriage and benefactors first, fucking second. this is akin to the HRC saying, as they have in the past, that taking up the cause of our Transgender kinfolk will be counterproductive.

    plus, a vagina is offensive? woman with a strap-on is offensive? that sounds like good ol’ fashioned misogyny to me. We can’t have a vagina, we can’t play with a dick…. Oh, right, no sexuality or GenderFuck. Please, be polite – You’ll ruin the Movement.

    what most of these chalkings do (yes, that IS a qualifier – I’m not into hate. There, that’s my line…) is assert a radical queer politics of irreverence and blasphemy. i’m here, i’m queer, i’m a vulgar pervert – get used to it.

  • DS

    my favorite quote from one of the letters in the school’s newspaper [The Phoenix]…

    “I think that some of these chalkings surpassed the purpose of promoting Swarthmore College as a place where queer students can feel safe and free from persecution, and stepped down to a level of undignified, crude and low-class.”

    That’s right, kids. You can feel “safe” and free from persecution. But PLEASE, don’t think that means you can fuck each other.

  • Chris

    I think it’s easy, especially when in college, to get caught up in wanting to shock the straights at the detriment of actually persuading any of them to view us as human beings deserving of equal rights.

  • akaison

    I think the last post may get it right. But, I would back up a bit. Is the purpose to persuade, shock or just say we are here deal with it. Depending on your goal, the message may or may not be appropriate. However, if the goal is to persuade, then it’s definitely not effective. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to think about two straight people fucking (or their orgasm) and I don’t know why they should care about ours. The key element is not whether you care about who is fucking whom it is whether you accept each other. for the record, being able to write down something like that on the sidewalk isn’t a sign of acceptance of sex or not acceptance of it. It’s a sign of bad taste. Would you go to a daycare and have a sex show there? I use that extreme to point out that there are socially appropriate contexts for things. If we aren’t able to admit to that without jumping on the bandwagon that writing whatever you want is the same as accepting your sexuality, then we aren’t talking about sex and sexuality at all- are we?

  • Jennifer

    If there is to be straight liberation, then how can we not talk about sex, esp. sex which is deemed “transgressive”? It must be public. It must be discussed. If it makes people laugh (a little uncomfortably) then so much the better. Sex is funny. It’s a laff riot. It’s the centre of the universe, the life force, seeing G-d. It’s what it is. Time to stop pandering to the delicate sensibilities of the humourless and vaguely ashamed.

  • Loki

    Okay look, at college how often do you have to hear some straight stud going into graphic detail about all the girls he’s fucked? Often. So what if people get offended, that’s our right as americans, to be offended. This is especially true at colleges and universities, you don’t have the right to silence someone who’s offending you, but you can listen and try to make sense of it.
    Yea, maybe the message didn’t get across as strongly or in the way some of you would like, but there was still a message. I think the message was “We fuck too, a lot, now get used to it.”

  • Cullan

    We use the word a lot – queer. Could someone define that for me? I don’t label myself as such nor do I take a default plunge into the alphabet soup that is today’s LGBTQIMV#@7+} “community”.

    It’s ironic that this “community,” which often spouts off about “what happens between consenting adults behind closed doors…” blah blah blah, is the same one defending those who are quite literally throwing descriptions – albeit chalk-like – of said acts in everyone’s face. Is there a pamphlet or a manual, which outlines the correct protocol and criteria to which “queer” citizens should adhere? Perhaps this would save us future debates and I would be a lot less confused. I think there should be a global caucus to address this. Call me old fashioned but I think propriety still has a place in this world. I’m no prude (you should see my porn collection) but I’m also not tossing it out onto the sidewalk. Have some class.

  • Mike

    The kind of sex we have is what inherently makes us different from straights. Sorry if that’s offensive to some people, but it’s a fact of life. Also how many straight sexual images are we bombarded with daily–and I’m not even talking about grafitti, I’m talking about network television.

    This kind of in-your-face style is very much the kind of tactic used by ActUp back in the day. And whether you agree with them or not, they made a difference. It’s very hard to gain civil rights or attention for a cause by being polite.

    Imagine if Rosa Parks had moved to the back of the bus just to be polite?

  • demonW

    O please Maryz, it’s just sex. worse things are seen on the bathroom stalls on those same campuses but nobody talks, shouts or hullabaloos about those things now, do they?

  • Paul Raposo

    Has it occured to anyone that GLBT students might NOT have made those chalkings?

    If you didn’t like a particular event which was going to take place the following day, wouldn’t it be easy to go out the night before, make some rude drawings and sit back and watch the backlash against those you disaprove of?

    Let’s face it, some of those drawings seem like a het male’s fantasy.

    Just because it’s a liberal arts school, doesn’t mean every student is liberal.

  • Diana

    As one of the chalkers from Swarthmore College, I’d just like to confirm that, yes, queer students made the first round of chalkings, though there was a second round in response to the first (not sure which round the photograph comes from).

    Personally, I didn’t do explicit drawings just to “shock the straights.” Rather, coming from a situation where I can’t fully express my sexuality at home (a phenomenon I’m sure many can relate to), I wanted to use Coming Out Week to put myself out there as a queer woman.

    And, as some of you have already said, sex is a part of being queer, like it or not.

  • Tatiana

    This article is a misquote. Tatiana, meaning me, did not say that in the newspaper, as I support the chalkings, nor did I wish to be outed in this article, especially as the chalkings event was open to anyone and I have not identified as queer elsewhere. I suggest that the next time this website wishes to out someone they truley check if that is okay so as not to out people and not deny agency of the person coming out.

Comments are closed.