best friends, who for years canvassed freely the emotional complications
of each other's erotic lives - the man's eroticism happening to focus ex-
clusively on men. But it was only after one particular conversational
moment, fully a decade into this relationship, that it seemed to either of
these friends that permission had been given to the woman to refer to the
man, in their conversation together, as
a gay man.
Discussing it much
later, both agreed they had felt at the time that this one moment had
constituted a clear-cut act of coming out, even in the context of years and
years beforehand of exchange predicated on the man's
was said to make this difference? Not a version of "I am gay," which could
only have been bathetic between them. What constituted coming out for
this man, in this situation, was to use about himself the phrase "coming
-to mention, as if casually, having come out to someone else.
(Similarly, a T-shirt that ACT UP sells in New York bearing the text, "I am
out, therefore I am," is meant to do for the wearer, not the constative work
of reporting that s/he
out, but the performative work of coming out in
the first place.) And as Chapter 1 will discuss, the fact that silence is
rendered as pointed and performative as speech, in relations around the
closet, depends on and highlights more broadly the fact that ignorance is
as potent and as multiple a thing there as is knowledge.
Knowledge, after all, is not itself power, although it is the magnetic field
of power. Ignorance and opacity collude or compete with knowledge in
mobilizing the flows of energy, desire, goods, meanings, persons.
Mitterrand knows English but Mr. Reagan lacks-as he did lack-
French, it is the urbane M. Mitterrand who must negotiate in an acquired
tongue, the ignorant Mr. Reagan who may dilate in his native one. Or in
the interactive speech model by which, as Sally McConnell-Ginet puts it,
... meaning can be thought of as what is recognizable
solely on the basis of interlocutors' mutual knowledge of established prac-
tices of interpretation," it is the interlocutor who has or pretends to have
broadly knowledgeable understanding of interpretive practice
'who will define the terms of the exchange. So, for instance, because "men,
with superior extralinguistic resources and privileged discourse positions,
are often less likely to treat perspectives different from their own as mutu-
ally available for communication," their attitudes are "thus more likely to
leave a lasting imprint on the common semantic stock than women's."4
4. Sally McConnell-Ginet, "The Sexual (Re)production of Meaning: A Discourse-
Based Theory," manuscript, pp. 387-88, quoted in Cheris Kramarae and Paula A.