Is “Admit” the Wrong Word in Coming Out Stories?

Blogger David Badash at the New Civil Rights Movement is going after CNN for using the term “admit” in describing the way international rugby star Gareth Thomas announced that he was gay.

Here’s how CNN said it, in a story headlined “Thomas relief after admitting he is gay,

“Every gay man will tell you that ‘coming out’ is like a weight lifted from your shoulders and beng able to walk down the street knowing that there is nothing for me to hide has been a liberating experience, ” admitted Thomas.

Badash argues that people “‘admit’ to things we’ve done wrong” and therefore journalists should not use the term “admit” when describing someone’s coming-out process. He continues:

We “come out,” we “acknowledge we’re gay,” we can even “reveal” we’re gay. But “admit?” Why would you “admit” to something that isn’t wrong?

Words matter.

It’s time for the media, especially the MSM, to get it straight: “admitting” you’re gay is like “admitting” you’re human.

Got it?

But is he right? NLGJA’s stylebook doesn’t offer much help on terminology like this. Phrases like “admit” when quoting someone are always perilous, because they do imply a level of intention.  They give a flavor to how the quote was given.  “Admitted” sounds different from “acknowledged,” as Badash argues (notice, “argues” implies something different from “say” or “suggests”).

So, what is right in this situation?  First, the story is essentially a listing of quotes from a video interview done for ITN, a video content provider in the UK. Given some Britishisms, my guess is the story was also written in the UK.

So did Thomas “admit” he was gay?  I never hear that term in the video interview. He sounds contrite for having been closeted for awhile–he was married to a woman when he started to come out–but I’m not sure he’s “admitting” anything.  Or is he?  Is that the proper context for the quotations?

I can see times where someone would “admit” they were gay, especially when there has been a level of public deception.  But does that apply to Thomas?  Should the word “admit” even be used when discussing someone’s coming out experience?

Thoughts?

2 Responses

  1. I’m with Badash: I’d use “acknowledged” or “confirmed” or “said” — or otherwise write around it, at least for the fact of a person’s sexual orientation itself.

    Bottom line: “Admit,” to most of us, implies that you’re copping to something regrettable. When people come out, they’re “acknowledging” a truth.

    Now, confronting that truth may have been difficult for them — and they may even need to “admit,” in the process of coming out, that they’ve deceived a straight partner on their way to self-awareness. But “admit” is the wrong word for the thing itself.

    *Unless.* Unless, *perhaps,* the person coming out has made a specific and public effort to portray himself or herself as straight. The original Gareth Thomas coming-out story [http://is.gd/5xLCg] uses the word to suggest exactly that, it seems to me:

    As a young man he bonded with rugby mates in the pub over tales of sexual conquests, and flirted with pretty girls eager to bag a sporting hero. … And if anyone dared to suggest he was anything other than 100 per cent straight, Gareth ‘Alfie’ Thomas was prepared to make them see the error of their ways. With his fists, if necessary. But, as he admits in the Daily Mail today, it was all a pretence, a fragile artifice.

    Which isn’t to say the Mail was out to hatchet Thomas; I thought it was actually a pretty sensitive story. The writer made it clear that Thomas’ wife had been devastated, and that Thomas was carrying a lot of guilt over having deceived her. But the piece was largely a Thomas profile, and the writer and editors didn’t go to the usual suspects for a “Shame-on-him-gay-is-bad” quote.

    And maybe I should qualify that earlier “unless.” Maybe it should be “specific, public and transparently cynical effort” to play it straight.

    By which I guess I mean that context, as always, is everything.

  2. This issue has just come up again, this time in connection with Vaughn Walker, one of the Prop 8 judges: http://blogs.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2011/04/judge_vaughn_walker_is_gay.php

    It would be really swell if the styleguide could be updated to supply some guidance on this question.

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