“The Closet” is an increasingly ill-fitting metaphor for queer men and women who wish to explore their sexuality outside of the two opposite states of either being “out” and having to confess their personal life aloud and align it with a specific identity category or being “closeted” and thus presumed to be living in shame, secrecy, or self-denial. It is this binary of being in or out of the closet that Nicholas De Villiers deconstructs in Opacity and the Closet with the advancement of a practice he terms “queer opacity.” Laying out the thesis of the text, De Villiers writes, “This book interrogates the viability of the metaphor of the closet and puts forth a concept of ‘opacity’ as an alternative queer strategy or tactic that is not linked to an interpretation of hidden depths, concealed meanings, or neat opposition between silence and speech.” Queer opacity is not the transparency of being “out” nor is it the concealment of being “in,” but it is instead a practice of queer living that resists confession, fixed identity categories, and public visibility as obligatory elements of LGBT identity.
De Villiers’ three case studies on practitioners of queer opacity, French philosophers Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes, and American art icon Andy Warhol, have all greatly influenced the study and expression of sexuality in contemporary culture. Yet, none of the three ever fully came out of the closet in any conventional sense. All three engaged openly with gay themes in their work, and Warhol never denied his sexuality, but none of the three ever became openly gay self-identified voices of the community. It would be convenient and easy, as many biographers and cultural critics have done, to fault these men for not declaring their identity according to contemporary gay cultural standards set long after their deaths or to perform some one-size-fits-all, pop psychoanalysis to locate the source of shame or guilt that we have been taught to believe is the source of our sexual discretion. But instead, De Villiers’ concept of queer opacity allows us to see the sexualities of these men as they truly were expressed by widening our narrow narrative of sexuality to encompass the peripheries where the genius of these men flourished. Instead of seeing them as closeted, De Villiers praises their queer opacity for inventing new methods of queer expression and transgression.
(Full Article Available at Lambda Literary)