July 4, 2012
The gay celeb closet: to come out or not to come out?
With the news that Anderson Cooper has publicly come out as a gay man, we ask: do gay and bisexual celebrities have a moral duty to come out?
“The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be”. With these words, Anderson Cooper dashed away any doubt about his sexuality for good. Although rumours about the CNN anchorman had circulated widely, no real proof was ever presented until his frank admission, first in an email to a journalist friend and then later in an interview.
Twitter is buzzing with the news and media coverage seems to be wholly positive. Tomorrow, probably, journos the world over will be back to dissecting the Cruise divorce. So, does it really matter? Is it really so important that celebrities proclaim their sexuality, whatever it is, to the world? And, if they do, is it really that big a deal?
The end of privacy?
Well, firstly, there’s the privacy issue. Yes, to a certain extent, when celebs decide to live their lives in the spotlight, they do have to accept that they won’t enjoy the privacy that most of us do. However, where does that line get drawn? Cooper Anderson is a journalist; his sexuality does not impact on that. Therefore, do we really need to know about it? Some might argue that public interest in celebrities’ personal lives is nothing more than an unnecessary invasion of privacy.
In contrast to this, though, it almost an accepted fact now, in our media-guided age, that any aspect of a celebrity’s life is ‘up for grabs’. Let’s face it, many use their personal lives for further financial gain (see the new series of Katie and Peter: the bitchy saga continues) or indeed only became ‘famous’ in the first place because they allowed the public into every last crevice of their intimate goings on (see TOWIE, Geordie Shore, Made In Chelsea, blah, blah, blah…). In short, if you are a celebrity, Heat magazine owns your ass.
Turning shame to pride
In addition, it’s fair to say that deliberately hiding anything makes it look shameful and sexuality is included in that. Although not an ‘official’ part of the job, celebrities know that there are people out there who look up to them. Surely, every celebrity who comes out makes life easier for the whole gay community.
Schemes such as the Stonewall It Gets Better project show the power of celebrity backing. A whole host of celebrities, speaking directly to the public about how their lives are better for being out and proud. Fantastic. The positive impact of this has been well documented through the countless testimonies of grateful people, many of them confused teenagers (the core audience for this project).
So it makes sense, then, that just as this has an affirmative impact, a proportionally negative impact is made when a celebrity chooses to hide their sexuality. I understand that there may be reasons for this. For a start, if they themselves haven’t yet told their friends and family, that’s probably the first port of call before they ring the Sun. Clearly there is also a fear that coming out might ruin a burgeoning or successful career. However, I still believe that gay celebrities should be out.
As a teacher, I had a similar battle with myself about whether I should try to hide the fact that I was gay. For a long time I did. Then it occurred to me: what message am I sending out to all the students who think they might be gay? Kids I taught were coming out during their GCSEs and A Levels and dealing with all the flack that comes with that when you’re a teenager and you suddenly announce a conspicuous difference. I felt empathy with them but I also felt shame. How much more ‘normal’ could I make being gay seem if I wasn’t so quick to deny the fact that I had a girlfriend? So, I had a change of approach.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t go running into school the next day wearing a ‘vagitarian’ t-shirt and playing kd lang’s greatest hits through a boom box. But I was more natural. I wasn’t so paranoid about what I said and did; I wasn’t so worried about whether I ‘looked gay’ at school or whether I was giving off any vital ‘clues’. And, finally, when one of my Sixth Form asked me, in a very genuine manner, if I was gay, I told him that yes, I was.
I realize that I haven’t got a whole nation staring at me, but the sense of relief and satisfaction I felt was great. I like the fact that I can give an assembly about homophobic bullying and the students know that I’m coming at it from an informed perspective. I know that in a really small, tiny way, I’ve done my bit.
Celebrities have the whole nation, in many cases the whole world, staring at them. Rightly or wrongly, their actions and their words are crucial in shaping the thoughts of society in general. I love the fact that Katy Perry kissed a girl and she liked it. I love the fact that Jessie J is openly gay / bisexual (feel free to discuss the ins and outs of that one amongst yourselves). I love Cooper Anderson. I love the It Gets Better Project. And I would love for every gay celebrity who is still in the closet to come out tomorrow and have one big, gay party. It isn’t going to happen, of course, but every single celeb who chooses to come out in the future is making life better for everyone. Fact.
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Sarah Schulman at Lesbian Lives 2013
Legendary queer activist Sarah Schulman has spoken out against the LGBT Center of New York City and its decision to ban her from a controversial book reading.
February 17, 2013