Anderson Cooper came out. Jim Parsons came out. Ricky Martin came out. Neil Patrick Harris and George Takei are out all over the place. Each one of these celebrity outings has weakened the walls of the closet that much more.
In his eloquent coming out statement, Mr. Cooper explains that he always wanted to keep his private life private, for personal and professional reasons. But then he states:
It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something – something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true.
– Quoted from Andrew Sullivan’s “The Dish”
As Zach Ford rightly states at Think Progress, there is a difference between one’s sexuality and one’s sex life. We don’t need to know about Anderson Cooper’s sex life. We don’t need to know about any celebrity’s sex life, though such fluff is often fodder for the tabloids. But one’s sexuality is part of one’s being. It might not be as obvious as one’s race — my skin tends to give that away, for example — but it is still just a basic building block like red hair or brown eyes. Society, however, continues to attach a double standard to sexuality if the sexuality is anything but heterosexual. One’s sexuality, in other words, is only a private thing when one is not straight.
Think about it. How many times in casual conversation does one hear, “yeah, my wife/girlfriend and I this” or “my husband/boyfriend and I that,” with the speaker being a member of the opposite sex? Such statements get dropped without the slightest hesitation. But make the gender of both parties the same, and then it’s all “Oh I don’t need to know about your private life!” even if all one is talking about is a boring trip to Target. That’s nonsense. The double standard also makes causal conversation potentially awkward for queer folks. Do we tell the truth about going to Target with our significant other last weekend, or do we hide that part of our lives? Coming out can be a full time job, when really it oughtn’t be.
The other double standard, of course, as well documented by history, is that there can be a severe price for coming out. It has cost people their livelihoods. It has cost people their lives. We recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, the genius who helped to crack the Nazi’s Enigma Code during World War II. He’s also considered the father of modern computer science. For his troubles, this war hero and innovator was charged with the UK’s arcane indecency laws — the same ones that got Oscar Wilde into trouble some 50 odd years earlier — and faced a choice of forced chemical castration or imprisonment. He chose suicide.
We’ve come a long way from those dark days, but many, including those in the public eye, continue to find false refuge inside the closet. The closet may keep you alive and employed, but it eats away at your soul. The good news is that this is changing. With each coming out, the closet walls are getting thinner and thinner. When Jim Parsons came out a couple of weeks ago, many message board comments expressed astonishment over his age rather than his sexuality. (“Really? He’s 39???”) None of the folks noted above have experienced lack of work after coming out. As I said, Neil Patrick Harris is everywhere. I think it’s safe to say that Mr. Cooper’s gigs will remain intact. Even a generation ago, this would not have necessarily been the case.
The closet walls are thinning. Soon they’ll be like wet crepe paper, where you can just step through them as if they weren’t there at all.
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.