Heather Hogan: Here’s a little known fact about celebrities: They are — how do I say this? — human beings. And, like all other human beings, I think they should have the right to come out in a way that is safe and fulfilling and healthy and emotionally rewarding. See, because another person’s coming out has exactly nothing to do with me, just like my coming out had exactly nothing to do with anyone else. Coming out is one of the most deeply personal decisions someone will ever make, and it’s dynamic too. My experience coming out wasn’t like your experience coming out. And even within my own paradigm, my coming out to my dad wasn’t the same as my coming out to my sister or my best friend or my co-workers or my friend’s parents or my old classmates.
There are dozens of internal and external factors that affect a coming out adventure: psychological ones and biological ones and sociological ones and geographic ones and physiological ones and political ones and on and on and on. Lots of people would like to shake down coming out to some kind of binary ethical equation of wrong and right, shame and pride — but I think that kind of reasoning shows a distinct lack of understanding about the human condition, or a real dearth of empathy, or maybe even a misguided sense of entitlement. Would my life be better if every closeted celebrity came out? Probably. Because visibility of that magnitude would force changes ranging from perception to legislation. Am I thankful for the courage of openly gay celebrities? Heavens to Mergatroid, yes! When a celebrity comes out, I’m giddy beyond the telling of it. But another person’s decision to come out isn’t about what’s best for me; its about what’s best for that individual.
(I should probably say that my opinion is the minority in the gay media community.)
The celebrity coming out that had the greatest impact on me was Jennifer Knapp. When I say she did it “well,” what I mean is: she got in a time machine and traveled to 2001 and wrapped up a very confused, very devout Christian version of me in hug of lezzorama proportions and said, “Lay it down, kid.” (And I did.)
Lesley Goldberg: Like Heather said, coming out is a unique individual experience that can’t be broken down into a formula. Sure, there are the Hollywood coming out parties and magazine covers that mean the world in terms of visibility and equality. But my favorite celebrity coming out stories are those that have little to nothing to do with a book, album or TV show that coincidentally may be being promoted at the time.
When Wanda Sykes came out in November 2008, it was at a rally protesting the passage of Prop. 8 shortly after the anti-gay legislation was passed by California voters. She told the crowd of a thousand people gathered for the rally in Las Vegas — one of hundreds going on across the country that day — that she didn’t feel like she had to discuss her sexual orientation in interviews, but now she felt like she had to. “I was just living my life, not necessarily in the closet, but I was living my life.”
Does it help us when celebrities come out? Absolutely. But like Sykes inferred, it shouldn’t have to be that way. Stars, just like us, have the right to just “be” themselves. Being gay is not the most interesting about Sykes, just as it isn’t for me. Yes, being gay is part of who I am but I don’t make it a point to come out to everyone, I just live my life. I don’t hide the fact that I’m gay (that’d be really hard for me to do, anyway) but I also don’t feel compelled to make sure everyone knows I’m gay, either. I just am. This is how I like my gay celebrities: they just are.
So when someone like Sykes — or Amber Heard — uses their celebrity to fight the hatred and do something for the community to which they belong, it speaks volumes. “We took a huge leap forward and then got dragged 12 feet back. I felt like I was being attacked, personally attacked — our community was attacked,” Sykes said at the rally. “Now, I gotta get in their face. I’m proud to be a woman. I’m proud to be a black woman, and I’m proud to be gay.”
Sykes and Heard came out and publicly discussed their sexual orientation when they were ready and on their terms, with equality being their only agenda. They chose who, they chose when, they chose where. I’m just happy they chose to do it.
Trish Bendix: I totally get that every individual should do what is right for them, but I feel like giving any sort of go-ahead for celebrities to stay closeted until comfortable is setting us back. This goes for any LGBT person — not just public figures. I remember the first time I heard Harvey Milk’s comment on being out:
I would like to see every gay doctor come out, every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out, stand up and let that world know. That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody would imagine. I urge them to do that, urge them to come out. Only that way will we start to achieve our rights.
Melissa Etheridge made similar comments at the March on Washington for LGBT equality in 1993, asking people to come out to their friends, their families, their clerks at the grocery store. And besides the idea of coming out so that you can help progress the rights for yourself and your LGBT brothers and sisters, coming out for yourself is the healthiest thing you can do for you. Ellen DeGeneres later said of that very important day in which Melissa made those comments:
I remember crying, wishing I could be part of the march on Washington in 1993. I thought “This is a huge group of people that I belong to. And I can’t do that because I’m not out.” That was a powerful thing to watch the march and to not be able to be there — it impacted me and tortured me more. I just wanted to be able to be out.
As we know, Ellen famously came out on an episode of her television show and on the cover of Time magazine. And though she suffered professional setbacks for some time, I think we can all agree she is now one of the biggest celebrities in America, if not the world.
So what’s the best way to come out? These people have paved the way for us now to just be out. Bring up your partner when it’s relevant, like you would if you were talking about your boyfriend or your husband. Feel free to correct people if they ask if you have a boyfriend or a husband. Being gay is not something you should have to keep secret or feel ashamed of talking about. Just be yourself, be gay, be out — no announcement needed.
Drummerdeeds: While Tila Tequila‘s televised “I’m a bisexual!” mating call wins her the Crazy Pants Award, Anna Paquin‘s classy coming out for the We Give a Damn campaign’s LGBT equality video demonstrates how a high-profile celebrity’s public acknowledgment of her or his queer identity can send a positive message to queer people, allies, and bigots.
In the video, Paquin declares that she’s bisexual and calls for awareness of the disturbingly high hate crimes committed hourly against queer people. I don’t think that there’s a “best way” for a celeb to come out, but it was refreshing to see the True Blood star and Oscar-winning actress come out for a good cause, rather than a cheap publicity stunt.
OK, your turn — weigh in below!