Visibility Matters: Lindsay Lohan and the New Definition of “Out”

Lohan and Ronson have accompanied each other almost everywhere for over two years now. They attend public events together, like last week’s VMA’s and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, and they wear matching rings.

Lindsay’s mom has spoken out in support of their relationship (without specifying what it is); Samantha’s brother’s now ex-girlfriend described the two as “a lovely couple” in an interview; and there have been more paparazzi photos of them hanging out, kissing, and even grocery-shopping together than most people can track of.

Lohan with Ronson at an Entertainment Weekly party in Aug. 2006

Last Saturday, the two women walked through LAX smiling and holding hands, and on Sunday, they jointly posted a note on Lindsay’s MySpace blog encouraging their fans to vote for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, and calling out Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin on her anti-gay views. “Is our country so divided that the Republicans best hope is a narrow minded, media obsessed homophobe? Palin’s Desire to “save and convert the gays”-really??” they wrote in the blog post, which they signed “xoxo Lindsay and Samantha.” (The post was widely quoted by the media, but most press outlets only attributed it to Lohan.)

Lohan might not be on the cover of Time saying “Yep, I’m Gay” (she declined an offer from OK! magazine to come out on their cover), but she’s on the cover of Marie Claire this month talking about what a great influence Samantha has been on her life — refusing to confirm the exact nature of their relationship, but talking about their matching tattoos, and how excited she is to be buying a house with an unnamed someone.

Meanwhile, every gossip and mainstream entertainment site is reporting on rumors of an engagement between Lohan and Ronson (Lohan’s rep denies it’s true), MTV News reported Monday that “Lindsay Lohan Calls Out Sarah Palin for Homophobia”, and Radar magazine recently published a lengthy article devoted to the relationship between the two women.

(Comedian Bridget McManus and I were interviewed separately for the Radar article and we were both misquoted significantly enough that we contacted the magazine for a retraction; Radar‘s editor denies any inaccuracy, but when pressed, admitted the reporter did not use a recording device, but quoted us from notes she took during our very lengthy phone interviews.)

All of which begs the question: Is an announcement even necessary when your behavior already tells the story?

Actress Saffron Burrows (My Own Worst Enemy, The Bank Job), 35, came out as bisexual in 1999, telling Tatler magazine in 2000, “If I was going to make a broad generalization, I’d say that I prefer the company of women. … On one level, privacy is important but, on another level, I have no desire to deny certain things.”

But in the almost 10 years since then, Burrows has rarely been photographed with her alleged partner, actress Fiona Shaw (the Harry Potter movies), 50. They almost never attend public events together, and don’t talk about each other in interviews. Yet both are listed on Britain’s Pink List each year, and openly referred to by most of the press as a couple.

The separation of the actresses’ personal and private lives is obviously intentional, and I’m not criticizing it. But if actions truly speak louder than words, you could argue that Lohan and Ronson are more “out” than Burrows and Shaw.

There are other couples who are redefining the word “out,” like Broadway actress Cherry Jones (24), 51, and Sarah Paulson (Cupid, The Spirit), 33, who attended the Tony Awards together in 2005 as a couple, but only occasionallydiscuss their relationship publicly.

Saffron Burrows (left); Cherry Jones and Sarah Paulson

So what really makes you “out” today? Does it qualify if you live your life openly with a partner of the same gender, but don’t actually say you’re living your life openly with a partner of the same gender?

I believe the answer is yes, but I also believe editors and writers across the country will be struggling with this issue for the next few years — including the staff at our brother site,, which covers gay and bisexual men in entertainment and the media.

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