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

Last year, pop star Lance Bass confirmed he was gay to People magazine, after a series of photos of him with his then-boyfriend Reichen Lehmkuhl were first published on gossip sites online, then referenced in mainstream media outlets. In this situation, Bass was clearly outed, because the photos were taken without his knowledge and consent, so did not write about him as openly gay prior to his statement in People.

Portia de Rossi was outed in tabloids in 2003 much the same way, but did not come out until much later. We did publish an article on back then about the outing of de Rossi, but primarily in order to explore what we saw as the beginnings of the sea change that has now occurred.

In contrast, couples like Lohan and Ronson, and Jones and Paulson, and of course, Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, have all willingly allowed their relationship to be captured by the public, albeit to varying degrees.

DeGeneres and de Rossi’s wedding in Aug. 2008

It’s a fine line sometimes, I’ll admit, but one that is increasingly possible — and necessary — to draw.

Straight celebrities don’t announce their heterosexuality, we just make assumptions from their behavior. In the past, we haven’t been able to makes the same conclusions about celebrities in same-sex relationships, because their day-to-day behavior was not widely reported on, so an announcement was necessary to counter the prevailing assumption of heterosexuality.

That’s not so true anymore.

One of the most encouraging aspects to Lohan’s story is the positive influence it may have on those young women who have followed her life and career over the last several years.

Not only will they see a very popular (if controversial) young woman living openly in a lesbian relationship, but the press is giving her girlfriend credit for helping Lohan get her life back on track.

In July, L.A. police Chief William Bratton said at a press conference that he had less problems with the paparazzi since Lohan had “gone gay,” adding that Lohan’s relationship with Ronson had “quieted her down” (Lohan’s response was to chastise Bratton publicly by saying, “Police chiefs shouldn’t get involved in everyone else’s business when it comes to their personal life. It’s inappropriate.”)

In the Marie Claire interview, the reporter asked Lohan outright whether Samantha is responsible for the positive changes in her life, to which Lohan replied, “[Samantha's] a great person. And she’s a great influence on people around her. But I think that anything that’s changed in my life is because of me. I’ve gone through it and I’ve had to deal with it and I’ve made the decision to move forward.”

While I believe Lohan is right to take most of the credit herself, the fact that the mainstream media is attributing her positive turnaround in part to a romantic relationship with Ronson is something we never would have seen even five years ago.

This can’t help but make things just a little bit easier for teenagers struggling with their sexuality.

“I’m sure there are a lot of girls out there who are so much more comfortable because they love Mean Girls and Lindsay’s dating a girl,” actress Kirsten Dunst recently told Harper’s Bazaar. “I think that couldn’t be better.”

Lohan and Ronson at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week

I agree, and moving forward, we’ll begin covering women like Lohan on more — women who are “out” in their actions, if not in their words. It’s going to be a little murkier from an editorial standpoint, and require more subjective judgment calls, but that’s just the reality of the entertainment landscape today.

I still reserve the right not to write about young female celebrities who represent all the wrong things, though. I’ll just call it the “No Britney, Paris or Tila” rule now.

9/23/08 UPDATE: A week after this article was published, Lohan confirmed her relationship with Ronson in a radio interview. Read about it here.

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