Thursday, 4 February 2010

Gay Celebrities Don’t Have To Come Out?

Celebrities like Michael Urie and Matt Bomer have been getting hammered recently for not being more vocal about their sexuality. Bomer, who was pictured kissing up on another man, defensively explained that he’s “completely happy and fulfilled in my personal life” and doesn’t give two shits that people think he’s gay. Urie, meanwhile, argued that he didn’t feel the need to declare his sexuality, a move that had this site’s owner saying Urie’s an “anti-activist,” because coming out’s “the most powerful and necessary action any LGBT person can make.” The Ugly Betty actor did, however, say that he’s dating a man, so he’s being criticized for not coming out enough. This debate makes me wonder: Should it be someone’s duty to declare his sexuality? We’re constantly coming out, so how often and when does it need to be done? Should people be required to come out and show the world a positive gay face?

Activism, like gay people, comes in many forms. Coming out counts as an example, yes, but not coming out isn’t harmful. It would be nice if Urie, who plays one of television’s most hilarious gay characters, could own up to it, rather than relying on the “it could hurt my career” excuse and insisting that just because he’s with a man now, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s “gay.” He’s queer. Fine, whatever. But Urie’s parsing and Bomer’s avoidance both fit into a Hollywood model, their approaches are not necessarily harmful. They’re weak and lamentable, yes, but in the long run not calamitous. Staying in the closet only hurts when it’s coupled with harmful action, like anti-gay legislation, hence the moral relativism of outing a politician.

While the “coming out can hurt a career” argument has grown a bit dated in the wake of Neil Patrick Harris, it can be evoked, as in the queer case of Anderson Cooper. It’s no big secret that Cooper’s dating a man. Some people, however, insist he should take the next step out of the closet. Kathy Griffin recently argued against outing him because he goes to third world countries that aren’t always hospitable to the gays. That’s a valid point, yes, and one that I have made in the past. Whether or not it’s right remains open to debate. It does, however, bring up another, far more pressing question: does being gay have to come first?

There was a time when I definitely would have said that gay people, especially high-profile actors, should come out the closet. I still think that’s true: it’s always wonderful to have strong gay role models, like Neil Patrick Harris or Jane Lynch, and gay people today should constantly be aware of past and present struggles. And thank goodness the Proposition 8 and hate crime battles helped energize a new generation of activists. But as time goes on and I become a little older, though not necessarily wiser, I’m beginning to see that we all have to wear our sexuality in the way that suits us best. Being gay does not have to be the primary part of someone’s personality. In no way am I saying one should hide their gay ways – that’s just cowardly – and fighting for gay rights should be everyone’s concern, but there also comes a time when people need to focus on other parts of themselves, rather than the parts they use in bed.

Yes, actors and other celebrities have a responsibility to set a good example, and, in my opinion, should take advantage of their platform for progressive causes. But to say that celebrities have to come out forces them to make a decision they may not be comfortable with, and that isn’t fair. We may be disappointed that celebrities cop out and stay in the closet, but we should respect their decision, even if it means losing respect for the people themselves.

Source: AKA William