It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for coming out as LGBTI in the new millennium. Kevin Spacey’s recent coming out met with skepticism as the Oscar-winner used it as an excuse to allegations of sexual harassment against him. Some called it ‘a bad time to come out.’ But is there a good time to come out for celebrities?
“Kevin Spacey has just invented something that has never existed before: a bad time to come out,” tweeted actor and comedian Billy Eichner last Monday. This was in response to Spacey’s hurried admission of being gay in Twitter, in light of allegations of unwanted sexual advances by him in 1986 towards then 14-year-old actor Anthony Rapp.
Oscar-winner Spacey was the latest in a line of Hollywood big names being accused of sexual harassment and, in some cases, more, that was kickstarted about a month ago when a New York Times report detailed accusations by several women of sexual harassment by famous mogul Harvey Weinstein. Since then, many women (and some men) from Hollywood began coming out with harassment stories of their own, against not only Weinstein, but other big names as well.
Kevin Spacey’s story hit another nerve with his response to allegations over Twitter, a bizarre blend of half-hearted apology (“I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior”) and half-hearted coming out (“I choose now to live as a gay man”).
This mess of a message by Spacey wasn’t missed out, blowing up on social media. “No no no no no! You do not get to ‘choose’ to hide under the rainbow!” tweeted Wanda Sykes, the out American actress, comedian and writer. Vanity Fair movie critic Richard Lawson shot out a series of angry tweets, sharing the sentiments of many: “Coming out as a gay man is not the same thing as coming out as someone who preyed on a 14-year-old. Conflating those things is disgusting.”
GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis’ response summarized the apprehension of the LGBTI community. “Coming out stories should not be used to deflect from allegations of sexual assault,” Ellis said. “This is not a coming out story about Kevin Spacey, but a story of survivorship by Anthony Rapp and all those who bravely speak out against unwanted sexual advances.”
Coming out, lying by omission?
If Billy Eichner’s words, “a bad time to come out,” are pretty spot-on, then is there “a good time to come out” for celebrities? Taking Spacey’s timing to come out as the trajectory, then “a good time” would be the opposite, coming out not when you’re falling from grace, but when you’re being applauded. That was the exact timing for both Jodie Foster and TV actor Matt Bomer to come out.
Oscar-winner Foster’s sexual orientation had been a favorite discussion topic among pop culture aficionados for decades. When she finally came out to the public in 2013, she chose to do it addressing millions of TV viewers across the world. Accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes, Foster thanked her longtime partner and co-parent, Cydney Bernard. Similarly, a year before Bomer had thanked his partner Simon Halls in a humanitarian award speech.
Ellen Page, or Kitty Pryde of “X-Men: The Last Stand” to moviegoers, was another celebrity to use a similar occasion to strut her pride. “I am tired of lying by omission,” said Page in Las Vegas at the Human Rights Campaign’s Time to Thrive conference benefiting LGBTI youth. “I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered, my mental health suffered and my relationships suffered. And I’m standing here today, with all of you, on the other side of all that pain.”
Lying by omission had always been the norm in the ironically homophobic eye of the show business. A few names like Elton John had slowly prepared their following, cashing in on extravagant lifestyles at times, coming out gradually. Sir Elton first came out as bisexual in 1976, later divorcing his wife, and coming out in full force more than a decade later.
Coming out on Instagram
But the name that has made coming out an event on its own is the globally-acclaimed talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. In 1997, not only she graced the cover of Time magazine with the famous caption, “Yep, I’m gay,” she orchestrated the titular character in her sitcom to come out as well in the memorable “Susan, I’m gay” scene.
It’s definitely much much easier for celebrities to come out in the new millennium. It’s not unusual to run into articles like “37 celebrities who have come out since 2000” or “10 awesome LGBT celebrities’ stories for Coming Out Day.” Celebrities from younger generations are more and more preferring the web and the social media to come out casually, like Charlie Carver (“Teen Wolf”) coming out on his Instagram account, or Colton Haynes (“Arrow”) using Tumblr, or “Prison Break” heartthrob Wenthworth Miller taking GLAAD’s website as his medium to come out.
In fact, casually mentioning that you’re gay is becoming the norm. Boyband ‘N Sync’s Lance Bass came out as gay in an interview to People magazine in 2006. More famous and more established names are waiting for a snapshot of happy moment in their lives, with longtime boyfriends/girlfriends, husbands/wives, and hopefully children. Ricky Martin and “How I Met Your Mother” star Neil Patrick Harris are two examples, showing off happy lives of nuclear families.
In Turkey, only one recent example comes to mind, award-winning writer Elif Şafak coming out as bisexual recently during her speech as part of TED Talks in New York. She said that she had not come out before because of a fear of “stigma, ridicule and hatred,” adding that, “One should never ever remain silent for fear of complexity.” Many were quick to judge Şafak’s story as mere publicity stunt, some, like Habertürk columnist Oray Eğin, deeming himself as an authority of LGBTI communities, and not accepting Şafak in: “I’m sorry, Elif Şafak’s application was investigated in detail and her ‘gay card’ was not approved.” There are bad times, and bad places to come out.
Originally published in Hürriyet Daily News