June is Gay Pride Month, so everybody’s talkin’ about gay people. Yesterday the New York Observer took a look at the business of outing celebrities (while slyly suggesting that Gossip Girl star Chase Crawford might indeed be in a glass closet himself). Today Entertainment Weekly shared a sneak peak at this week’s cover story, which focuses on "the new art" of coming out. On the cover are popular TV actors like Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jane Lynch, Zachary Quinto, Neil Patrick Harris, and Jim Parsons, as well as comedian Wanda Sykes and Bravo’s Andy Cohen. But is this a rising trend or just a puffy trend piece?
It’s true that we’ve come a very long way from when Ellen DeGeneres came out fifteen years ago, which truly ushered in a new age in which LGBTQ actors (and, hell, normal people) were seen in a completely different light. For a community still struggling with the impact of HIV/AIDS and continued discrimination, DeGeneres and her show’s treatment of her sexuality was groundbreaking—displaying it matter-of-factly and as a normal thing rather than something to be terrified of or find revolting. While her show was cancelled soon after, she bounced right back and is today a much-loved TV personality. And her coming out certainly inspired others to do the same. As EW says on its site:
Even if it’s accomplished in a subordinate clause or a passing reference, coming out casually is, in its way, as activist as DeGeneres’ Time cover, although few of these actors would probably choose to label themselves as such. The current vibe for discussing one’s sexuality is almost defiantly mellow: This is part of who I am, I don’t consider it a big deal or a crisis, and if you do, that’s not my problem. It may sound like a shrug, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for indifference. By daring anyone to overreact, the newest generation of gay public figures is making a clear statement that there is a “new normal” — and it consists of being plainspoken, clear, and truthful about who you are.
But, are people being plainspoken, clear, and truthful? Jim Parsons made headlines when his sexuality was revealed in a New York Times profile last month, but it was buried in the end of piece. Is it not a big deal that someone on a high-rated show is gay and has kept it mostly hidden from his audience for years? EW also brings up T.R. Knight’s name, but you may remember that he was outed after gossipy rumors about his sexuality circulated online following a on-set fight in which his Grey’s Anatomy co-star Isaiah Washington called him a "faggot."
And what can we say about the fact that there are still no major film actors who are open and out? Isn’t it still clear that an actor’s sexuality impacts his or her career? Of the eight celebrities on the magazine’s cover, only three have recently played or are currently playing gay characters on TV. (Neil Patrick Harris, for example, has been playing a womanizing sleazeball for years.) In an industry in which most gay characters are reserved for straight actors (actors who are then lauded with awards for bravely portraying those who are generally doomed), I ask this question: Should we reward a handful of people who treat their sexuality with a casual shrug, or should we ask for more? After all, there are still people who every day struggle with their sexuality, often keeping it hidden from friends and loved ones out of fear. Whether you want to admit it or not, coming out is still sort of a big deal.