Anderson Cooper came out as a gay man this morning, via a moving statement on his friend Andrew Sullivan’s blog.
The news was met with a whole lot of “duh!” and a little bit of bitterness. It’s not like Cooper’s sexuality was a big secret—just last week I referred to him as “openly closeted.” Still, he had always refused to answer questions about his sexual orientation, and he didn’t mention it in his memoir. He told Sullivan that he had wanted to maintain his privacy, to protect his safety and the safety of those accompanying him on reporting trips, and generally to put the focus on his subjects rather than on himself. All of which is very admirable and reasonable, but once he took up residence on a daytime talk-show’s sofa, his desire for privacy was almost certainly doomed. Well, he could have stayed schtum about his private life, but that probably would have doomed Anderson: The modern talk-show format requires the host to offer the audience an endless series of tiny glimpses into their fabulous lives, a very slow-motion striptease of secrets.
And of course, once a rumor reaches critical mass, the closeted celebrity loses the benefit of secrecy. As Cooper said in his statement, “I have found that sometimes the less an interview subject knows about me, the better I can safely and effectively do my job as a journalist.” That ship sailed a long time ago.
Whenever people come out, be they public figures or bus drivers, the announcement is inevitably met by complaints that they’re “flaunting it.” Someone is always ready to wish that the love that dare not speak its name would shut up already. But it does matter that gay men and lesbians come out: Negative attitudes to gay people decline when people have an openly gay friend or relative in their lives. After all, we’re not monsters or freaks, we’re just as boring and fabulous and flawed—and as deserving of full civil rights—as the rest of you.
But the most important part of Anderson Cooper’s statement is the following:
It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something—something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid.
There is nothing wrong with being gay, but refusing to talk about one’s sexuality makes it seem as though there might be. It also reflects the insidious reality of homophobia—people hide the truth about who they love for the same reasons that people hide their religion, their political views, or complicated family structures: because they’re afraid that someone will use it against them. There’s usually a real basis for this fear.
Anderson Cooper is a successful, rich, attractive guy. I’m glad he isn’t afraid to show his true self anymore.