Is there ever ‘a good time’ to come out?
“Kevin Spacey has just invented something that never existed before: a bad time to come out,” tweeted actor and comedian Billy Eichner last Monday. His tweet was a response to Spacey’s hurried admission of being gay on Twitter, after the Oscar-winner was accused of making unwanted sexual advances towards then 14-year-old actor Anthony Rapp in 1986.
Spacey is the last in a long line of Hollywood superstars accused of sexual harassment and, in some cases, more. The New York Times kick-started the latest sexual scandals saga about a month ago with a report detailing accusations of sexual harassment made by several woman against famous mogul Harvey Weinstein. Since then, many women (and some men) from Hollywood circles have come out with harassment stories of their own, targeting not only Weinstein, but other big names too.
Spacey’s story hit a special nerve because of the way his tweets responded to the allegations - 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”).
Social media singled out this mess of a message. “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 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 when you’re not falling from grace, but in the midst of applause. It was at such a time that Jodie Foster and TV actor Matt Bomer chose 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 in 2013, she addressed 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. On a similar note, a year before Bomer 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 who used a similar occasion to strut her pride. “I am tired of lying by omission,” said Page in Las Vegas at Time to Thrive, a Human Rights conference organized for the benefit of LGBTI youth. “I suffered for years because I was scared to come 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 has long been the norm in the homophobic environs of show business. A few names such as Elton John slowly prepared their followers for the revelation, cashing in on extravagant lifestyles, and coming out gradually. Elton John first came out as bisexual in 1976. He later divorced his wife and came 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, she not only graced the cover of Time magazine with the famous caption: “Yep, I’m gay,” but orchestrated the coming out of the title character in her sitcom with the memorable “Susan, I’m gay” scene.
It’s definitely much easier for celebrities to come out in the new millennium. It’s not unusual to run into articles such as “37 celebrities who have come out since 2000” or “10 awesome LGBT celebrities’ stories for Coming Out Day.” Celebrities from younger generations increasingly prefer the web and social media to come out in a more casual way. Charlie Carver (“Teen Wolf”) is a good example. He came out on his Instagram account. So is Colton Haynes (“Arrow”), who used Tumblr, or “Prison Break” heartthrob Wentworth Miller, who revealed his sexual preference through the GLAAD’s website.
People who casually mention being 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 a happy moment in their lives, with longtime partners and possibly even children in the frame. Ricky Martin and “How I Met Your Mother” star Neil Patrick Harris are two such examples. They enjoyed showing off their happy nuclear families.
In Turkey, only one recent example comes to mind, that of award-winning writer Elif Şafak, who recently came out as bisexual during her speech as part of the TED Talks in New York. Şafak said she had delayed coming out up to now because she feared “stigma, ridicule and hatred.” “One should never remain silent for fear of complexity,” she said.
However, many were quick to judge Şafak’s story as a publicity stunt. Some, such as Habertürk columnist Oray Eğin, did not spare the vitriol. A self-declared authority on LGBTI identities, Eğin rejected Şafak’s moment of truth with the words: “I’m sorry, Elif Şafak’s application was investigated in detail and her ‘gay card’ was not approved.”
There certainly seem to be bad times - and bad places - to come out.