Anderson Cooper’s coming out message to friend Andrew Sullivan is probably the email read all over the world. After years of keeping his personal life under close scrutiny, he finally decided that the closet was too tight a space for him and took a comfortable step under society’s huge microscope.
While there are some that jokingly say that it’s about time that he said it, there are some like myself that applaud his courage. After all, this isn’t a musician or actor, whose job is still secure for the most part. This is a journalist, who has to objectively speak to people of different religious, moral and sexual points of view. This is a journalist that has done media coverage in extremely sexually conservative Middle Eastern nations during war times. This is a man that at least could’ve gotten fired. And he had the bravery to declare that position, knowing that would bring his objectivity into question and make certain types of news out of reach for him.
Having said that, there’s a bigger question there for me – why?
This is not ignoring the fact that LGBT people have to be deliberate about how they disclose this and to whom, something that heterosexuals don’t have to deal with. But is the power still with those with fame and privilege and authority coming out? I wanna immediately contradict my previous paragraph by saying that Cooper is relatively safe. CNN cannot fire the most famous out journalist in the world, and anyone who harmed a hair on his head could be instantly charged for a hate crime. If I, a humble journalist in training, said I was gay on a popular website, I probably couldn’t even get work at a tabloid.
I’m sure that a lot of you guys don’t know what standpoint epistemology is, so I’ll keep it simple – a rich, affluent, white gay male can’t truly be the voice of victimhood for the LGBT community. His job, housing, healthcare and life are all still in safe hands, aren’t they? He’s definitely no David Yost.
There is a politics to disclosure around sexual orientation, and the more labels you have the harder that is. For David Yost, a struggling young -adult actor in the US, his sexual orientation still had a very strong chance of getting in the way of him keeping his job and making money to sustain himself. For David Yost, his sexual orientation was a plot point, that dictated whether chapters of his life would end good or bad. For the rich and successful Elton Johns and Matt Bomers and Anderson Coopers, it’s just a character trait.
And me? I’m a young, middle-class, unemployed afro-Trinidadian male. To most, that means that the only way that I would be involved in LGBT rights work is if someone close to me or I myself were gay. I’ve been asked on television, by family members and friends and even members of the community, and to everyone that doesn’t know me personally I say that my sexuality doesn’t matter. But even that allows people to believe that I am gay and ashamed to come out. However if I say I’m straight, I’m a liar or experimenting or (and this has happened) the person that the religious fundamentalists corner to say that this work is wrong.
As far as how to come out goes, there are possibly more impacting ways. Singer Frank Ocean revealed his bisexuality, but not in a press conference or interview. He came out in his album. Of course this means that it’s something that he’ll still have to deal with in the public eye, but it also means that people are exposed to and asked to deal with his sexuality with a bit more analysis, and a lot more thoughtfulness. It’s something that they experience artistically along with him by enjoying his music, and can respond to bisexuality as a natural human experience that can be responded to in that way.
Maybe I’m being unfair to Mr. Cooper. After all, he didn’t just become gay yesterday. But I think we need to rediscover the impact of coming out of the closet. That impact has never been with those who could say it safely, but rather those who say it in their fight for that safety.