April 04, 2007
Out cracks the 'glass closet'
Posted by: Chris
Gay gossip maven Michael Musto penned the current cover story of Out magazine, on how celebrities like Jodie Foster and Anderson Cooper have figured out a way to live gay lives fairly openly without the general public ever being the wiser.
The story is more interesting because of Out's ballsy cover illustration than in anything Musto wrote. After all the gay press, especially my alma mater the Washington Blade, has been writing about both Foster and Cooper, and their glass closets, for years.
But it's a bit of a hoot knowing that in bookstores across the U.S. and internationally, the magazine peering public will see too individuals holding masks of Foster and Cooper, over the headline "The Glass Closet."
I've stated and restated my view on "outing" for years: it's always fair for the media to ask "the question" of public figures and then let the person have their say. If they choose a non-answer, as Foster, Cooper, Clay Aiken, Ricky Martin, Sean Hayes and umpteen others have of late, then so be it. We all know that no bona fide heterosexual has ever refused to answer a question about their sexual orientation, so the non-answer is really an answer, after all.
There's almost never a justification for "going behind" the non-answer — or a claim of heterosexuality — in the case of entertainment celebrities. Only when public figures have actively worked against gay right does their sexual orientation become so newsworthy that it's worth delving some into their private lives. And even then, good editors are always balancing the newsworthiness on the one hand, and the degree of invasion into their personal life, on the other.
Musto does a good job of explaining how the "glass closet" phenomenon works, from the celebrity's rationale (some would say, rationalization) to the media's complicity. It's the latter that gets my goat far more than the former. The publishers of Out magazine — now Planet Out — certainly understand that rationalization, since the publication with the screaming-faggot name is delivered in a plain brown envelope that doesn't identify its contents.
I also like that Musto isn't afraid to point out the inevitable goofs when a glass-closeted celeb accidentally lets their little light shine from behind the bushel:
Keeping the glass up is a high-maintenance job, especially since many celebs are left to do it—or, more often, screw it up—alone. … That would explain the various slipups that happen when the luminaries take their own images by the balls. I was wildly amused some years ago when the terminally noncommittal Sean Hayes was asked by a newspaper interviewer what he likes in a partner and he blurted out that he’s “not into that gay ideal of musclemen.” This from the guy who refuses to label his sexuality. Whoopsy!
I have a similar story about Cooper, who angrily e-mailed me after the Blade reported, in matter of fact fashion, that Cooper had shown up for the GLAAD Media Awards in New York a few years back — before he was on CNN — and quipped from the stage that he hoped to find a boyfriend from the night's festivities. He can claim he's not out, but he said what he said and he didn't challenge the article's accuracy.
Clearly the celebrity treatment of homosexuality has trended along with society's acceptance of gay people. The days of Ellen (and even Rosie's) big coming out party already seem dated. The ho-hum reaction to T.R. Knight ("Grey's Anatomy"), Lance Bass (N Sync) and Neil Patrick Harris ("Doogie Howser, M.D.") isn't just due to their B-list status. As America cares less, so will celebrities.
And someday, both Jodie Foster and Anderson Cooper will ride that wave, and no doubt receive courage awards from gay rights groups when they finally do so.
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