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    April 05, 2007

    'Wait for the celebrity' game

    Posted by: Chris

    Lilytomlin To the "glass closet" examples of Anderson Cooper and Jodie Foster, Rex Wockner adds the example of Lily Tomlin, who (finally) acknowledged she was gay in a late 2000 interview on cable access TV (of all places) and even then did so almost in passing. From an article Wockner wrote at the time about the interview:

    Speaking to journalist Ann Northrop in late November, Tomlin said: "I'm not going to make a big national case of it which is what, really, everybody would like to do, or some people. But in most articles, most people refer to Jane [Wagner] as my partner or my life-partner or whatever. ... We've been around so long and been through so much and I always kind of took a lot of stuff for granted and I just never -- I also never wanted to be anybody's spokesperson or poster person. You know, I see what happens to too many people."

    Tomlin has subsequently talked about being gay in a number of interviews, almost all in the gay press. For whatever reason, the mainstream media has almost entirely ignored the story — perhaps because Tomlin has been mostly out of the spotlight for a number of years now, save a few movie roles here and there.

    But I do have to roll my eyes a bit when Tomlin, like Rosie O'Donnell would later, claims never to have been "in" the closet, asking rhetorically how she could then come out. O'Donnell even had the nerve to act surprised at all the fuss (most of which she had scripted), pointing out that she had been accompanied by her girlfriend to many public events.

    Yes, but the media was playing the tacit game of "wait for the celebrity" to open the closet door before including their partner in coverage. I remember one particularly notorious gossip item in a New York tabloid that mentioned Rosie had been accompanied by "an attractive blonde" to a Knicks game. Only a few nerds out there realize that "blonde" with an "e" refers to women, while "blond" with no "e" refers to a man. Talk about subtlety!

    Mostly, Tomlin and O'Donnell's own history belies their claim to have never been "in" the closet. No celebrity who so studiously avoids talking about being gay or having a same-sex partner for that many years, knowing the rules of the "wait for the celebrity" game, can then with a straight face claim to always have been "open."

    It's not as if Tomlin has any difficulty expressing herself...



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    1. Sarah Spelled the Right Way on Apr 6, 2007 12:14:20 PM:

      When Rosie came out it boosted her career and Barbara Walters loves her. Speaking of, my partner has always thought Barbara is a lesbian. When Lily Tomlin came out she wasn't a huge movie star, but then again neither is Jodie Foster. I think it has a lot to do with privacy and even though they're movie stars they still want to keep as much as possible private. What about Kevin Spacey?

    1. Silas on Apr 6, 2007 6:58:26 PM:

      Rosie's coming out did not boost her career. She came out in January '02 and by May the ratings for "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" were down by more than 33%. She has since had to deal with all the stereotypes about lesbians that she didn't before she was out. She has become a proxy for anti-gay people to attack gay people since she has some unpopular opinions. I wish some gay person could grab a hold of her and tell her to calm down. When people look at Rosie or any other gay person they don't see them as individuals but as representatives of an entire community. Even though I don't like it that is what reality is at this time. So that means gay people have to hold themselves to a higher standard.

    1. Silas on Apr 6, 2007 9:33:45 PM:

      I forgot to add this.

      Chris, the media in general are not going to be responsible for outing gay celebrities until every gay couple can kiss and hold hands in public without fear. I'm not giving straight people the right to decide anymore things a gay person can do or when they do it. It is gay people that have to live with the consequences of straight people's actions. Whether it is a straight person outing a gay person or living in fear of getting beat up for holding hands because straight people don't like it. When will gay people realize that we are not straight people's servants doing as they please? We have our OWN lives.

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