Outing (And Why Gay Celebrities Need to Leave the Closet)

I got in “trouble” for outing someone. I don’t really feel like explaining it. It is much better if you actually just watch the video:

I got in big Twitter fights about it. (If you want to see them, they can be viewed here.) Twitter fights are kind of unfair, because there’s not enough ammunition in 140 characters. It’s just a bit of gunpowder and smoke and misspellings. No one really gets hit as hard as they should. I would love a social media site called “Book” with not just unlimited characters but unlimited chapters and bibliography-style hashtags. The sound that my iPhone would make would be that of a huge, leatherbound encyclopedia shutting really dustily: “You’ve got a new Book!” Then, if you want to fight, you can really throw the book at them!

I want to write a book on the subject of homophobia and outing, but that would take more words than I know, more pain than I wish to uncover, more rage than my heart can handle in its already weakened state, having been broken long ago thanks to a life of tragedy and blood, bullying and suicide, hatred and disease and so much death.

Outing celebrities has always been a popular pastime. It has its roots in the golden age of cinema, when gossip mavens and trashy tabloids would sling rumors about Rock Hudson or Valentino or Pola Negri or Ramon Navarro. I wasn’t around then, so I can’t tell how those early cinematic queers really felt about it, because even though the truth about their sexual orientation may have been common knowledge, no one really believed it. Or did they?

Like life, it was harder for some. It was a Sisyphean uphill battle for Liberace, who was constantly lobbing lawsuits at the media as he sat behind his gilded baby grand trying to proclaim his predilection for mature women. But who could look upon Liberace’s rhinestone athletic socks and think for a moment that his glitter-blind, semen-reddened eye had ever come to rest upon a vagina?

I wish I had known him. I wish I had hagged him. I loved him, and I saw his queerness in myself. Liberace made me feel safe inside when I didn’t even know why I was dangerous. I wish Liberace had come out at the height of his fame. I think so many more people would have survived what would be our deadliest years. Perhaps he couldn’t have, but I still don’t understand why he couldn’t have.

I learned about outing in the ’80s and ’90s from the fiery, political homosexual men who raised me. They believed in Harvey Milk and walked for miles with candles after his assassination in 1978. You can see them in their great numbers in the film Milk, a deep, blue ocean of my family, grieving, unbelieving. I come from this watershed time in queer history, when we were at war with homophobia, at war with ignorance, at war with our most formidable enemy, AIDS.

There were many grassroots gay political organizations becoming active then. We buried our soldiers every day, and then we came back to fight even harder because our ranks had grown smaller. I wish we had a military cemetery for those fallen soldiers, but all we have is a quilt. It’s a nice one, though. I love that quilt. I have cried so many tears on it. It’s heavy with the hopeless slaughter of an entire generation who should be remembered as veterans. AIDS was a war that they fought and did not come back from. We miss them. They are our heroes.

We wanted gay celebrities to come out because we were dying, and we needed help. I still feel this way.

My history in show business spans over a quarter of a century, and I have seen many people in the industry struggle with coming out, only to find much more success after they finally did. I have comforted many shaking hands worrying at rolled-up tabloids like worry beads, and I’ve borne witness to sorrowful shouts of “But it’s my business! It’s my private life!” I felt for them, but at the same time I didn’t understand, because they didn’t come from where I came from. They didn’t see any of the sickness and the suffering. They didn’t get really good at closing caskets or have that cremation smell permanently embedded in their clothes and hair. They were younger, or they were working on their careers and their wonderful talents, getting more and more successful and happy — then suddenly secure enough to come out. Their lives, as far as I could tell as part-innocent-bystander and part-industry-insider, seemed to improve greatly as a terrible fear was lifted, a terrible fear of themselves.

I want this for everyone. I want us all to feel good as ourselves. I want us all to feel good about ourselves. We deserve this. Our lives are hard enough as it is.

If public figures came out of the closet, then the LGBT kids who saw them on TV would feel safe, before they even knew why they felt dangerous. Maybe if enough people came out of the closet, gay kids would never feel dangerous. Maybe we could have a world where we could all just live. We may not all agree, but why can’t we just all live?

I have seen too much death to take things lightly. I don’t have a prescription for a chill pill. I don’t think that I am asking so much of celebrities. I don’t think I am asking that much of the world.

14 thoughts on “Outing (And Why Gay Celebrities Need to Leave the Closet)

  1. the idea of the closet — but the idea of homophobia or hate crimes — all of it horrible. yet, i wonder about the mere plopping down to sit with other queer people at random places — yet, not being in the closet while on a homophobic project with no salary — it’s been interesting to see our contemporary versions of uncle toms piggy-backing on silence=death — as what does it say when someone working for a community or varied communities made up of multiple minorities but in the end, this joy ride with syphilitic priests in a whorehouse in vegas abutting that casino with donuts for pork pie and corn-holing us hookers to a back door muffin with the frying oil from the treat for the man in blue??

    yes, that closet, but at least there is a new library in WeHo. it’s lovely. but, to hit varied neighborhoods and plop down with some other fags beyond the limitations of a stifled culture with those films starring those closeted constellations. none of it’s very bright in the end.

    i LOVE you.

  2. When I was very young my parents divorced. My Mom used to tell me about my Uncle David, who used to help babysit me. She said he used to rock me to sleep, help me back to health when I was sick, change my shitty diapers – all of that. And she said my Dad used to call him “Matilda”, the inference being that he was effeminate. I didn’t really know what gay was until I was 15 or so, and by then my parents had been divorced so long that I never had any contact with Uncle Dave. I heard he had moved to Chicago and had 2 failed marriages and one son, but that’s all I knew.

    Then when I was 25 I made the trek from Kentucky to California where my Dad lived, just after I got married to a lovely black lady. We moved out there to get away from the ignorance which pervades much of KY. We loved it there, and we found out that Uncle Dave had finally quit marrying women, had come out of the closet, and lived in San Francisco with his friend, whom we referred to as Uncle George. My Dad had finally evolved to the point where he accepted David, his brother, finally, just as he was, gay and all. They went to baseball games in Oakland and car races at Laguna Seca and were finally able to spend time together. Dad said he could finally respect him because he at least had the balls to come out and say out loud that he was gay. My Dad was an old WW2 vet from the Navy and had known many closeted people I’m sure. I’ve known a few myself, and they have always been much happier, better people after they come out.

    Many time I have been accused of being gay, just because I don’t take part in gay jokes and making fun of others. I usually have the last word when these discussions come up because people finally see themselves for the assholes they are capable of being once I’ve had my say. I’m just glad I was able to spend some time with my uncle, going to concerts and out to eat, smoking a ton of weed while on trips to Monterey or Lake Tahoe or Reno. And in his last years when he moved back to Louisville after he contracted cancer of the pancreas he always depended on me to get his “medicine” for him, to help ease the pain. I’m glad we got to know each other so well and that I finally was able to thank him for all he did for me when I was a baby.

    Take care of each other – LOVE each other, and the labels won’t have any power and will completely fall away after awhile.

    John in Kentucky

  3. hey margaret — this is a lovely post. i loved KY even though i recognize it’s variance from CA. yet, being in LA through my entire 46 years while visiting/living on 4 continents, it’s tragic to see that my experience being on the streets of major cities has been the most tragic artistic experience EVER — having known plenty of people to whom i’d give credit for very touching work regardless of our personal differences, but the hatred + bigotry of these 12-15 years (with much in LA) limiting this project including plenty of gay uncle toms– WOW. so when you out people — it’s hilarious in a way. as uncle toms did some horrible crap while i was on the road — even after caretaking their asses. it’s just been horrible that LA has been so incredibly limted as there is plenty that i genuinely love about the place but it must be that the bodhi tree closed. too many chakras are out of alignment. peace be with you.

  4. i’ve been OUT but it seems that i’ve had a crew in my life that is either hateful, fraudulent christians, closeted uncle toms, or out people who are out of the closet but not out of the ghetto bubble. somehow, i associate more in life than bars + backrooms — which are great at points, but so is hospitality or meeting, yet, it seems from my time on the road in 500+ places — there are people who are NOT out of their ghetto bubble and missing the point on several things that have made for a very ugly laundry list to keep several attorneys busy for awhile. such a shame. just in LA, and i LOVE LA — but, some people have been involved with some amazingly shallow, hateful trash — silence = death and such a tragic amount of bad karma coming with that package. such a shame when there could have been such a variety of affairs beyond isolation. oh well. such a diseased web some weave — worse than AIDS actually.

  5. I’ve always wondered why celebrities or any person society deems successful, would wait until late in their careers to come out of the closet. I thought maybe they had no self acceptance and that once they came clean, their careers would to go to shit because we live in an unacceptable world whether we are ready to admit it or not. Take for example, Jason Collins with 6 years, at most, left on his NBA career and Roy Hibbert’s comment “no homo”. Would Hibbert apologize if he wasn’t fined? What prompted such a comment in the first place? Is it insecurity or plain ignorance?

    I have this embedded in my memory bank because this held true for myself and I have struggled in the same way: “it’s going to be really hard to find messages of self-love and support anywhere. It’s all about how you have to look a certain way or else you’re worthless.” (Margaret Cho). Maybe our celebrities did not and still do not have the support needed to come out of the closet? How much genuine support can money buy? Because after all-celebrity or not-isn’t that what we seek? Someone who will genuinely love us and support us through it all.

    But regardless if we do or do not find that love and support we seek, I say take the bull by the horns and come plowing out of that closet! Life becomes much easier because we learn to love and accept ourselves even better. Then we realize….it isn’t that bad after all and we had placed a facade on our realities which has nothing to do with identifying ourselves as intimately loving the same sex. Start peeling the layers.

    Thank you Margaret Cho and those who have helped shape you to become who you are! YOU are truly wonderful!

  6. Not your call to make for others, Ms. Cho. You are projecting your own life and your own issues onto the lives of others, which means you are either clueless or arrogant. Either way, you have no clue to whether you are causing very personal damage to the lives of celebrities you do not even know well if at all because you are not their intimate. Unless a person is targeting gay people for discrimination, they have a right to control their own boundaries for their own reasons and to do so without having to explain it to countless strangers. Individuals are not cannon fodder for our personal crusades.

  7. Good luck being hired for future movies after showing producers and directors you will talk out of school after-the-fact about people you say you know “well.” (Well? Don’t think so.) Entertainment is about suspension of reality, and having someone who will gossip about their coworkers’ private lives interferes with that goal, diminishing the actor’s ability to draw large audiences. How can they afford to risk hiring you now? As an advocate, you will find work, but it won’t be as lucrative as the entertainment business at the level you’ve worked in the past.

  8. “…having someone who will gossip about their coworkers’ private lives…” Barbylonia, people gossip about celebrities’ private lives all the time. There are numerous print magazines and blogs devoted to precisely this sort of gossip. What you mean, obviously, that *gay* private lives should be off-limits, no matter how hypocritical the studios and executives are with their compulsory, manufactured heterosexuality for all celebrities. Entertainment is indeed about the suspension of disbelief, as you say. So just as we didn’t require real werewolves and vampires to be cast in the Twilight series, and don’t need real alcoholics to play alcoholics on screen, we don’t need to maintain the fiction that all stars are straight in order to be a convincing leading man or woman and sell a heterosexual love story.

  9. Margaret, You are not funny and have not been funny since the 1990’s. Your act is the same for the last 20 years. Yea you do the racist Asian imitation of your Korean parents, use foul language, talk about filthy sex acts, trash celebs, and have an obsession with the sex acts/lifestyles of gay men…….yawn. Please hire funny people to write you a new hour of stand up every year because your act is old, tired, and just plain sucks. You could be funny if you get a fresh new act every year. You know the best comedy writers so hire them them write you some new material. Dave

  10. Hi, Margaret! Great post! You posed a question about Liberace never coming out. I, too, have questioned this, and come to the conclusion that Lee was protecting his Mother the whole time he denied his homosexuality. Remember that his Dad was hardly around during the time he grew up. It was Mom and Lee, her little man, her piano player. Lee may not have been the most masculine of men, but it was important to him to play the role of caretaker to the only woman in his life. So why didn’t he come out after she died? Because of the earlier lawsuit he had filed and won against those who accused him of homosexuality. Apparently, by the time you have spent millions of dollars, thousands of hours with attorneys, and are squarely in the public eye, as the greatest living entertainer in the world, (and it’s anywhere from the 1950’s to the mid-80’s in America), you stick with that story until the end.

  11. Wow Margaret! As a fan, I usually get to only see the funny, articulate, intelligent, and witty side of you. However, reading this piece I kind of don’t know what to say because I truly cannot imagine what(bullying, suicide, tragedies…) you have seen. There was one day when I was watching a monologue dedicated to youth that identified as gay, lesbians, transgendered that had committed suicide and as the names were voiced, I began to cry and I couldn’t hold back. I tried to quiet down and I could not stop, so I walked out and buried my face in my hands and just let it out.That night I could not stop crying and I kept writing in my journal to understand why I cried like that. I still do not know, but your words kind of rung a bell. For many years I struggled with suicide, since I was twelve until I was 21. I was bullied for being “different”, sexually harassed throughout childhood through my teen years, and as a child for the rest of my family I was the spitting image of my abusive father so no one really liked me in my family and if my presence was acknowledged it was only to remind them of how disgusted they were to have me in their lives solely because I existed.Unfortunately, I know many youth, solely for who they are, experience similar traumas which is why identified with your analogy of war. That night, watching the monologue, I too thought, “I don’t get why I am losing brothers and sisters to this war. It doesn’t even feel like one because it seems like only my side is dying.” You said you wanted to write a book, but you stated that probably no language would be able to articulate nor capture the realities of what you have seen. Plus how can your heart take much more. Margaret you are still here and what if that book is a start to capture the words of “our” fellow soldiers so that they do not leave without leaving their footprint on this earth. What if you can create that language in your book, or series of books, so “someone” can articulate their reality because they thought they were alone. I honestly don’t know, I feel like I am overstepping my boundaries, possibly being way too aggressive, and I also feel like I am sounding very choppy but I’ll end my long message. I will definitely keep rooting for you! I do not know if it is possible, but I definitely wish that you may heal from your wounds. (One last note, thank you for following me back on twitter despite your experience on it, I was super excited to have you as my very first follower. By Margaret! 🙂

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