Many months ago, I wrote a half-joking yet critical blog post about the sexuality of then-closeted CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. I wrote it because the more I thought about it, and the more Cooper continued to morph into the gay icon he has become, the more I had begun to feel angry.
I was angry because when I saw Anderson Cooper on TV, I didn't see what everyone else sees - foxy hair, sexy journalistic integrity, etc. At least, that wasn't all I saw. I couldn't get over the fact that he refused to do what I saw as his duty. Given his role as a beloved public figure who champions gay causes and expresses concern for LGBT youth, I, like many others, felt he had a responsibility to those gay kids whose stories he tells with such respect and sensitivity - to come out, to prove to America that he wasn't afraid, or ashamed, or insincere. I thought the potential hit his career might take would be far outweighed by the benefits of showing the millions of people who watch him every day that someone who walks, talks, and looks like Anderson Cooper could possibly be gay.
In reality, his silence touched on what had grown to be an ugly, bitter resentment on my part. For most of my life, "gay" was a label that others assigned to me, even before I knew what it meant. As much as I tried, I couldn't escape it or cover it up. At some point, I made a choice, although at the time it seemed I had no choice - I embraced it, and I came out. And while it was liberating in the sense that I was no longer hiding or denying who I was, a part of me felt cornered. By accepting this label, and all of its many meanings which I had collected over the years, I felt I was giving my consent to be judged in accordance to these meanings, to what those around me thought a "gay person" was. And I felt that by doing this, by summoning the courage it took to come out and make myself visible, I was ensuring that society's prejudices would rain down on me, at one point or another.
Of course, at the same time I was building my little gay life with my little gay friends, I couldn't ignore those around me that chose, for some reason, not to follow my path. And I can't deny that it really, fundamentally pissed me off. Here I was, making the conscious choice to go to protests, to work for an LGBT magazine, to wear Legalize Gay t-shirts with my short-shorts, to hold hands with my boyfriend in public. Here I was, taking the insults, doing all the trench warfare that comes with being a generally fabulous gay person, while those who looked and talked and walked differently than me - that is, like straight men - could make the choice to forgo the unpleasantries and live their lives in the closet, or on Craigslist.
It wasn't even just about my selfish insecurities. I genuinely believed in the Harvey Milk theorem, that nothing would change unless every last LGBT person, regardless of gender identity or age or race or socio-economic situation, came out, and showed their communities the full spectrum of what it means to be gay. I believed that we as a community have a responsibility to each other to make our presence known, to at least do that little bit for the betterment of the movement.
To me, then, Cooper, that effortlessly well-groomed Real Housewives addict with a hot gym buddy, represented all that I had grown to resent about those who opted out of coming out. When I looked at Anderson Cooper, I saw a man who used his privileged position - as a man who passed easily for straight - to avoid answering those awkward nagging questions, to avoid the stares and the whispers and the ratings repercussions. It didn't matter that he clearly had his reasons, or that he has produced some of the most remarkably insightful and respectful coverage of LGBT issues I've ever come across. I wanted him to be my hero, as a journalist, as a professional, and as a gay man; I just couldn't get past the feeling that he was letting us down, that he was letting me down.
In the months since I wrote that piece, I've thought a lot about Anderson Cooper, and Harvey Milk, and all those closeted people that made me so angry. I've thought about what it means to be gay, what it means to be out, what it means to be privileged, what it means to be brave. And I've come to acknowledge that it is of course a completely personal choice, and one of the most pivotal and potentially disastrous ones any LGBT individual person will make. At the same time, however, I still believe that the decision of whether or not to come out has profound implications not only on one's own life, but on the role one plays in the fight we continue to face every day. A lot has changed since 1978 - indeed, many would argue that the decision is a much easier one - but in many important ways, things are very much the same. You're either in or you're out, and whatever we choose, we have to live with the fact that no matter who we are, this very personal choice is an important political statement, even - or perhaps especially - today.
Since the news broke yesterday morning, the sheer volume of blog posts, sound bites and tweets about Cooper's announcement makes clear that this particular individual's personal decision meant a lot, to a lot of people. Of course, the blogosphere is elated to have such a juicy (and well-written) coming-out story, and the gays are certainly excited to hear the rumors are true. But more than anything, the support and encouragement Cooper has received has been both overwhelming and inspiring. Friends and strangers alike have rightly applauded his courage and his honesty, suggesting that America is proud of the Silver Fox.
I'm proud, too. As a young gay person, fresh out of college and just starting to build a career, I'm proud to be able to point to a man as brave, eloquent, professional, and honorable as Anderson Cooper and say, honestly and with no hesitation, "I want to be like him someday."
We gained a real hero yesterday.