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Margaret Cho Headshot

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

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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.