07/03/2012 11:19 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Why Do We Wait to Come Out?

In a letter that he allowed blogger Andrew Sullivan to publish yesterday, CNN reporter Anderson Cooper came out as gay:

The fact is, I'm gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn't be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.

I have always been very open and honest about this part of my life with my friends, my family, and my colleagues. In a perfect world, I don't think it's anyone else's business, but I do think there is value in standing up and being counted. I'm not an activist, but I am a human being and I don't give that up by being a journalist.

While this is certainly fantastic news, I'm sure some people are wondering why he didn't come out sooner, and this is worth exploring. In Cooper's case, there were specific professional concerns relating to his ability to remain objective in his role as a journalist and stay safe in dangerous parts of the world. And as with anyone else, there could have been any number of particular personal matters that I can't speak to.

Cooper, of course, had never gone to great pains to keep his orientation a secret. He was already out to many people who know him, and his sexuality had been a matter of public speculation for some time. So why officially come out? Regardless of personal circumstances, there's an element that I believe is common to anyone who comes out or has yet to come out, whether they're gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

Even after we've come to understand who we are and become truly comfortable with ourselves, that final leap to public openness can still be daunting, no matter how much time we've had to prepare. As suffocating as this continued secrecy about a central and important part of yourself can be, we still draw some small measure of comfort, empty as it ultimately may be, from avoiding whatever unknowns are lurking beyond that announcement. And giving up that sense of safety can be a difficult step.

We often still find ourselves putting it off, even when we're not at personal risk and there's nothing else left to do before we finally come out. We know that we have to do it sooner or later, and that waiting won't make the event itself any easier. But we still cling to the familiarity of the closet and back away from the mysteries on the other side.

In that state of limbo, where there's nothing left to do but say it out loud, it could be just about anything that nudges us over the threshold and into the daylight. It can be as simple as one day deciding, on a whim, "You know what? Screw it, I'm gonna do this." When I've had to come out about something, that's what it was like. As I eventually tired of the tedium of keeping secrets about myself, I just made the choice to rip the band-aid off and get it done. There are still things I've yet to come out about to some of the people closest to me, but once everything's in order, I know that I'll end up doing it on the spur of the moment again. Ultimately, when we come out can be as simple as: "Whenever I feel like it."