I was practically quivering at the table over a plate of fried catfish, candied yams, and macaroni and cheese on 125th street in Harlem. Comfort food for an uncomfortable situation. For the past two months I had been having the time of my life being as gay as I wanted to be.
However, I was having a gay old time with people I didn’t normally hang with. I purposely avoided my friends from Howard and also those in New York that summer, not sure of how I wanted to move forward with my accepted truth. Once I realized that there was no sense in ducking it anymore, I asked one my closet friends from school to dinner. My normal Speedy Gonzales style of speech was noticeably slower than usual, but ultimately, it came out. I actually said the words, “I’m gay” out loud.
The response from my friend was priceless: “Mike, I knew that. My mom is a psychologist.”
I heard a couple of responses like this in the coming weeks and months. One friend said, “Boy, I been knew that when I met you. We could’ve went to the club together all summer!” Another: “Mike, I had a crush on you until you opened your mouth.”
There were plenty of folks in my life who were genuinely surprised, though those who yielded the “f–k-your-obviousness” retort stick out to me whenever it’s coming out story time. Many gays can lay similar claim—despite how delusional some of us can be about others’ prior knowledge of our sexual orientation—sometimes it’s best to let people have their moment. And of course, no matter what one might hypothesize about someone, ultimately confirmation needs to comes from that person.
It’s a point largely missed in the wake of more celebrities opting to disclose their homosexuality “modestly.” What troubles me is that there’s a perception that said modesty gives reason to downplay the magnitude of the disclosure. Speculation is simply not the same as confirmed fact.
When CNN’s Anderson Cooper recently made news by declaring that he is a gay in an email to Daily Beast columnist Andrew Sullivan, to many this wasn’t news ‘cause “they already knew that.” After all, we’ve heard numerous stories about his boyfriend, gay bar owner Benjamin Maisani. And you know, he does love himself some gay icons like Kathy Griffin and Kelly Ripa, and in particular, gossiping with them about various aspects of pop culture – particularly The Real Housewives of Wherever. Oh, and yes, he does throw throws book parties for close friends such as the openly gay Andy Cohen.
Still, not everyone knew about Anderson Cooper. Cooper and CNN know that not everyone lives in major cities where gay people are highly visible. If he were so easy to spot, network publicists would not have tried to impose rules that the anchor and talk show host was not to be asked “the gay question.” Some people would never know if not for his confirmation.
This idea that it’s “no longer a big deal to be gay anymore” is rooted in a reality not everyone enjoys. As a columnist Gail Shister explained to the New York Times, “He [Cooper] told me many years ago that he didn’t want to be known as ‘the gay anchor. He didn’t want his sexuality to be connected to his profession.”
For years after I came out I didn’t want to discuss my sexuality because I didn’t want to be pegged as “the gay writer.” It wasn’t until I wrote about two young Black boys committing suicide that I decided to take a stand for what I felt was a greater good. The attention that article brought forth led me to come out to my own mom.
Yeah, she knew… but she knew for sure after I told her.
Therein lies the importance of Anderson’s choice to speak suspicion into fact. While it is other public figures’ prerogative to keep their romantic life off limits, as gays continue to struggle for widespread acceptance versus mere tolerance, silence does little in the way of changing the status quo. If anything, even if it wrong, it gives the impression of shame —a concern Anderson himself said he had.
Regardless of what anyone thought they knew about Anderson Cooper, that will never be more defining than these words from Coop himself: “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.”
Right, didn’t think so.