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Celebs coming out: A changing landscape

Celebrities have been coming out in droves lately, in most cases either quietly or posthumously. (You don’t even have to be alive anymore to become out of the closet!)

As someone who’s always fought for truth in celebrity reporting and honesty on the part of big-name subjects, I’m thrilled at the avalanche of people saying they’re gay and it’s OK. It’s helped create an atmosphere where homosexuality and bisexuality aren’t dirty secrets anymore; they’re perfectly reportable aspects of public figures’ biographies. In a world where celebs talk at length about their private lives — and the media scrutinizes them even more — it always seemed absurd to leave that one glaring aspect out of the picture, as if that’s where the privacy line should be drawn for taste’s sake.

And look at what’s been happening: In February, White Collar‘s Matt Bomer officially announced that he was in a relationship with publicist Simon Halls, kids and all. In May, The Big Bang Theory‘s Jim Parsons let The New York Times run a line stating that he’s in a gay relationship as well. After years of gossip reporting about him, CNN’s Anderson Cooper finally came out this month in an email to gay writer Andrew Sullivan explaining why he’d stayed in (as a reporter, he wanted to be adaptable) and why he came out (he decided that he wanted to stand up and be counted). And also this month, singer-songwriter Frank Ocean blogged about his first true love — a man — and making waves in the hip-hop world the way an Ocean should.

Obviously the landscape has become more accepting for celebs to come out — they don’t feel so lonely in their openness — and with Twitter, blogs, email and half-buried sentences in profiles, they don’t have to go the “Yep, I’m Gay” magazine cover route anymore. They can simply toss off the fact of their sexuality and move on, never having to evade or dissemble again.

What’s more, as the presidential race escalates and gay equality becomes an even more volatile issue, this is a way for celebs to avoid feeling like they’re cowering in abject fear. However subtly, they’re making a statement, enlightening their fans, and trying to use their fame to impact change and announce, “There’s nothing wrong with being gay. There, I said it. Now where was I?”

Adding to the excitement, all the above-mentioned stars have done quite well since coming out, so it might even have amounted to somewhat of a career move!

Even in the afterlife, icons can spur renewed interest thanks to posthumous outings. Earlier this year, Scotty Bowers’ book Full Service: My Adventures In Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of Stars detailed how the pimp-to-the-famous procured more than 150 women for Katharine Hepburn to sleep with — but not all at once. (Would Spencer Tracy have been upset? Nah. Bowers swears Tracy had a taste for same-sex partners too.) And when pioneering astronaut Sally Ride died last week, we learned that Dr. Tam O’ Shaughnessy, executive vice president of the Sally Ride Science foundation, was also her proud partner of 27 years. Sally was a lesbian.

So who’s left? A lot fewer people than a year ago. But they tend to be big movie stars, mainly because the thinking has always been that audiences won’t accept a gay matinee idol in a straight role. I’m pretty sure they will — they certainly embrace the opposite — but everyone’s afraid to be the first one to break the gay ice. Not to worry; it’ll happen soon enough. And then the only thing left in the closet will be some musty old outfits and maybe a broom.