Cracking the Coming Out Code

Doin’ it From The Get-Go

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Many stars who are new to the fame game actually choose to be out (or not closeted) from the get-go. It’s a risk, but in today’s changing social climate, most 18-year-olds who are already confident about their sexuality probably realize the outing is gonna happen eventually and perhaps it’s better to just get it over with. Furthermore, many grew up in more tolerant families or communities and never developed the internalized homophobia that keeps people closeted. Or perhaps they’ve seeen enough gays in the media to not fear becoming one of them.

And though we put the pressure on young people to come out; not everyone is sure when they’re in their teens or twenties, and that kind of risk isn’t always worth it.

New ‘mainstream’ stars who’ve emerged into the public eye within the last five years who never actively hid their sexuality include Chris Colfer, Jessica Clark, Tegan & Sara, Gavin Creel, Nicole Pacent, Jonathan Groff, Rachel Maddow, Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, Jasika Nicole, Jessie Mitchell, Nicol Paone, Matt Doyle, Ruby Rose, Scott Evans, Kristanna Loken, Cat Cora, Kim Stolz, Samantha Ronson, Amanda Moore, Beth Ditto, Elizabeth Keener, Heather Matarazzo, Kaki King and Clementine Ford.

Adam Lamvert Comes Out

Outed!

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Those who actively denied and obscured their homosexuality eventually had to emerge, with various degrees of reluctance, like Clay Aiken, Lindsay Lohan, Lady Sovereign and T.R. Knight.

Recently one of the “Real Housewives” went through the entire “getting outed/coming out” cycle in less than two weeks: pictures surfaced of her with her girlfriend, she denied that it was her girlfriend, and then a few days later she came out!

The aggressive denial despite attempted outings is falling out of favor except amongst the bigger stars such as John Travolta and Queen Latifah.

Neil Patrick Harris set the Code for Class on this — when Harris was outed by Perez Hilton, he didn’t deny it. He stepped forward, said it was true and gave the story to People Magazine. Perhaps this lack of shame is what has ensured his career, unlike those of less fortunately-outed stars, maintained a positive upwards trajectory.

Neil Patrick Harris Comes Out

I Told You As Soon As I Knew!

And those famous “later-in-life lesbians” — the women who claim they pretty much let us know as soon as they were sure. Though Cynthia Nixon didn’t explicitly declare her homosexuality for three years after being outed, she didn’t deny the relationship in 2004 either. Prior to her current girlfriend, Cynthia had been married to a man and says she didn’t identify as gay ’til she met her partner.

Meredith Baxter knew she was gay for about seven years before telling the world; Kelly McGillis waited eight.

Cynthia Nixon Comes Out

So, is there a gestation period? There are many factors: timing, political activism, relationship status, career trajectory, public pressure, undesired outing, self-realization, level of fame, age, personality — even gender (girls seem to get outed less often, maybe b/c they are at home with their kittens instead of hitting the gay bars like Lance Bass did). Of course, Hollywood’s most powerful gays will likely remain closeted forever, many of them protected by the litigation-happy Lords of the Netherworlds known as Scientologists.

Now that we have perused all of these infographics we believe we have discovered only one prominent determining factor: proximity to NOW.

The present is the best time to come out, and tomorrow will be even better. Like we always say, the future is bright. We hope Michelle Rodriguez is wearing sunglasses.

[article by Riese, infographics by A;ex Vega]

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Cofounder and Design Director of Autostraddle. Professional web/graphic designer. Whiskey enthusiast. Drumming hobbyist. A past speaker at the 2010 BlogHer Conference ("Good Blog Design: The Role of Layout in an Online Medium"), 2013 Salon LGBTQ Conference ("Innovative Best Practices for Brand-Blogger Campaigns") and featured in the Los Angeles Edition of Refinery29's 30 Under 30 in 2013. Co-owns and manages Tully's Training, a dog training company in Los Angeles. Twitter: @a_ex Instagram: alexxxvegaaa

Alex has written 100 articles for us.

75 Comments

  1. Dude, I wish people would come out of the closet, because I think it puts a human face on our struggle when people are like “Oh, I know a gay person who is not scary” Or at least is scary for reasons unrelated to said gayness.

    BUT. I understand why people don’t. Guys, coming out is terrifying. My dad’s bff is a lesbian and I didn’t come out FOR YEARS. Because you just never know how your family and the whole world is going to react and it is the most exposing and scary thing. Some kids can just come out and do it, and that is so courageous but it is also something I could not do. I knew I was gay for 7 years or so before coming out. I almost got married. And my life is not in front of millions.

    • Yeah I think that we forget their feelings are just like our feelings, even if the rest of their existence is nothing like our existence. Also I think sometimes ppl want to wait ’til they’re in a good relationship to not put too much pressure on a bad relationship or to avoid having to deal with the fallout ‘alone.’

        • My moms bff in beauty school when I was a wee tyke was a big old queen and I was still afraid to come out to her. Also, I found Ricky Martin’s twitter yesterday and tweeted him a congrats & thanks for coming out, because every out celeb really does help. I know how scary & then freeing it was for me to come out, I can’t imagine the emotions on a celebrity scale.

          • It was terrifying for me to come out, and like I said, my dad’s BEST FRIEND IN ALL THE WORLD is a lesbian. But still, there was the feeling that I might be rejected, because you never know, and that was horrifying.

            Honestly, I think if my Mom was still alive, I would still be closeted, so I really can’t throw shade at people in the closet, even though I want everyone to knock down their closet doors and storm into the streets in a wave of glitter and rainbows for a big homo musical.

          • “I want everyone to knock down their closet doors and storm into the streets in a wave of glitter and rainbows for a big homo musical.”

            …exactly how I came out. Except I used an insane amount of vodka and silly string as well. Good thing the cops in WeHo were sympathetic. =)

            my parents, not so much.

    • Well said. I think people like Perez tend to forget (or maybe just don’t care) that famous people are faced with the exact same fears that the rest of us have, you know, being accepted by family, their friends etc. Fame doesn’t make you immune to religious or conservative or disapproving loved ones.

    • parents are a hard one. my Grandma was a lesbian (and out to her family and dating women in the 1950’s (!!!) and beyond – go Grandma!), my parents have numerous gay friends, I spent every summer as a child staying at the home of my Mom’s gay cousin and his husband, and I still told EVERYONE ELSE before I told my parents. I was even out at work for over a year before I told them. There was no way they were going to do anything other than be awesome but parents are difficult.

    • YES. I live in a country with same sex marriage and out, gay, conservative politicians (not that it’s really socially accepted to be gay). My parents are super liberal and politically active, supporting gay rights, fighting for gay rights. They never had a problem with any of my supergay friends. I have never been as terrified as before I came out, including moments when I thought I was going to die.

  2. I still haven’t come out to most of my family. I’ve been too scared to tell my parents because I have no idea how they will react. It’s stressful hiding that part of me but I just don’t know how and when I should tell them :(

  3. Lindsay’s timeline

    2003: Freaky Friday – Anna’s kinda dykey…ooh Jodie Foster played her in the previous version….that’s it, only babydykes can play Anna Coleman!
    2004: Being with Sam err I mean hearing Sam’s song makes Lindsay ‘cool’ (Mean Girls)
    2005: Herbie – Jeez, Maggie likes to skateboard and put her hands in her pockets while wearing sexy jeans – dyke! Oh, and how conservative of you Disney, an African American lesbian director (Miss Angela Robinson) and a lesbian leading lady – loves it
    2006: Paris Hilton: DYKE! You fucking dyke!*Lindsay cries, no response from her*
    Meanwhile, a blog reports that Lindsay is bearding with her beard du jour. And Paris and Britney tell her they never loved her and it was all a showmance :( = heart crushed
    2007: Sam and Lindsay travel the world together and get outed. Lilo+ Sam sighting = beard employed Another one = beard employed etc
    Denial: She’s my best friend! That’s all I swear
    Car crash fight: you lesbian bitch! (disassociation theory) I wanna prove I’m not a lesbian so I’ll call you one, lovergirl! P.S Hook-up later, yeah?
    2008: Major bearding episode organized, Lindsay on top of 3 guys. See, she’s straight people, coz she can kiss men in front of cameras! Sam = :'( that’s MY girl
    Angela Robinson/the writers affectionately mock her using Nikayyy who keeps Jenny Schecter happy and *ahem* satisfied (for a while at least). Gets outed :( And she gotta be out to have her girl :'(
    And finally, Lindsay says f-YOU homophobic parents/management/people this is MY girl Sam. Have you met MY Sam? She’s beatiful and she’s MY girl. Get your 15 year old Full House ass away from MY girlfriend, Ashley!
    SAM WE CAN STILL GET BACK TOGETHER! LOVE YOU BABY!
    ~The End becuase then in 2010 she returned to the closet at the urging of her management~

  4. Love the infographics, guys :)

    I’m all for people coming out, but Perez Hilton is kind of an asshole about it. I support outing people who actively oppose LGBT rights and such, but if not he should mind his own business and let people come out when they’re ready.

  5. Perez makes me angry, he needs to stay out of people’s personal lives. He’s no asset to the community by putting pressure on others, not everyone is gonna be ready even if others think they should be. Ugh.

  6. i wish i had graphics to make an infographic:
    1992 When We Knew: lucy is a strikingly handsome/charming boy for her girl scouts halloween party. 1999 When Everyone Knew: a different type of obsession with the spice girls. 2006 The Outing: “i don’t think you’re interested in men at all” -ex bf. march 26 2010 The Big Reveal: “i’m pretty sure i’m not interested in men at all” -lucy

    • I love this idea!!

      When the homo-inclined knew: 1990, I had a cute butch little girlfriend in kindergarten that used to put down her coat n the sandbox so I didn’t get my dress dirty

      When everyone knew: 1992, little butch girlfriend holds hand of boy instead. Jenny is v. distressed. Dad tells Jenny there are plenty of fish in the sea. Jenny does not believe him. Clearly, lesbian feelings on display early.

      The Outing: 1999, Jenny gets caught kissing ‘best friend’ by Mom. Jenny swears she was ‘just experimenting’

      The Big Reveal: 2005. Jenny’s Mom is dead, life is miserable, so she figures she may as well come out while everything’s a mess.

  7. We also have to realize that some may have been out to the people who count. Like if I was famous I could be out to my family and coworkers but I would not feel obliged to tell everyone. If the people that count know why should I need to tell a million strangers? Maybe if it had an impact on somethig like prop 8 but other than that I would feel like it’s not anyones business

  8. This is one of these issues where i have so many feelings, i just can’t process them enought to make a decision. On the one hand, i think everyone should be able to come out in there own time, because we all know it’s terrifying, and it is NEVER ok to out someone else.

    but then i think, if you’re in the public eye and are dating people of the same sex, hitting gay clubs, and everyone already knows, why not just admit it? because if you don’t, it looks like you’ve got something to be ashamed of. And you don’t. Being gay is AWESOME and more people need to know this.

  9. it’s interesting. I’ve been out for four years now and really really out for two, but already I’ve forgotten. I look at my friends in the closet and grow more and more frustrated. “Just do it already.” I broke up with my last girlfriend because while she saw us moving forward she had no interest in personal evolution…. no plans to come out herself, no plans to come out as my girlfriend [to her family and even close friends]. I don’t regret that choice, it was toxic for me to be connected to so much fear and forced to be quiet and shameful about what was an important part of my life. But how quickly I have forgotten the paralyzing fear f the moment [and years] before. This singular act is the one thing that connects us [the LGBTQ….I……? community]. It’s not our preferences, our interests, our stereotypical quirks that unite us, but the common leap of faith in believing that who we are and our authentic truth is bigger than the fear that has been blocking it.

    Even in reading Autostraddle, it is easy to forget, this is why this site breeds familial connections. Because while Gaga is fabulous, Riese can out-write anyone, Alex is clearly the best designer around, and all the interns, contributers, and readers are hilarious…. none of that matters. That’s not why we feel safe here. We feel safe here because we’ve all been through it. And for those who aren’t yet out, when you make that decision, we’ll all still be here- to make you laugh, to listen, to let your voice be heard and your story be told.

    This is why the celebrity outings matter. Not because they are ironic, or obvious, or about time… but because they are a widespread message of the humanness and vulnerability we have all had to battle with. I thank anyone and everyone who has and is going through that battle- because of you no one will ever have to go through it alone.

    • “It’s not our preferences, our interests, our stereotypical quirks that unite us, but the common leap of faith in believing that who we are and our authentic truth is bigger than the fear that has been blocking it.”

      Exactly.

  10. Wow, awesome article!

    When you talked about “not coming out forever” the first person I thought of was Darren Hayes (ex Savage Garden). People had suspected that he was gay forever (despite having a wife at the time), and then he started alluding to it in “The Tension and The Spark” where some of his songs had gender ambiguity (“I want her she wants him, he wants me I give in, I want her I want him I don’t want anything”). He also started performing more in gay parties and events like those.

    I figured that even if he was gay, he’d never say anything because he’s a really private person when it comes to relationships. Asides from Colby – who he eventually split from – we never know anything about his relationships. Then in 2006 he wrote a beautiful blog post about marrying Richard, and now he’s been even more outspoken about gay rights. A lot of people were like “AHA OUR SLASH FICTION WAS TRUE” but for me it was like “Wow, I didn’t expect you to say anything, but well done.”

    According to Darren he never really tried to deny it, but when the media asked him about his relationships he’d say “My partner’s name is Richard” and they wouldn’t be interested. They’d be waiting for “Yes I’m Gay”, the big announcement. And while people around him knew for yonks, it wasn’t until he split from his label that he came out – and I think that Columbia Records (Sony) had a lot to do with that. Once he was free from Sony’s shackles he was free to be himself, emotionally as well as musically.

    Personally I’m just more disappointed that he didn’t turn out to be bisexual! You don’t see a lot of “Yes I’m Bi” or “Yes My Sexuality Is Fluid” type major stories, unless they’re like Gaga where it’s out early and part of the act. I suppose that even if that is true, people won’t think it is – they’ll think “You’re still hedging, pick one”.

    Clay Aiken comes from a conservative, religious family – he probably had to deal with possible fallout then before he could say anything. Ricky Martin came from a homophobic culture. Many people are just private about that sort of thing because it doesn’t have anything to do with their work. We all have reasons, and like the earlier comment thread said, everyone has their own schedule. (Hell while I figured I was queer around 15-16, it wasn’t till I moved to Australia at 21 that I could do something about it!)

    • And while we’re on the subject of personal timelines – I think the “when the homo-inclined knew” would be at the very end, because they still don’t believe me :P

  11. Haha I love this! To be honest I think it’s actually a very fun way of looking at the really difficult decision of deciding when, how, and what degree to come out.

    The bit that got me is when you compared it to coming out on Facebook. I feel good about my sexuality but growing up in a very conservative Christian environment the thoughts of having those Facebook friends from my past thinking bad of me is actually still kind of hard to take. I’m sure I’ll do it one day and probably soon but right now I’m not ready and so fair enough if celebrities feel the same way.

    I think it’s about when you feel strong enough within yourself to face the potential negative consequences of coming out. It can be an incredibly hurtful and self worth destroying process when you’re not ready for it.

  12. “The longer a secret lasts, the bigger and scarier it becomes”

    That’s so true Riese!

    I came out with my parents at 16 and after that with really few people…day by day it became an heavy burden for me to carry. I really don’t know why I lost the energy of my teenage years…now I am 28 and sometimes I really think I’ll never completely come out.

  13. Batwoman,

    Lindsay and Samantha are apparently back together. Lindsay tweeted several times Monday night indicating they are a couple again after Samantha tweeted Lindsay a kiss/hug the day before. I would not be shocked that this is what caused Lindsay to get pissed at George Lopez. The girls both tweeted they were watching Lopez because Foreigner, Samantha’s stepdad’s group, was on the show.

  14. Im not sure on how to go skinny with jordan/catalano + jessica. but have to agree with a heartfelt yes. This is one of my favourite things about the gay world and everyone in it, who i admire so much, especially the out and proud.

  15. Pingback: Guanabee | Ricky Martin Coming Out Chart

  16. I was like watching the news of Ricky Martin’s coming out story with my mother, and it was veeerrrry awkward. The funny thing is, my mom never had anything against gay people that she sees on television or books or whatnot, but she just can’t accept that her own daughter is gay. She would even discuss that an actress playing a gay girl doesn’t seem, well, gay.
    I tried to come out to her, but she still wouldn’t listen. It’s like she just suddenly turned homophobic when it concerns me.

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  19. If I had a sweet infographic timeline it would read:

    when everyone knew (1986)—>when I knew (2004)—>when I was outed (2009)—>how everyone yawned at my personal struggle (2004-present)

    but mostly: way to be awesome autostraddle!

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