Outward Bound: Celebs Struggle To Keep Sexuality Secret(ish), But Media Make Mischief

Neil Patrick Harris.

At a recent panel discussion on gossip, Gawker proprietor Nick Denton went even further. “Does everybody here know that Anderson Cooper is gay?” he asked the audience.

“Noooo!” yelled out a woman in mock horror as the rest of the room laughed knowingly.

Mr. Denton went on. “People will tell you, ‘Why would you want to report that? Everyone knows it already.’ No, they don’t! Most people in America do not know that Anderson Cooper is gay. So if you judge the differential, the gradient, between insider knowledge and public knowledge, there is still a gigantic gap. It will be erased. Probably in the next five years. And what’s going to happen in the next five years will be much more significant than what’s happened so far.”

What does that look like? Sunny Bates, the panel’s moderator, asked.

“Everything open,” said Mr. Denton. “All secrets out there.”

The question arises: Is there no sphere of privacy for the celebrity anymore? After all, straight celebrity couples from Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem to Beyoncé and Jay-Z don’t acknowledge any element of their love in public, though they’re also not asked if they’re heterosexual. Why should Anderson Cooper or Queen Latifah have to dish about their love lives—or even acknowledge their sexuality?

But such a question seems academic, given the inclinations of Mr. Denton and others of like mind: regardless of the answer, the scrutiny will only mount in the future.

In response to such pressures, recent celebrity comings-out have been well-managed, low-key affairs—not nearly splashy enough to damage a career in the manner of Ellen DeGeneres’s years in the wilderness: Jim Parsons, star of the hyperpopular sitcom The Big Bang Theory got a mention of his sexuality squeezed in at the very end of a long New York Times profile recently. It clearly wasn’t the story—that would be his current starring role in Harvey on Broadway—but it got him enough cred to present at the Tonys. Star Trek’s Spock, Zachary Quinto, mentioned his sexuality in a New York interview about a new indie film he was promoting. Matt Bomer, star of the upcoming male-stripper movie Magic Mike, thanked his partner at an awards ceremony in February; he’s by now able to reference his and his partner’s children in interviews and still remain the object of the female gaze. All three stars had never hidden their sexuality—they’d lived in a glass closet whereby they never needed to say anything until they were comfortable doing so. But then why waste years of your career dodging questions when the truth will be unveiled nevertheless?

It is perhaps a question John Travolta has entertained, in the wake of his recent public relations disaster.

Mr. Travolta, who has long dodged rumors, recently uploaded a video slideshow of family photos to the site Vimeo just as the tabloid story of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by a male masseuse reached critical mass.

As his longtime acquaintance Carrie Fisher said in The Advocate, “We know and we don’t care. Look, I’m sorry that he’s uncomfortable with it, and that’s all I can say.”

As with all matters of sexuality, it’s not that simple, though.

Outward Bound: Celebs Struggle To Keep Sexuality Secret(ish), But Media Make Mischief