Monday, January 9, 2012

Is "Coming Out Fatigue" a Sign of LGBT Progress?

Kristy McNichol
On Friday, like everybody else, I posted the breaking news that former child actor Kristy McNichol announced to the world via People Magazine and her publicist that she is a lesbian and has been with her partner, Martie Allen for 20 years. McNichol said that her purpose in coming out publicly is to help make life a little easier for kids who are being bullied because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. 

Reactions to McNichol's announcement have ranged from the cynical to the celebratory. Many people, like myself, who remember her as a child star in her Emmy-winning role on the ABC show "Family" thought it was about time. We had Kristie pegged from the start as family

Others may remember McNichol from her role in the 80's on the "Golden Girls" spin-off "Empty Nest". McNichol left that show after four seasons due to her battle with bi-polar disorder and has been out of the public eye ever since.

There certainly has been no shortage of celebs coming out over the last several years, from Elton John and k.d. lang, to Melissa Etheridge and George Michael. In the last year alone we saw McNichol's former "Family" costar Meredith Baxter come out, as well as singers Ricky Martin and Shelly Wright. But perhaps the biggest coming out story of the last year was that of Chaz Bono, who came out as transsexual. 

The right wing lunatic fringe aside, in the post "Will and Grace" era most Americans react to a celebrity coming out story with a resounding, "So what?" 

With gay main characters on hit family TV shows like "Glee" and Ellen DeGeneres dancing up a storm with millions of moms in the comfort of their own living rooms, we are left to wonder if the single most important personal event in the life of every LGBT person has become a non-event.

Comedian Marsha Warfield
Actor/Comedian Marsha Warfield, (Night Court) who replaced McNichol on "Empty Nest" posted on FaceBook Sunday:
"One more, and we, as a society and nation, shall be at our mandatory 'had it up to here with coming out of glass closets' limit. After that, only people who would surprise Carson Kressley shall be allowed to announce they're gay with any media notice."
I enjoy following Marsha's posts. She's always thought-provoking and gets her followers engaged in subjects that they might not otherwise talk about. My first reaction (and maybe yours) was my usual knee-jerk, finger pointing instinct, but I stopped myself. 

Before I did the obvious, I read through the comment thread. There wasn't anything homophobic. In fact, most people were supportive, as were Warfield's follow up questions and remarks. She was engaging in a conversation with people who probably don't discuss coming out very often. There was nothing derogatory and I had to remind myself that this was a joke from a comedian and it was pretty funny and, as usual with Warfield's posts, it caused me and others to think.

For the LGBT community, every coming out story is significant, even when we're tired of hearing them. We've all been through the painful process of talking to our friends and family and confronting our fear of rejection. For someone in show biz, the fear is even bigger, because coming out can leave them typecast or even unemployable. Has anyone seen Rupert Everett lately?

On the other hand, for an increasing number of Hetero-Americans, who long ago accepted the fact that we're here, we're queer and have gotten used to it, another celebrity coming out story is just plain boring, even when they say they're doing it to help the kids.

For those of us who live our lives in relative obscurity, we don't come out for altruistic reasons. We do it to live our lives honestly and openly. We do it as part of a personal growth process. We do it because no matter whatever ugliness the world throws at us, whatever rights are denied  us, whatever relationships or jobs we lose as a consequence, none of that compares to the pain and self-loathing that comes with living a lie. I think most of our straight friends get that.

But what they don't get is the sense of community, identity and family that we get when we sit down and share our coming out stories with each other. So if straight folks don't bat an eye any more when one of us comes out, it's a sign of how far we've come.

Let's hear it for being boring!

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