At a recent Human Rights Campaign conference for educators and counselors who work with LGBTQ youth, actor Ellen Page (do Juno her?) made a speech where she revealed that she is gay.
She spoke of the suffering of being closeted, how hiding who you are affects your relationships, your mental health, your spirit, and the level of spirit in your whisky glass.
Watching video of the speech, I was struck by how obviously nervous she was. I saw her jaw clench, her hand bounce and her body move in nervous tics in the moments before she said “…and I am here today because I am gay”. (Maybe this will catch on as a new dance craze, the pre-coming out jitterbug).
Ellen Page joins HRCF's 'Time to Thrive' conference
Her nervousness instantly took me back to the night that I first spoke those words out loud to another human being. It was one of the scariest things that I have ever done, and I remember the clenched feeling in my chest, my stomach rolling with nerves.
We were sitting outside in the cold, and I can still see my breath coming out hard and fast into the night air. I was terrified - and drunk. And yet, I knew that the person I was telling would be 100 per cent fine with it. In fact, I knew that she probably already knew. It didn’t matter. Saying those words out loud, even to an incredibly receptive crowd (like the HRC) is petrifying.
Of course, there was more at play in this situation. No matter how progressive Hollywood claims to be, there are still shockingly few successful openly gay actors, and the possible impact on her career no doubt played a role (get it?).
There were a lot of positive reactions to Page’s announcement (mainly from me, give me a call Ellen), but there were also comments about the necessity of her decision to make a public announcement. These remarks came not only from the charming homophobic ‘keep it behind closed doors’ types, but also the progressive ‘she shouldn’t have to make an announcement, it shouldn’t matter’ and ‘who cares?’ proponents.
The behind closed doors argument is simple enough to dispute and ignore, because they are probably terrible people whose opinion don’t concern me. The comments from pro-queer people were more troubling.
In an ideal dream world where Ellen Page and I are married and living next door to Beyoncé, no queer person would feel the need to come out. Of course, in an ideal world, nobody’s sexuality would be assumed to be heterosexual at all times.
In an ideal world, I wouldn’t have to correct my doctor or hairdresser or boss when they assume I’m straight.
In an ideal world, a gridiron player like Michael Sam coming out wouldn’t spark debates about gay men in locker rooms.
In an ideal world, the amazing Laverne Cox isn’t the only representative of a trans person playing a trans character on television.
In an ideal world, Ellen Page, a young, talented, very successful actor would not have been absolutely terrified of coming out to the world. But she was. And that’s exactly why it is still important that people like her do so.
As a heterosexual person, you might not care that she is a lesbian. You might think it’s a shame she feels like she has to tell the world. But here’s the thing.
She wasn’t doing it for you.
If you are straight and white, your entire life has existed in a bubble of heterosexual representation everywhere your heterosexual eyes have looked.
Almost every character on almost every television show or movie is a representation of you. Almost every beautiful successful person in movies and television is a (much more beautiful) representation of you, or at least pretends to be.
Ellen Page telling the world she is gay means that there are now kids (and Rebecca Shaw’s) in small towns or big towns or homophobic families everywhere who can see themselves in one more cool, young, successful, seemingly-happy queer person.
Maybe they saw other celebrities saying how much they love Ellen Page, and supporting her. Maybe they want to be an actor one day, and now they feel like they can. Maybe they woke up and saw that Page’s world hasn’t ended, and that many people are saying nice things about her.
Hopefully they will see her acting career thrive. And maybe that is all it will take to save them.
And hopefully the more people that take the step Ellen Page has, to live authentically, to live proudly, the less people in future will feel like they have to make these kinds of announcements.