Coming Out When Famous: Burden or Responsibility?

Robin Wells

Jodie Foster

Last week, in front of millions of people, Jodie Foster ended years of speculation about her sexuality. Although some say she spent most of them in a ‘glass closet’, she is still one of a very select group of Hollywood celebrities who have felt able to be open about their sexuality. This in turn baffles and saddens me.
It saddens me because this is the industry I am slowly making my way into. It baffles me because from those few whom I have met and/or worked with in this industry so far, I have received nothing but acceptance.

Obviously I must be careful with statements like that to remember that the people I know are part of the British industry. Hollywood is a lot more intrinsic in American culture as it reacts to and against its audience. It’s saddening to see that despite the fact that there are quite a few success stories amongst LGBT American TV and Film personalities, there is still a reluctance by others to come out for fear of irrevocably damaging their career.

As disheartening as it is, you can see their point – it was only 16 years ago that Ellen DeGeneres came out on the cover of Time magazine and, as she puts it, “the phone didn’t ring for three years.” But as much as her story is the answer to the question “What’s the worst that could happen?”, it is also a testament to how you can pick yourself up again. The Ellen DeGeneres Show is now in its tenth season with its host herself revered as someone who is generous to those in need, and as someone who has made it back up after falling out of public affection.

Is it fair that the few celebrities who are out must bear the brunt of being role models and the trail-blazers in an industry anxious about alienating its audience? Chris Colfer from Glee said in an interview last week that whilst he was “honoured” to be a role model, the responsibility of it can be “overwhelming”. Now, I’m a huge fan of Chris Colfer, and by all accounts he’s a lovely and patient man – but if he is getting overwhelmed by it, you know it’s big!

This culture of fear about what will happen on the other side of the closet can only be dismissed once more celebrities come out and treat sexuality as a normal, unexceptional component of life. That is, come out by their own free will, not by being outed. To confidently show the world that it is okay to express yourself within mainstream culture without fear of hatred is perhaps the biggest challenge. Times have changed since Ellen’s coming out, and yes, things are far from perfect, but if there is one thing the internet has given us, it’s the ability to galvanise our resources and mobilise ourselves towards supporting those who do have the courage to come out. Maybe then it’ll help their peers to do the same.

About Robin Wells

Robin is an actor and a languages enthusiast, freshly-graduated from the University of London. He spends a fair amount of time in the YouTube community, and recently made the documentary 'Coming Out, Going On' for National Coming Out Day 2012.