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Do Maria Bello and Tom Daley Really Prove Coming Out Has Become “No Big Deal”?

Let’s all pour one out for queer celebrities, who certainly have it worse than the rest of us. While we apparently only had to come out once, famous queers must live their lives in added secrecy, keeping their private lives, well, private, until eventually they have to come out not just to their loved ones and friends, but also to us. Strangers! Magazine profiles and cover stories ensue, eliciting — thanks to years of big-name coming-out stories and society’s increasingly progressive opinions on homosexuality — a collective shrug from their audience. So you’re gay, who cares? Coming out is easier than ever! No big whoop.

It’s a media narrative that has become very popular lately, considering that celebrities’ recent revelations have seemingly been “on their own terms.” Last summer, Entertainment Weekly ran a cover story about out-and-proud TV stars, claiming, “The current vibe for discussing one’s sexuality is almost defiantly mellow: This is part of who I am, I don’t consider it a big deal or a crisis, and if you do, that’s not my problem.” A similar sentiment followed from New York magazine’s Carl Swanson, who, in the wake of the double dose of Frank Ocean and Anderson Cooper publicly revealing their private lives, wrote, “Newscaster Anderson Cooper and hip-hop crooner Frank Ocean both just told us they’re gay, and their coming-out last week was an achievement in the long march toward it’s ‘not mattering.’ In their own ways, they showed just how, these days, a public figure must now perform more contortions to stay jammed in the closet than to come out of it.”

Of course, Cooper’s coming out was not a huge shock — Gawker, as well as other online venues, had openly discussed his partner for years. Ocean’s, on the other hand, was a little more surprising, and it was a major coup for queers who had up until then found mainstream hip hop an unfriendly place. Of course, Ocean’s revelations had more to do with the story that his first love was another man; he did not, as in Cooper’s case, say, “I’m gay.” He didn’t identify himself as anything. It’s something that famous people do a lot easier than regular folk.

For yesterday’s New York Times, actress Maria Bello penned a Modern Love column revealing she’s in a relationship with a woman. Framed around recounting her discussion about it with her son, the essay never finds Bello calling herself “gay” or “a lesbian”; instead, the headline suggests it all: “Coming Out as a Modern Family.” Meanwhile, British Olympic diver Tom Daley announced in a YouTube video that he’s dating a man. “Of course I still fancy girls,” he says, “but right now I’m dating a guy and I couldn’t be happier.”

The tides are turning, for sure, indicating that it’s less of a deal than it was before for people to be queer. And in the cases of Bello and Daley, these revelations provide more evidence that sexuality is fluid, etc. But there’s also something to be said about the level of Bello and Daley’s celebrity. I knew of Bello, obviously, as I’ve seen her in numerous films, although I’d never thought much about her personal life. As for Daley, I had to Google him — I’m not much of a sports fan, and quickly forget the names of Olympic stars weeks after the games end. So, sure, it’s no big deal, largely because neither of these people was forced out of the closet by the press in the same way many notable figures before them have been. Much like Frank Ocean — and not like Anderson Cooper — they have the ability to control their own narratives because there wasn’t already a cloud of speculation surrounding them.

But the notion that coming out is “no big deal” is not what we should take from these public revelations. The sexual lives of individual humans are what shouldn’t be a big deal; that those of us who aren’t heteronormative or don’t conform to gender norms must openly discuss our lives to “normalize” our sexual experiences is still quite a big deal. It’s also a big deal to open up to loved ones. I imagine that in both Bello and Daley’s cases, it was quite the big deal to tell their friends and families; it’s not such a problem for them to tell strangers via YouTube or a newspaper column. Consider, on the other hand, those who don’t have the privilege to be working in progressive communities, as Bello and Daley do — we take our liberal-minded, coastal areas for granted. These coming-out narratives are not the norm, no matter what the self-satisfied members of the progressive mainstream media suggest.