Originally published in HUFFPOST GAY VOICES,
Yet another famous person, this time the adorable actress Ellen Page, has come out gay. She did so in an eloquent speech she delivered shakily on Valentine’s Day at the Human Rights Campaign’s inaugural conference devoted to educators and counselors who work with youth who identify lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual or queer. She did so, she said, because she felt “a personal obligation and a social responsibility.” She also did so selfishly because she was “tired of hiding and lying by omission.”
I loved her speech. I’m grateful she gave it. I can only imagine the lives she has impacted because she was willing to give it. But at the same time, I wish that her being a lesbian, or Missouri defensive end Michael Sam being gay, didn’t grab headlines. I wish that this were old news.
Last December I wrote a Huffington Post blog about being a woman in love with a woman, even though I don’t identify lesbian. It was read by some 1,100 people at last count. It was shared on Facebook and on Twitter.
Some people celebrated me and some people said they didn’t understand. For a couple of days I read the comments that ran underneath my post and even replied to a handful. And then I just stepped back. It was interesting to watch people who didn’t know me comment on my life as if they did. I shared that observation on Facebook, the weirdness of it all, and a friend thanked me for my courage. She said I got a conversation started because I was willing to share and to be honest about my experience.
While people I barely knew on Facebook were cyber clapping me on the back, my five siblings and a few of my dearest friends were silent. I read all sorts of things into that. Then I decided to ask about their silence rather than speculate about it.
One of my sisters said she was hesitant to share my post via Facebook because she’s afraid for me and my girlfriend. Not only are we two women in love, we’re black and white and living in North Carolina, a state not known for its progressiveness. “There are hateful people out there,” my sister said. “I don’t want anything to happen to you two.”
Another sister said she didn’t understand how I could share something so personal so publicly. She also doesn’t get why it matters who I sleep with or whom anyone sleeps with for that matter.
I know what she means. I’ve felt that way, too. I agreed with Facebook friends who posted, “I can’t WAIT for this to not be news!” after the NBA’s Jason Collins came outlast April and again when Michael Sam came out and when journalist Anderson Cooper said he was gay.
So why is it news? And why should those of us who prefer sleeping with people of the same sex talk about it? Because, as Kate Aurthur so powerfully wrote in a the New York Times post, “The world is a better place when people aren’t lying.”
When Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian in 1997, she said she did it neither to be “the” lesbian actress, nor to be a spokesperson for all things gay. She did it for her own truth. Just as I imagine Rosa Parks wasn’t looking to forge a new era for freedom and equality when she refused to give up her seat on that Montgomery City bus on her way home from work in 1955.
When my sister said she was afraid for my girlfriend and me, I countered with this: How do things ever change if we operate from a place of fear? If people like Ellen DeGeneres and Ellen Page remain silent about their sexuality, then how do young lesbians ever come to see themselves as normal? If the beautiful actress Maria Bello didn’t write a Modern Love column in the New York Times about being in love with her female best friend, then how do women who have always loved men know that they’re not freaks to now want to be with women? And how do people who define themselves as heterosexual ever make room in their heads and hearts for people who love people of the same sex?
If social media were around during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, we would have been posting and weighing in about Rosa Parks. We would have Tweeted about the four black college men who sparked the sit-in movement when they sat down at the “whites only” counter at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro. Some of us would have grown frustrated and shared, “I can’t wait for the day when this isn’t news!”
I believe the day will come where a celebrity’s sexuality won’t make the news. But it will take a while, just as it will take a while before my girlfriend and I can walk hand in hand anywhere in America without worrying about our safety.