Archie Bland: Coming out is one thing. Being dragged out is another

Wednesday 04 July 2012 09:55
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Anderson Cooper's not particularly well known over here, but in the US he's a huge star: one of the most prominent news anchors on television, respected as a reporter in his work for CNN but also a celebrity of the sort who's liable to get asked all kinds of invasive questions about his personal life. Also, he's gay. It's been an open secret for years; now, after he finally acknowledged it earlier this week, it's just an open fact.

In one sense, Anderson Cooper's sexuality is no big deal. The obvious cause for celebration in his declaration is that it has mostly been viewed as unremarkable in itself. The US magazine Entertainment Weekly ran a story last week about the gladdening rise in famous people who come out in the most anodyne tone, simply because it carries so much less weight for their careers than it might have even a decade ago. Being gay is pretty mainstream in America today.

In another sense it matters a lot. Cooper has been repeatedly outed over the years – it wouldn't have taken the most ingenious Google detective to discover the truth – and his revelation has to be viewed in that context. While he has always tried to maintain his privacy, he explained in a message published by the blogger Andrew Sullivan, family and friends knew; since he felt that the revelation of his sexuality might compromise him as a reporter, he preferred not to discuss it himself.

The reason for his change in approach is the interesting bit. "I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something," he wrote – "something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true."

It seems to me pretty clear that famous, successful gay people, if they are comfortable doing so, should declare their sexuality openly. As Cooper goes on to argue himself, an example like his can make all the difference to a bullied teenager. But the argument that such an example should trump someone's right to live their private life privately is a really troubling one, zealous and inhuman when followed through.

For years now Cooper's decision to keep this trivia out of the public eye has been treated with disdain by a group of bloggers who apparently feel that their sense of his obligation trumps their total ignorance of his personal circumstances. Who are they to decide on his behalf? And who knows, really, why a man like Cooper might keep this to himself? The fact that he's now able to declare himself is wonderful. But the idea that doing so is any vindication of the people who pushed him into it is repellent.

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