First everybody jumped all over Jodie Foster for waiting so long to come out and for not saying what everybody thought she ought to have said, because there were all those people she could have helped (see here, and here), and now there is the mystery around Manti Te’o, which led at least some people this week to say this man is gay and to turn a “mystery” into a scandal and then into a judgment in which Te’o is said to be closeted and using a desperately sick woman as his “beard” and for not helping all those people he could have helped (see ¨here and here, this last as an aid of those who have trouble with pronunciation).
Our culture—both gay and straight—makes it clear that we admire gay people who come out and who are not closeted. The more prominent they are—an actor in maybe a third of the greatest American films since the early seventies or a Notre Dame linebacker up for the Heisman and a pro career—the more we demand that they come out and “help everybody else.” We don’t like it when a person, Hollywood royalty-style, hides behind her privilege or maybe uses a fake girlfriend to keep everyone from knowing he is gay. We want to believe that gay people are heroic fighters for freedom.
But, independent of the needs of the gay community, an individual gay person has needs too, among which is the need to protect her privacy during forty-five years of celebrity and the need to grow up a little when you’re only twenty-one, almost twenty-two. Our needs are not the preeminent ones, always.
Coming out and being heroic was never the only stance for gay people anyway. Gay people have always been able to make their contribution by living their lives and getting on with the business of it, making clear the nature of their sexuality only to the people who need to know, which was certainly always Jodie Foster’s case. Just because we are gay doesn’t mean we have lost our right to privacy. These cases—and Michelle Obama’s case too, with the criticism of her being mom-in-chief instead of coming out as a major corporate lawyer—show our exaggerated need for heroic fighters. A major actor! a major and good-looking football player! We don’t need this. Leave Jodie alone. Leave Te’o alone. Let them do what they want to do. Come out or not, or come out in any way they want. And we can say, always and welcomingly, There’s always a place for you here when you feel it’s right.