Actress Ellen Page, 26, came out as a lesbian on Valentine’s Day. The X-Men: Days of Future Past star stated that she was gay in a speech at a Human Rights Campaign conference promoting the well-being of LGBTQ youth, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“I’m here today because I am gay. And because maybe I can make a difference. To help others have an easier and more hopeful time. Regardless, for me, I feel a personal obligation and a social responsibility.”
Every time a celebrity comes out as gay, there is a mix of reaction online based on personal views that are now so widely visible on social media. Instead of hearing only the viewpoints of our own circles of family and friends, we have an Internet full of opinions, limited only by our choice to read them. I follow celebrity news pretty closely, and I’m an active Facebook and Twitter user, so that means that I read feedback from many, many people of diverging views on just about any topic imaginable. The one comment about the act of publicly coming out that I frequently see and don’t understand, especially given the political and cultural climate surrounding LGBT issues, is: “Why is this a big deal?”
Why is this a big deal? It’s a big deal because the first NFL draft-eligible college football player to identify himself as gay, Michael Sam, did so last week. Last week — not 10 years ago. It’s a big deal because marriage equality isn’t a given in our entire country. It’s a big deal because there is still cultural bias and prejudice against LGBT people. Read any Internet comments section on the matter, if you can stand it. It’s a big deal because Ellen Page was so afraid to admit that she was gay that her health suffered.
“I am tired of hiding and I am tired of lying by omission. I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered, my mental health suffered and my relationships suffered. And I’m standing here today, with all of you, on the other side of all that pain.”
That is why it’s a big deal when people come out. These difficult experiences for gay people in identifying who they are publicly are sadly still so widespread, and well-reported, that I don’t know how people don’t see sharing them as necessary.
Even the relatively benign statement, “I look forward to the day when someone’s sexuality isn’t newsworthy,” is iffy to my ear. I understand wishing for that, but in 2014, that lack of newsworthiness is not true. That’s why it’s important to hear it when it is true. And minimizing or bemoaning the newsworthiness of something is actually, in a way, saying it doesn’t matter. It’s saying you want it to go away. That is a dangerous thing to wish for in any situation where people are oppressed for who they are and where it still takes an act of bravery to own it.
So today, yes, I believe that it matters that a young person like Page can stand on a stage and tell anyone listening in her large sphere of influence that she is gay. I believe it matters very much. Among those millions of people who are listening are people who are afraid to come out themselves, and maybe this will help them get closer or all the way to sharing the truth of who they are, too. Less importantly, there may be people who have seen her in movies, including Inception, Juno, and X-Men: The Last Stand, and never thought of her as “what a lesbian looks like,” whatever that means. Maybe her coming out can help change those perceptions and break down stereotypes.
It matters because she is challenging the status quo for actors in her industry, where in spite of progress most roles are reserved for straight, white women. She knows this, too.
“It’s weird because here I am, an actress, representing — at least in some sense — an industry that places crushing standards on all of us, not just young people, but everyone. Standards of beauty. Of a good life. Of success. Standards that, I hate to admit, have affected me.”
She didn’t just say “standards” in her industry. She said “crushing standards.” That means that she knows what she is up against in her career. It is monumental that she finally had enough of not being true to herself to risk challenging the status quo.
And that is why it’s a big deal that Ellen Page came out. That is why someone’s sexuality is still newsworthy. I recommend watching the video of her speech, and seeing the relief flood her face when she says, “I am gay,” and the genuine gratitude she shows for the people in the room who have gone before her — who have helped her find the strength to claim her identity out loud. It’s powerful stuff. She may be a famous actress, but in that moment she is just a young woman sharing her story in the most touching words, with obvious emotion.
This is why Ellen Page standing on a stage and speaking a very simple truth that is still widely complex is important. It’s important for her and it’s important for other people. Whether anyone guessed about her sexuality before or never knew at all, now they know the truth, from her, where it counts.
Photo credit: PCN Photos