The first time I came out was in a letter to my best friend Alison when I was 19. She cried. Not because I was gay, but because she was moved by the effort I made to assure her that things wouldn't change between us, that she would remain my closest and dearest friend, and that nothing -- not even something as shocking as me wanting to have sex with dudes -- would change that.
I wanted her to be comfortable, so I put her feelings first.
And it went pretty well, so I told my parents. They were visiting me at school, and after a tense meal at Fuddruckers, I chose to break the news at an intersection on Route 1. The light changed three times before my dad put the car in gear and began driving back to my dorm. Before I got out of the car, I handed my mother some PFLAG literature that I had kept in my pocket during the whole visit, and I told her about a group that met regularly near where she lives. I still remember the feeling of that clammy, wrinkled pamphlet when she immediately handed it back to me with a terse, "That's OK. We're not joiners." I got it. I mean, I'm not much of a joiner myself.
But I wanted her to feel comfortable knowing she was not alone. I wanted her to be comfortable.
I took a similarly apologetic approach for years, employing a million and one tactics to assure co-workers, agents, neighbors, bosses, plumbers, electricians, chatty cab drivers, landlords, strangers and new acquaintances alike that there was nothing in or about me to fear. Even in New York, where you're gay until proven otherwise, I was careful to parse my words, prevaricate for the comfort of others and subtly pepper in the tell-tale personal pronoun in order to introduce the subject of a boyfriend.
Then, in the fall of 2001, I got this job, one that promised a kind of financial security I had never experienced in my years as an actor. But just before I was to sign the papers that would deliver the pay-off for years of hard work in obscurity, a scary thought crossed my mind: "Would it make a difference to the people that were putting so much trust in me if they were to discover that the person they were hiring to represent their brand was gay?"
I can report that 10 years into this fantastic job, my being gay has never been made an issue among the people with whom I work. Believe me, I know how fortunate I am; even though I think corporate America is way ahead of Washington on this, the relative sense of security I enjoy in my job is not shared by many LGBTQ people in the workplace. This, in fact, is one of the themes we explore in my film The Green, which is available on VOD everywhere today, Oct. 18th! (Good plug, no?)
Last spring, in the interest of discussing my work as a filmmaker, I agreed to sit down with a reporter for the very first time in my career. The story that resulted from that interview appeared in a national publication that I respect tremendously and to which I also happen to have had a subscription. There was an angle to the piece that painted the picture of an unassuming guy utterly disempowered by -- indeed "shackled" to -- a big, bad corporation. A good angle, but also totally inaccurate.
But the real news was that I had gone on record with my sexual orientation, and the tempest this created in the media teapot was nothing short of mortifying, particularly for someone utterly unacquainted with the vagaries of celebrity. Up until this point, mind you, I had absolutely no public persona outside the notoriety that accompanied my character in commercials. Within one day of the article landing, I was trending on Yahoo!, and the story had been picked up by newswires, gossip columnists, television and entertainment news broadcasts, late-night talk show hosts and, yes, even the esteemed Huffington Post, which, over the years, had also demonstrated an inexplicable interest in my real estate transactions, political donations and changes in weight. Matt Lauer's office called my mother at home.
Within 48 hours the story had been distorted even further, with a headline in the New York Post that read, "Former 'Can you hear me now?' guy reveals bizarre life." Granted, it's the Post, so, you know... But it is worth noting that not only did that headline imply that I was no longer working for the company, but it also characterized the revelation of my sexuality as something "bizarre." Cheyenne Jackson, who co-stars in The Green (another nearly seamless plug, thank you!) and has also found his sexual orientation fodder for media gossip on a much larger scale, sent me a text after seeing this headline that read, "Let me guess, you feel like someone is scraping your face with a cheese grater right about now." And that is exactly how it felt.
Oh, did I mention that Ellen's producers called to ask if I wanted to come on and do a "bit" about how I was now unemployed? My response: "Do you think Ellen wanted to do a 'bit' after she'd been publicly fired and humiliated? I don't think so." Maybe that's why they don't want me on the show now to promote my film. And by the way, I'd like to repeat that despite what you may have read, I was not fired for being gay. I was not fired at all.
It also bears noting that my own community was not much more supportive than the mainstream media. My fellows in the gay blogosphere were considerably more vociferous about my weight gain the previous January than they were about my coming out. No confetti, tambourines or coming out cakes for me. If we really want our public figures to come out of the closet, we have to be careful that when they do take this huge step, we don't greet the news with a jaded, "Yeah, it's about time. What took him so long?" or, "Who cares?" or, "As if we didn't know..." It is a considerable risk, both financially and personally, for many people, and a little kindness would be appreciated from the homefront.
In the mortification that resulted from this two-day news cycle, I began to think about all the years I had spent trying to make other people feel comfortable with my sexuality, and about the simpering, apologetic tone I would employ in order not to threaten anyone. And I wondered where that had gotten me.
So I'm gonna do this one more time, and I'm gonna do it right:
I am gay.
There, I said it. If it makes you uncomfortable, too bad. It's not going to change. I wouldn't change it if I could. And if you have a problem with it, it is because you are either ignorant, brainwashed or a latent homosexual yourself.
I would like to finish this blog entry where I started. Alison has, in fact, remained my closest and dearest friend to this day, and I enjoy a great adult relationship with my parents. Would this be the case if I had handled things differently, if I'd been a little less sensitive to their feelings in my approach? In retrospect, the answer is yes. If those relationships were meant to last and develop -- and apparently they were -- we would have worked through it, like so many things friends and family negotiate over time.
By the way, you may send coming-out presents (and cake) to my attention at The Huffington Post. Or better yet, just check out my movie The Green on VOD.
The Green is available Oct. 18 on cable "Movies on Demand" and everywhere you can rent or download movies online. For more, visit thegreenthemovie.com.