Middlebrow: Ellen Page And The Importance Of Coming Out In Hollywood

Actress Ellen Page from the film "The East" poses for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2
Actress Ellen Page from the film "The East" poses for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP Images)

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On Valentine's Day, Ellen Page came out in a headline-making speech delivered at a Human Rights Campaign event for LGBTQ youth educators and counselors. Her voice vibrating with nerves, Page spoke so beautifully, so articulately, that her words were enough to bring members of the audience to their feet. Although, some questioned the impact of coming out in such an accepting climate and speculated whether it would affect her future roles. But, when we are thinking about what such a publicized coming out means today, the metric of risk pales in comparison to its impact on LGBTQ individuals, in search of an out-and-proud role model in the celebrity community. The importance of Page's speech ought to be measured in terms of the individual lives it effects and not its potential to destroy her reputation or career.

If you're straight, even straight and actively advocating for the LGBTQ community, it's easy to sit back and say, "Well, I'm okay with this, and Obama's okay with this and there was even a big gay wedding ceremony at the Grammys, so it seems like everybody is kind of okay with this." Yes, thankfully, acceptance has skyrocketed in recent years alongside the lobby for marriage equality. Yet, there is a fundamental difference between being accepting of something and experiencing it first hand.

It should go without saying that coming out is taking a risk -- a fact shown through NFL executives' vitriolic response to Michael Sam's coming out last week. But even if that weren't the case, even if coming out meant that you were instantly accepted and celebrated, it wouldn't change the fact that gay people are a minority demographic, almost automatically marginalized by macroculture as a result of being so.

"I'm here today because I am gay, and because maybe I can make a difference," Page said, citing the "social responsibility" of revealing her sexuality. Coming out himself in September of 2010, Anderson Cooper similarly discussed the importance of visibility, saying, "The tide of history only moves forward when everybody is visible," adding that he "didn't want to send a message that there was anything [he] was ashamed about."


This discourse of responsibility and visibility points to a bigger moral picture. Both Page and Cooper understand an ethical component to publicly announcing their sexuality. They weigh the impact that coming out would have beyond its effect on their personal or private lives, making the decision to come out based on how it will effect the holistic perception of the gay community. For prominent figures like Page and Cooper, being out and proud is important for those individuals who see so few people like themselves celebrated in the public sphere.

Yet, her bravery was still dragged into question. Over at Time, Brandon Ambrosino asked "Was it brave of Page to announce to a room full of LGBT youth, at an event sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, that she, a popular and well-to-do Hollywood twenty-something, was gay?" He further compared her to a different gay Ellen, citing the fact that "one year after DeGeneres announced she was gay, her award-winning sitcom was canceled." Sure, Page may have less to lose on a professional level than she might have 20 years ago but there are plenty of instances of celebrities who have been shunned because they could no longer "play straight." Perhaps the most blaring example of which is Rupert Everett, who claimed coming out "ruined his career." Although, even if coming out wasn't a potentially career-ruining move for Page, it doesn't sully its importance.

In a perfect world, coming out wouldn't be brave, because sexuality wouldn't matter. But it does -- and the question is not whether it is particularly courageous to reveal one's sexuality, but what it means for those who are pressured into keeping a portion of their identity secret. It's foolish to think that this kind of thing should be measured in terms of how prevalent the public acceptance of gayness has come to be. There are plenty of young people who are desperate for a role model. As Page put it herself, there are "too many kids out there suffering from bullying, rejection, or simply being mistreated because of who they are." And so, if her taking to a public stage and proudly declaring her sexuality helps just one of those young people realize that there is a bright, talented actress who is out and proud and accepted for it, then that ought to be the measure of whether her speech matters.

Everything Else You Need To Know:


  • Back in October, there was promise of a contentious and deeply revealing Vanity Fair article about Gwyneth Paltrow, which turned out to be, ironically enough, about how much we love-hate Gwyneth Paltrow (really, pause to look into that mirror, people). In any case, the rumor mill has latched on to the potential of such an "epic takedown," by churning out the idea that Goop is cheating on Chris "Coldplay" Martin" with her lawyer. Except, we know this is not true, because HOW could you cheat on someone whose mere voice evokes all the hope and beauty of the universe? And, also, her rep denied it.
  • There was a major, show-changing moment in the very first episode of "House of Cards," which was important if only for the way it alters the way we discuss spoilers in streaming shows. Read Willa Paskin's take on it over at Slate.
  • In case you were worried that Miley Cyrus was not still fulfilling the rebel archetype and attempting to shock us with her every move, she put a fan's thong in her mouth during a show on her "Bangerz" tour. Someone threw their thong up on stage, and she thought, "Hmm, what should I do with this under garment that has probably touched someone else's crotch region?" And then she put it right in her mouth. There is not enough Listerine in the world.
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  • Kanye (and apparently everyone else) remixed Beyonce's "Drunk In Love," by providing a lot of lyrics about having sex with Kim Kardashian, including the line that he "impregnated [her] mouth," which we would assume is how North was born, except that's not science.
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