In this week’s Entertainment Weekly special report cover story, writer Mark Harris examines the new, casual method gay celebrities are using to reveal their sexuality publicly for the first time. Fifteen years ago, when Ellen DeGeneres decided to come out of the closet, it was big news. Not just big: It was the cover of Time magazine, and a major story on Oprah, Primetime Live, and CNN. Last month, another star of a popular TV comedy went public with his homosexuality. But the news that The Big Bang Theory’s Emmy-winner Jim Parsons is gay was reported with such matter-of-fact understatement that many people’s first reaction was a quick Google search to see if maybe he was out already and we’d all just failed to notice.
But sometimes big news arrives quietly. That new blink-and-you’ll-miss-it style is an important hallmark of changing times. Fifteen years further into the evolution of gay equality than DeGeneres was, Parsons joins American Horror Story’s Zachary Quinto, White Collar’s Matt Bomer, and any number of other gay TV personalities, from Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson to Glee’s Jane Lynch to CNN anchor Don Lemon to Bravo’s Andy Cohen, who have pretty much put to rest any questions about the viability of being out in showbiz.
Even if it’s accomplished in a subordinate clause or a passing reference, coming out casually is, in its way, as activist as DeGeneres’ Time cover, although few of these actors would probably choose to label themselves as such. The current vibe for discussing one’s sexuality is almost defiantly mellow: This is part of who I am, I don’t consider it a big deal or a crisis, and if you do, that’s not my problem. It may sound like a shrug, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for indifference. By daring anyone to overreact, the newest generation of gay public figures is making a clear statement that there is a “new normal” — and it consists of being plainspoken, clear, and truthful about who you are.