“I also understand the Pope is a Catholic!”
Depressingly, this seems to be considered by many to be the most appropriate response to a gay person coming out. No ‘well done for having the courage’ or ‘I hope you feel happier now this is in the open’, just plain old, 'tell us something we don’t know'.
Now, I don’t pretend to understand every LGBT person’s individual ‘coming out’ journey but I do know that for many, myself included, it can be a long, difficult, and sometimes painful process. The nights laid awake wondering how your friends, family and colleagues will react, the self doubt, the panic of not knowing whether the revelation will cause your life as you know it to blow up in your face. I’m sure for some people, coming out is the easiest, most natural thing in the world, but for others, it’s the single biggest step they’ll ever take. It’s a little soul-destroying, therefore, to see this momentous (at the least for the person taking it) step reduced to, “It was hardly a secret, was it?”
That’s why it’s always a little disappointing when a celebrity that people have decided ‘looks gay’ comes out, and social media is suddenly awash with commentators quick to point out how they’ve always known, and that it was blindly obvious all along.
That’s exactly what happened this week when Barry Manilow came out at the age of 73 after being in a relationship with the same man for nearly 40 years. Whilst Manilow was trending on Twitter, I’d estimate that more than half the tweets about the news were of the self-congratulatory ‘and I suppose bears shit in the woods’ variety. Now in Manilow’s case, matters are complicated somewhat by the fact that he married his partner three years ago in what was supposed to be a secret ceremony. That nasty rags like the Daily Mail invaded Manilow’s privacy to report the news a year later does mean that many people probably did know, but there’s also a pretty strong case for saying that it’s up to him to decide when he wants to discuss such private matters, and not some unscrupulous ‘journalist’ chasing a scoop.
I should point out that, in the vast majority of cases, there was no outright malice involved in the comments, but also little thought as to how they might affect others who might be thinking of coming out. Having been in that situation myself, much of what was said to me in the days afterwards was a bit of a blur. I do remember that, in general, most people were kind, supportive and loving, but the comments I remember most clearly are the ones that were not quite so positive - including the various sneery observations of those who ‘knew all along’. If I was thinking of coming out now, I’d be much more emboldened to do so by seeing others who have taken this step being received warmly and positively.
So next time an ‘obviously gay’ person comes out, you might like to consider whether you want your comment to be the one that helps someone else summon up the courage to join them, or the one that they’ll remember for all the wrong reasons.