Why Ellen Page Coming Out Matters

Last week Ellen Page publicly came out at a Human Rights Campaign conference in a moving speech that brought tears to my eyes. Harriet Williamson explains why this matters, especially to young people struggling with their identity and subject to bullying and harassment.

Her strength and bravery in coming out is not, for me at least, in question. It’s inspiring to have high profile actors, musicians, sports stars and entrepreneurs come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. It makes being part of the LGBTQ community feel less lonely, and not something that should be hidden because you’re afraid of mockery, of not being selected for jobs or of losing friends, contacts and status. The normalization of homosexuality by famous names even makes it harder for young people to bully their LGBTQ peers. I wish Ellen Page had been out when I was a scared twelve-year-old who knew she had to get a boyfriend to fit in and stop the taunts of ‘ugly lesbian bitch’.

Jane Czyzselska writing for the Guardian yesterday is of the opinion that Page’s disclosure “shouldn’t really be news”. I fear that commentators who wish to deny the importance of Page’s speech are rather missing the point. Page’s coming out should be news, as long as we live in a world where homophobia still exists. It should be news because she is giving hope to all of those who are still in the closet, still “lying by omission” and still too afraid to embrace who they are. If we skip over Page’s speech as unimportant, as an irrelevant disclosure, we are downgrading her bravery and failing to recognise how valuable it is for the LGBTQ community when high profile persons decide to be publicly out.

I think celebrities coming out is a huge part of changing public opinion. I don’t think Ellen Degeneres has gotten nearly enough credit for the enormous effect her coming out had. Most bigotry is caused by ignorance rather than malice and the mere fact of knowing someone who is gay often destroys negative stereotypes and breaks down biases. Tens of millions of Americans “know” both Ellens, they like them and admire them. So when they come out of the closet, the effect is enormous.

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  • Taz

    I think Williamson badly misrepresented what Jane Czyzselska wrote:

    Page’s declaration shouldn’t be news, but when I read the spiteful remarks in response to the speech – made to people who work with LGBT teens, many of whom experience mental and physical abuse as a result of their sexuality – my heart sank. The comments ranged from the sneering “We don’t care – Don’t rub our noses in your sexuality – Get a life” to the sinister “Send her to Uganda. That should sort her out.” These words clearly demonstrate why Page’s act was so necessary. I wish coming out wasn’t a big deal. But it’s because of lesbophobia that it is.

  • Michael Heath

    Re Ellen Degeneres: I perceive her as a magnificent hero, where we still haven’t learned from history to how to recognize the heroes of our time that actually earn that descriptor.

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    I fear the only real lesson that fundamentalists will take from this is that naming your daughter Ellen = making her a lesbian.

  • roggg

    It may sound like a tautology, but it matters because it matters, and it will continue to matter until it no longer does.

    Ironically the whole “who cares” backlash is self defeating. If it bothers you enough to complain about it, then the answer is obvious.

  • matty1

    In an ideal situation it shouldn’t matter because being gay should be accepted as part of the normal variation in human behaviour that people don’t hide in the first place. But part of getting to that ideal is that it does matter now.

  • naturalcynic

    Hey, schwa:

    My daughter’s middle name is Ellen and she’s bi. Does that add anything to your hypothesis?

    [true story]

  • http://cheapsignals.blogspot.com Gretchen

    Ironically the whole “who cares” backlash is self defeating. If it bothers you enough to complain about it, then the answer is obvious.

    Yeah. I know people who honestly think that when they say “This shouldn’t be news,” they’re making a statement that we’re a post-homophobic society, where coming out shouldn’t even be necessary because there is no bigotry against people who aren’t straight.

    These people are the definition of “not helping.”

  • http://everyonelikesmovies.blogspot.com countmagnus

    Further to Roggg’s point and Czyzselska’s comments as quoted by Taz: the “who cares?” sneer is one of the most annoying rhetorical tactics of homophobes (and as Ed likes to say, imagine the competition for that title). I’m sure we’ve all seen plenty of comments to the effect of “nobody cares what you do with your genitals – if you’d stop telling us about it, you wouldn’t have any trouble.” Which is utterly disingenuous, of course (not to mention internally contradictory). It’s another form of “shut up and stay in the closet or we’ll thump you” and also an effort to take the air out of positive attention to GLBT people.

  • M can help you with that.

    Jane Czyzselska writing for the Guardian yesterday is of the opinion that Page’s disclosure “shouldn’t really be news”.

    Jane Czyzselska seems to overlook the very real possibility that, in an ideal world, Page’s coming-out shouldn’t be a big deal, but that in the world we currently inhabit her coming-out is significant in terms of moving towards such a world where it isn’t.

    This is one variety of crap that we get in response to any pressure towards equality; we get it from the sexists, from the racists, from the homophobes, from the nationalists, etc., etc., etc.: “Property X about a person shouldn’t make any difference, so why do you insist on bringing it up?” Well, Ms. Czyzselska et al, we bring it up because, right now, it does make a difference, and the only way we can get to the point that it doesn’t is if we, right now, bring it up.

  • http://everyonelikesmovies.blogspot.com countmagnus

    M can help you with that – I think if you read Taz’s comment #1, you’ll see that Jane Czyzselska agrees with you and has been misleadingly quoted out of context.

  • beardymcviking

    How about this: “I would like to live in a world where this didn’t need to be news. But I don’t, and this needs to be news precisely because it still is.”

    Or to put it another way: “It doesn’t matter to me at all that Ellen came out, but it matters to me that it still matters to some?”

    Either way I think coming out is both necessary and brave.

  • M can help you with that.

    countmagnus @ 10 —

    Oops. Yeah, if I’d read the article I would have seen that she’s saying basically what I wanted to, except more clearly. My mistake.