The Implacable Mr. Cooper

ANDERSON COOPER IS cute when he giggles.

At this point, the public statement about his love life is old news.  But in all the stories about him in the last few weeks, I’ve yet to find any mention of his giggling—that leveler of man which tells us more about him than the recent public statement about his sexuality.

(I won’t say he “came out,” because he didn’t. He already was. Out, that is.)

Mr. Cooper and Kathy Griffin, in their New Year’s Eve hosting duties, have proven to be an entertaining pair: she of the shocking gag and he of the unflappable demeanor.  Whereas everything Griffin does is magnified by the lens of her outsized public persona, Mr. Cooper maintains a reserve that only increases our interest in his private life. Watching them together is like waiting for a cute animal to peek out of an underground hole while a mischievous child aims her watergun. When Griffin lobs a doozy his way, Anderson, the giggler, seemingly so secure in war-torn landscapes, is suddenly and willfully busted.

Is there anything more beguiling than someone so unflappable being suddenly exposed?

Laughing fit.

Mr. Cooper’s revelation via Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Beast is a chink in the armor—not because his love life is such a surprise but because his acute need for privacy has come under scrutiny. Even in the modern age, when appetites for everything from sex to our daily meals are made public, and where Facebook is eroding humility, some of us prefer our Anderson Coopers at a distance. There are actually people who don’t like to talk about their private lives.

The late Paul Newman and his widow, Joanne Woodward, managed to hold on to their privacy and still remain in the public eye. Classy. Newman and Woodward, in their insistence on privacy, made a statement: “We are here to entertain you but we are not your entertainment.” The need for privacy, bound to no direct political agenda, is of itself a political statement. To quote Carol Hanisch’s 1969 essay, “the personal is political.”

I don’t like the celebrity circus our culture has become: stars and celebrities are set high above only so we can enjoy their falls to earth. Addictions and misfired tweets and petty thievery are part of the side show. Gossip writers bark out celebrity intimacies with the defense: their private lives are news. Is it fair to Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise that swarms of paparazzi and “reporters” try so hard to get a story that shouldn’t even be one?

Meryl Streep—or, as I like to call her, The Streep—icon of talent and integrity, does not make much of her personal life, either. She thanked her husband, quite movingly, at the Oscars this year, but I’ll admit I didn’t even know they were still married. I’m glad to know they share what seems a great love between them. But it’s none of my business.

 ~

For at least a decade I’ve heard grumblings from gay rights activists (at least a few that I know) and angry, non-activist gays and lesbians (at least a few that I know), who spend more time ranting on Facebook than doing anything active, that Mr. Cooper should “come out”—even though his orientation was and continues to be common knowledge.

The first instances of involuntary, public “outings” of gay men by the LGBT community happened at the height of the AIDS crisis in the late 80’s: specifically 1989 when conservative senator Mark Hatfield (R-OR), who had voted against all LGBT rights issues, was outed by ACT UP, the powerfully vocal organization which adopted the SILENCE=DEATH campaign as its bulwark. Since then the activist cry has been, “Come out or do harm.” Being in the closet is harmful to the community.

Writer and activist Michelangelo Signorile, in a recent Huffington Post article, complained that “many celebrities are now embarrassed to be seen as having ever been in the closet and are coming out in low-key, matter-of fact ways.” I appreciate Signorile’s point of view— being in the closet is harmful to the gay revolution—but the hypocrisy of voting against gay rights after a morning of soliciting sex in airport bathrooms is far from Mr. Cooper’s life.Anderson has been seen out and about (pun: intentional) with male companions for a long time now.

Public figures like Mr. Cooper, Frank Ocean, Ellen Degeneres (who nearly squashed her own career by coming out before it was cool to do so) indeed affect the civil rights movement by being open. I would argue that thousands upon thousands of gays who aren’t public figures, who have been out for decades or who dare to come out in communities which oppress, violate and brutalize them, are more courageous. But the front is united celebrities and civilians alike. We make our love lives known and instances of victimization and political oppression slowly fade into history. (Too slowly.) In this decade alone we have seen enough celebrities voluntarily stepping out of their closets to do their parts as the whittling away of anti-gay legislation continues.

But what happens to all of us when we insist that a public figure give up his private life simply because he is in the public eye? In a changing world, is Anderson Cooper allowed not to be an activist? His public statement was an act of practicality. As he said in his letter to Sullivan (and now, the world), “there continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.”

But the “tell” for me is in his quoted and re-quoted statement: “The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.”

It’s the kind of statement made by someone who doesn’t engage in self-aggrandizement. Anderson Cooper is too busy living his life to toot his own horn (insert cheap joke about tootingAnderson’s horn here.)

The personal is political.

Anderson’s non-outing is an important event to the gays in our fight for equal rights. His public statement is an affirmation that gay people are people too and, just as the heterosexual Newman & Woodward did for decades, can demand privacy.

Mr. Cooper said: “I still consider myself a reserved person and I hope this doesn’t mean an end to a small amount of personal space. But I do think visibility is important, more important than preserving my reporter’s shield of privacy.” Something about his giggling had already tipped me off to his reserved nature.

Bravo, Anderson, for giving up that thing which has been so important to you in favor of the greater good. Now let’s go out for drinks and giggles.

In private.

Tom Gualtieri

About Tom Gualtieri

Tom Gualtieri (@TomGGualtieri)is a theatre artist with his hand in many disciplines: lyricist, playwright, performer, director, knitter. He maintains an ongoing collaboration with composer David Sisco. His solo play, That Play: A Solo Macbeth, was nominated for a 2013 Drama Desk Award.
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