- Gregory Maguire: Most people knew Anderson Cooper was gay; he came out Monday
- He likes that Cooper insists that he still deserves privacy
- He says like Cooper, he knows that being gay is one part of the many qualities that define him
- Maguire: Emerson said "character is centrality;" maybe Cooper believes this, too
I feel like a short-order cook flipping a pancake, looking at it in the air from side to side, to see how well done it is, to see if it is ready. There are plusses and minuses to every statement made by a celebrity. I am a great fan of Anderson Cooper, especially of his hair, but I still want to be honest about what I think of the message he recently sent to Andrew Sullivan, on whose blog he came out on Monday.
It's a pancake with two sides, and it's still up in the air.
On one side, Anderson Cooper joins a long troupe of people like Ellen DeGeneres, Elton John, Liberace and on back down the line, for which the Great Announcement has got to be seen as made, perhaps, for the sea whelks and the Easter Island statues who don't get CNN at home and don't notice sexuality and its cues. I mean, there may yet be a population of creatures on the planet surprised that Anderson Cooper is gay, but I suspect they eat plankton.
On the other side, honesty still takes courage, and one of the things that a bright cunning professional with good hair does when he or she comes out is to encourage other gay or lesbian people with good hair to let it down, too.
What I like better than Cooper's admission, or the good reasons he summarizes for making such an admission, is his insistence that even under these circumstances he has a right to a private life, and he intends to invoke those rights. I have generally resisted being identified as a gay spokesperson, even though I am gay and I do speak. And have political opinions, and I use them in my writing. (I haven't got the hair to be a gay spokesperson, though.)
Less facetiously, the truth is that I could not stomach being a professional gay spokesperson because I have never been a professional homosexual. I am only a professional writer, and as such -- just as Cooper attests, too, about himself -- my sexuality is a real but a limited part of my character. It is something that has helped define me as an artist in that it taught me how to stand on the margins and scrutinize the center.
Incidentally, so, too, has being a Roman Catholic in this dark season of Catholic instability, hysteria and political game-playing. So, too, has being married to a man with whom I have adopted three brown-skinned kids. So, too, is believing that the physicality of books matters. Also, believing in not being a one-issue voter.
All these aspects of my self marginalize me, but they don't make me a Catholic writer, a gay writer, a blended-family writer, a nut-job. They make me a better writer, because they round me out. They fill me with contradictory and complicating sympathies. They make me work harder at being myself.
So, the pancake is still in the air. Will Anderson Cooper be a better professional journalist for having been honest in this aspect of his life? I don't know that anyone can be sure of this, him least of all.
But that is why, in the end, the pancake flips onto a plate ready for serving in a pool of warm maple syrup, and it looks just right. He is willing to take the chance that he might be marginalized for this. He thinks it is important enough to risk being belittled, even by an admirer, like me.
Maybe Anderson Cooper holds close to his heart a maxim that I do. It's by Emerson, one of my own local heroes. He wrote "Character is centrality, the impossibility of being displaced or overset."
When I was about 17, I stitched those words into some invisible vest pocket of my psychic armor and said to myself: "You don't have to tell all the truth. You just have to be sure not to lie. Do not do anything that will cause you to be displaced or overset. Be central upon the limited, unorthodox, marginalized square upon which, through no doing of your own, you find that you stand."
Here's your pancake. And look. It has a face in it! A holy miracle. It isn't the face of Anderson Cooper and it isn't even the face of Jesus (who also has great hair). It's Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Eat your pancake. It's good for you.
Thank you, Anderson.