Friday, May 25, 2012

Does "The Big Bang Theory" Star Jim Parson's Public "Outing" in the New York Times Count?

Every time a celebrity comes out of the closet standing on his, or her, own two feet, rather than being dragged out of it, kicking and screaming, it's a small victory. But the recent New York Times article that casually mentioned that The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons is gay -- as far as I know, the first direct acknowledgement in the mainstream media -- has a sort of deja vu feel to it. Parsons is just the latest in a long line of male performers -- Neil Patrick Harris, Ricky Martin, Clay Aiken, Adam Lambert, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Richard Chamberlain -- who confirmed what anyone with semi-functioning gaydar, or who has ever secretly read an issue of The Enquirer or Star, probably already knew.

Yep, he's gay. Pass the peas, please.

It was obvious to me the first time I saw Parsons as virginal physicist Sheldon Cooper on the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, which I probably enjoy a lot more than I should. When he won his Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series in 2010, I updated my Facebook status to comment on the openly gay Emmy ceremony: One gay comedy actor wins, while in the supporting comedy actor category, a straight guy, Eric Stonestreet, beats out three gay guys, by playing gay.

When nobody "liked" it or had anything to add, I wondered if it was something I said/wrote. I backtracked in my mind and began to question my gaydar. Was it malfunctioning? Then a few months ago, when I saw Parsons being interviewed by Ellen Degeneres on her talk show, he confirmed what I'd suspected without actually confirming anything. No 39-year-old actor spends that much time talking about his mother (and Ellen's), his sister and his nephew unless he's family.

"Is coming out over?" one headline asked, in response to Parson's non-outing outing in the Times. Though he wasn't exactly forthcoming with Ellen, it's not as if Parsons has ever hidden the fact that he's gay, and she never brought it up. He's attended award shows with his longtime companion Todd Spiewak, and he's never tried to pass himself off as Charlie Sheen.

But coming out is far from over, and if any A-list male action star ever bothers to do it, it will once again be front-page, cover-of-Newsweek news. In Parson's case, the way the New York Times nonchalantly revealed his sexual persuasion without announcing it with exclamation points and rainbow flags is commendable. It treats being gay the same way it treats being straight -- as a matter of fact. But had the subject been an actor of Brad Pitt's or George Clooney's caliber, or if Will Smith had kissed that male Russian reporter back, I suspect it would have been an entirely different story.

Perhaps Parson's sexual orientation wasn't treated like breaking news because it wasn't. The Times could have gotten more publicity mileage for its story with a photograph of a shirtless Parsons and his boyfriend sucking his nipple, but that probably would have gone over less well than Time's mother-son pose did. His outing won't change the world, or likely alter anyone's perception of gay people. We'll need need a different actor to take us completely by surprise before that happens.

In the meantime, here's an idea: Why not make Sheldon Cooper gay, too? It's not like the writing isn't on the wall in bold print. The last time I watched, Parsons' Big Bang Theory character was on the way to becoming a 40-year-old virgin, one who has never exhibited the slightest interest in the opposite sex -- or sex at all, for that matter. That would make it a win-win for CBS. The show would get tons of attention for outing the character, and CBS would never have to worry about showing him kissing a guy.

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