Is there a new definition of "out"?
Is there a new definition of "out"?
by Jennifer Vanasco - SGN Contributing Writer

Time was, you weren't officially out (especially if you were a celebrity) until you declared it in public. You had to stand before a microphone and say, "Yes, I'm Gay," or "Yes, I'm a Lesbian."

Or you had to speak to Barbara Walters. Or become a spokesperson for a Gay organization.

Or you had to give an exclusive magazine interview, where you declared - as Ellen DeGeneres did in 1997 - something like "Yep, I'm Gay."

Clay Aiken did exactly that last week with his People magazine interview. The cover line? "Yes, I'm Gay."

But unlike Ellen, who caused a firestorm of response and a temporary halt to what has turned out to be a long-lived career, people mostly looked at the Aiken cover and either shrugged or said they supported him.

Why the shrug? Because Gayness is no longer something extraordinary or indecent. It is not longer about the Love That Won't Dare Speak Its Name.

Instead, it's become a lot more like heterosexual love - something to parade on red carpets, to sweeten with children, to commit to in sickness and in health.

Which makes me wonder: Is the Aiken cover the death knell of the public proclaiming of Gayness?

Take Aiken's counter-example of Lindsay Lohan.

Lohan has no magazine interview where she declares, "For sure! I'm Gay!" I've seen nothing on record where she identifies herself as a Lesbian.

Instead, she has simply been very public about being in love with DJ Samantha Ronson. Not in the creepy, Tom-Cruise-jumping-on-a-couch kind of way, but in a quiet, respectful way. The women have been photographed holding hands everywhere; they seem to always be together.

And when Lohan was asked how long the two of them had been together on a call-in radio show, she simply answered, "A long time."

In other words, Lohan and Ronson act just like famous (and not-so-famous) heterosexual couples do.

There was no public proclamation, because there was no need for one. The world has changed, and with it, the definition of what it is to be out.

Public proclaiming always felt to me to be both necessary and unfair. On the one hand, what heterosexual had to give a magazine interview assuring people of his or her straightness? (Unless, of course, that heterosexual was actually "secretly" Gay and trying to hide it).

On the other hand, if we didn't proclaim in public - if we didn't take the microphone on National Coming Out Day or gather our families to tell them explicitly that yes, we're Gay - then we were invisible.

Straight people could pretend that we didn't exist. And people who don't exist don't get civil rights.

I'm not saying that we're in the clear now. Of course we're not. We are still far, far from achieving full equality, and there are still plenty of people who don't think we should be able to recognize our relationships.

Studies have shown that knowing Gay people makes a real difference in how straight people view LGBT civil rights - and celebrities often feel like friends. It is always wonderful to have a new, particularly beloved, celebrity join our parade. Clay Aiken is welcome.

But I think acknowledging one's Gayness to oneself and others is becoming less a question of COMING out and more of simply BEING out.

We are more likely now, I think, to just be ourselves, living our lives. To hold hands with our girlfriends. To join our husbands at back-to-school meetings. To snuggle on the train.

Being out is something all of us can do. We don't have to talk to a magazine. We don't even necessarily have to have "the talk" with our families or friends. We don't have to have some intense, confrontational (or cathartic) coming out.

Instead, we can invite them to our weddings, and talk about our husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends the same way heterosexuals do.

We no longer need to proclaim our sexuality in public, because it is no longer assumed that all people are heterosexual. We no longer need to shout, "We're here! We're Queer!" to show people that we exist.

We only have to be open about who we are and who we love.

And that is a world I'm happy to live in.

Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning, syndicated columnist. E-mail her at jennifer.vanasco@gmail.com.