Who’s Keeping Anderson Cooper Honest?

Dear Anderson Cooper – You don’t know me, and while I knew of you, I had never seen any of your work prior to your viral giggling fit, which, I’ll admit, won me over. (For that silly reason alone, I got tickets to see your talk show.) I’m more aware of you from your cat-and-mouse game of dodging the gay question – which is entirely your right to do, but after seeing your show in person yesterday, I think it might behoove you to come out – if only for your own happiness.

I read somewhere that I wasn’t supposed to give anything away about the show before it aired, but since the topic was of no interest to me, I’m not going to reveal anything about that or who might have been on it (I didn’t know them anyway). Having never attended any other talk shows, I don’t really know how they work, but I got the distinct impression that you didn’t really want to be there. Much of the time you were short, quick, and almost testy with the crew. You seemed to be going through the motions, and there was an unhappiness and complete lack of joy in what you were doing, which begs the question: Why?

I get the feeling that you’re trying to be both things at once – the serious, hard news reporter, as well as the likable, friendly, my-life-is-an-open-Oprah-book-of-the-month talk show host – and you can’t really do that successfully – at least, you’re not doing it yet, and I wonder at the reason for it. Any sort of reticence to get personal or revelatory will be seen as disingenuous. The fact that you just showed an episode of yourself crying and discussing your brother’s suicide with your Mom shows that you can get personal and still maintain a professional stance, so your reluctance to address your sexuality is a sticking point with me, played out almost comically as Britney Spears blasts over the studio speakers and the seats fill with middle-aged women and young gay men. There’s no nobility in cowering behind the reporter’s visage, not when you have a talk show on which you’re revealing the personal side of your life.

Through the windows of the set, I can see flocks of birds flying over the backdrop of Central Park, and their freedom seems a tragic juxtaposition against yours. You suddenly seem to me a man who’s trapped – caged in that metal-and-glass backed set overlooking Columbus Circle, frantically running up into the audience for one last question that was actually just a gift: a ragged-looking woman in gold pleather gives you a rosary and a plastic vial of holy water – the significance of which no one seems quite able, or willing, to grasp. I don’t know what you made of the present – was it her effort to save you from a certain unnamed lifestyle? A simple, genuine gift of faith? A public push to accept Jesus Christ as your one and only savior? You received it graciously before literally running off the set with a wave, on to save the world in more important arenas perhaps.

When I return home that night, I turn on your AC360 show on CNN, where you are more formal in jacket and tie. You open by reporting on another suicide due to bullying – a 14-year-old child has killed himself after being bullied for his sexuality. It is not the first time you have drawn worthy attention to the issue, even if means being ridiculously perceived as pushing a “gay agenda” – and that’s admirable of you – but it’s not enough.

You talk of the loneliness and desperation and how heartbreaking it is. You showed the video that the boy – Jamey Rodemeyer – made for the ‘It Gets Better’ project – and I wait for some flicker of whether this is personal to you. There are some things that only another gay person who has been through that fear can understand and access. Is that you? Are you one of us?

How sad that this dead child – this 14-year-old boy who was brave enough to be himself at such young age, to put his life in danger and ultimately take it himself – has done more for gay youth than you have done. Make no mistake, you have done a lot in your own way – just not that one final admittance of truth, that one simple act that might make all the difference.

You continue to publicly crusade against bullying, yet your very act of playing it coy and private with your own sexuality doesn’t seem to be saying that it’s okay for young people to be gay or for their mothers (who adore you) to embrace them. I’ve seen those mothers gush over you on FaceBook and Twitter and now in your own studio, and I know the power you have.

Maybe you’re afraid to offend and lose viewers. Maybe you honestly feel it is none of anyone’s business and it shouldn’t make a difference. And maybe you’re right on all points – but if there’s the slightest chance that it might help someone, why wouldn’t you do it?

When I was a kid growing up in the 80’s, my only gay idols were Liberace and Rock Hudson. While the former enticed with his glittery extravagance and the latter had lots of luminous lady co-stars, in the end they were two sad, scared souls who had to hide from the world and die more or less alone. That’s all I had to look up to. In aPeople magazine story on Liberace, I searched for a sign of recognition, desperate to discover whether that would one day be me. Was the only way through a life like theirs an early death of secrecy and disease? It would be another decade before I could even face the fact that I was gay.

Far more resonant than “Stop the bullying” or “It Gets Better” would have been the intrinsic message of solidarity and acknowledgement in a hero’s proclamation of “I am like you”. That would have done more to drive away the loneliness I felt than any sort of pat on the back or other protection would have engendered. By leaving us without that, you fail in all your other efforts.

If I’d only seen someone like you – someone successful, someone I admired – living openly as a gay man – how much heartache and loneliness would that have prevented? How many other kids might be saved, if not from death then possibly from pain? Why wouldn’t you come out to help just one person, or save just one life? Knowing the hurt and anguish that a single extinguished soul can leave, why wouldn’t you take that chance?

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