Discourses of “witch-hunting” always follow celebrity “outings”. The ethics of the practice are called into question. Is the infringement of privacy excessive? Is revealing their contrary sexual preferences worth imperiling their bread and butter?
Photographs of celebrities are one of Hollywood’s most lucrative industries. Brad and Angelina sold the first photos of their twins to Hello! and People for $14 million. With pictures of kids selling at that price, imagine how much topless photos of undisputed Hollywood A-lister Jennifer Aniston would pay. One paparazzo wanted more than to imagine, leading Jen to sue him for invasion of privacy when he used a telephoto lens to photograph her changing inside her house.
If a photograph is nothing but a tremendously informative tidbit, then it can be likened to the fun fact that a celebrity bats left-handed. And if we can largely condone photographers scaling fences to snap pictures (which also happened to Aniston months earlier as she sunbathed topless in her yard) why can we not condone them for outing gays?
The only instance of paparazzi being called out is in a 2012 documentary called $ellebrity, about the relentlessness of paps in Los Angeles. Many of the celebrity commentators say that they left the country for secluded places with stricter privacy laws (and less rampant greed). As Kanye West puts it: “Y’all n***as can’t f**k with ‘Ye/ I’ll move my family out the country/ So you can’t see where I stay” (“New Slaves”).
Meanwhile, blogger Perez Hilton faced so much heat that he gave himself a “moral makeover” and vowed to stop “bullying” people (he was notorious for haranguing closeted gay men). Why couldn’t they make like their peers and leave the country? Why does Perez catch popular flak and not the thousands of photographers spooking celebrities’ children by setting off flashbulbs in their eyes?
Either way, now that we’ve covered the ethics of the enterprise, let’s jump right in, and find out which 10 stars were outed before they were ready to come clean.
10 Matt Bomer
According to his good friend Sean Akers, Matt Bomer was out for years before he landed his role on White Collar in 2009. He was already in a committed homosexual relationship and had two kids. As is the case with many men on this list, Bomer was in the “glass closet” – he never pretended to be straight, but never went around trumpeting his preference for men.
Unfortunately for the discreet leading man, his good looks were too intense for people not to snoop. Around the same time, pictures emerged of him smooching another man, and it was no peck; his lips were wiiiide open.
In 2012, fed up of not being able to throw stones, Bomer came out while accepting an honor at the Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards.
9 Lance Bass
Lance Bass of *NYSNC had twenty-four hours to come out. He was like the Jack Bauer of gay Hollywood.
Perez Hilton had mounted such an offensive against his sexual privacy that he started getting calls from gossip magazines saying that the buzz had gotten so loud that they were forced to do a story. That said, it was up to him if he wanted to cooperate or not, but it was going to happen.
He decided to go with People, which he believes handled it very tastefully. He even managed to get in a subtle jab at Hilton in the subtitle: “I’M GAY: Hurt by rumors, the pop star decides to open up. "I’m more liberated and happy than I’ve ever been.”
8 Neil Patrick Harris
Perez Hilton also annoyed How I Met Your Mother star Neil Patrick Harris until he came out in 2006. In a cool move on his part, when Harris discussed it on Ellen, he didn’t name anyone’s name. According to him, there was “a brewing witch hunt.” He says: “People were starting to ask for stories of other people that may have fooled around with me, and the last thing you want to do is talk about your private life based on scandal.”
What really happened is that Perez Hilton put up an ad asking anyone who had slept with Harris to get in touch with him so we could have proof. Rather than deal with the crisis retroactively, the blond actor sucked the rumors of their fun by admitting they were true.
7 Portia De Rossi
Aside from Ellen DeGeneres, who came out on both her sitcom and in real life in 1997, Portia de Rossi was one of the earliest comings-out in Hollywood. Unfortunately, unlike Ellen, Portia was unwillingly shoved out in 2001.
At that point, De Rossi was still best-known for her role as a man-eating lawyer in Ally McBeal, rather than her current role as Ellen’s wife.
When she and then-girlfriend Francesca Gregorini were photographed kissing in a Hollywood alleyway, the story went all over the tabloids. Despite that, they continued dating for three years.
In 2004, De Rossi met DeGeneres, for whom she left Gregorini.
6 Tim Cook
Stories of ineptitude are much less frequent on this list than stories of greed or malice, but still they are present. It is the case for Apple CEO Tim Cook, Steve Jobs’ successor, who was outed by a CNBC host.
On his show “Squawk on the Street” Simon Hobbs was discussing former BP CEO John Browne’s book on his life as a closeted businessman. He turned to his guest and asked: “I think Tim Cook is fairly open about the fact that he’s gay at the head of Apple, isn’t he?” But Cook isn’t fairly open about it. His guest provided a mealy-mouthed response and moved on.
Cook has since confirmed that he is gay.
5 Kerry Rhodes
In 2013, suggestive photos of Kerry Rhodes surfaced online. They showed him kissing, wrestling, and generally having a gay ole time with his assistant, openly gay man Russell “Hollywood” Simpson. Fearing for his career, Rhodes adamantly denied any sexual chemistry between the two of them to TMZ, claiming the photos were taken on a group trip when there were plenty of other people around.
“Hollywood” (the assistant’s moniker) was understandably peeved. He came out to the media saying that he was “like [Rodes’] wife”, fanning misunderstandings that there is a “man” and a “woman” in gay relationships, but also putting their relationship in incriminatingly palatable terms. He also added: “I was always there! It was no secret!”
Rhodes never came out, but at that point, he didn’t really have to.
4 T.R. Knight
T.R. Knight of Grey’s Anatomy is also a bit of a rarity on this list, ostensibly. He claims to have come out for reasons “bigger than [himself].”
In 2007, he overheard a conversation between co-stars Patrick Dempsey and Isaiah Washington where the latter called him a "f****t”. Having never heard it said to his face (not that it technically was…), Knight felt compelled to admit to the media that he was gay. He wanted to be a role model for young, insecure gay men who must hear similar remarks every day.
Although it’s a little more plausible that T.R. Knight felt his open secret was becoming open access, we applaud him for trying to spin it into something noble. It’s nothing but another way of sucking a scandal of its fun.
3 Lee Pace
Like Tim Cook, the story of Lee Pace’s "coming out" is one of clumsiness above all else.
Sir Ian McKellen, at a press junket for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, was asked what the difference was between gay in Hollywood in 2012, when the junket was happening, and in 2001, when the first Lord of the Rings film was released.
McKellen’s response was that a lot had changed. According to him, aside from a few guys in makeup and wardrobe, there were no openly gay men on the set of the last film. In this one, however, there were several openly gay men, including “Luke Evans, Stephen Fry [and] Lee Pace.”
2 Ricky Martin
In 2007, long before he was openly gay, Ricky Martin was outed by his skin care beautician. Note, he was in fact outed by the mere act of having a skincare beautician, but that’s irrelevant.
Ole Henriksen, the cosmetician in question, was asked by a Swedish magazine who he dreams of going on a romantic getaway with. His response: “I’d go for Stig Tøfting (former Danish soccer player) but since he’s straight, I’d say my client Ricky Martin.”
Like Pace, Martin was outed by a slip of the tongue (and by certain grooming and grooving habits). He officially came out in 2010, five full years after getting snapped having the gayest beach day ever.
1 Tyler Perry
Of everyone on this list, Tyler Perry seems the most deserving of having his cover blown.
According to his old friend (and new frenemy) Walter Lee Hampton II, Tyler Perry was out and proud before he became successful. Most of his first projects were supported by members of the black gay community in Atlanta, Georgia.
But once Perry got wealth and fame, he had to distance himself from that identity, if anything to keep receiving support from the Black church. Hampton remembers Perry telling him that “no one could know that [he’s] gay.”
Maybe Perry had more foresight than we’re giving him credit for, or maybe people were really unimpressed with Hampton being such a little rat. After he posted the accusatory YouTube video, Hampton got attacked in the street by an angry viewer.