It is difficult to watch award-winning actress Ellen Page’s speech from the Human Rights Campaign’s Time to THRIVE conference. Page—the 26-year-old Canadian actress and Oscar-nominated star of “Juno”—is both charming and engaging in her speech, but she is also very nervous: She shifts from foot to foot and gestures anxiously with her arms. She’s afraid to tell the audience—and her millions of fans—that she is gay. TIME magazine contributor Brandon Ambrosino suggests that American society has changed so much that it doesn’t actually require much bravery to “come out” anymore. But the video clip reveals Page’s fear and anxiety—as well as her resultant exhale when the audience gives her a standing ovation. It is never easy or painless to correct lies of omission.
Page, who received an outpouring of support from many fans and fellow celebrities, was accused in other hostile online posts of “rubbing her sexuality” in the public’s face. This is both malicious and dishonest. Like most successful actors, Page has been hounded by reporters who want to dissect and then broadcast her private life. In 2011 a blogger even threatened to publicly “out” her as gay if she didn’t do it herself. He argued that she had a “moral responsibility” to be a role model for struggling gay youth who might contemplate suicide. That’s an awful burden to lay on a 20-something still trying to figure out her own sexual identity—all the while living inside the Hollywood fishbowl. Like so many others in the public eye, Page understandably didn’t anticipate that her chosen career meant she’d entirely abdicated any sense of privacy.
In her Valentine’s Day speech, Page explained why she publicly divulged her sexuality: “I’m tired of lying by omission. I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered, my mental health suffered, and my relationships suffered. And I’m standing here today, with all of you, on the other side of that pain.” Recently she had been linked romantically to a male actor, and despite repeated denials, the media ran with the story that they were in a relationship. Since her public coming out, some media outlets have speculated that the heterosexual “relationship” was a Page-created smokescreen. Perhaps it was a dispassionate, cynical example of giving the public what they desperately want, but I’m more inclined to believe it was just a convenient act of survival.
Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson—in his 1879 essay “Truth of Intercourse”—contends, “The cruelest lies are often told in silence.” To achieve true and honest communication, one cannot simply adhere to facts: “Truth to facts is not always truth to sentiment; and part of the truth, as often happens in answer to a question, may be the foulest calumny.” Stevenson submits that it is easier to be inexact in our communications, just as it is simpler “to draw the outline of a mountain than the changing appearance of a face.” Complete truth takes real effort, constant vigilance and an abiding trust.
Stevenson explains that words require more time and a “just and patient” audience, but “patience and justice are not qualities on which we can rely.” We can never know or control how ours words will “land” with the listener. Subsequently, Stevenson contends we should instead trust our faces, our gestures—even our breath. They are the “clearer reporters of the heart” and can explain things in one lush moment. Unfortunately, the public demands a comment, an explanation or a refutation.
It can be dreadfully difficult to speak one’s truth and reveal our raw emotions for public evaluation. But Stevenson maintains that the cost of refusing to do so is exceedingly high: “Veracity to sentiment” is the very thing which makes love possible. Lies by omission poison intimacy.
Like actor Ellen Page, University of Missouri football star Michael Sam, also recently decided to publicly come out as gay. All-American and Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, Sam chose to disclose his sexuality before the National Football League draft in May. Well-liked and respected, Sam was already “out” to his teammates, but many question his decision to come out to the larger football world. NFL officials quoted in a recent Sports Illustrated article said they would be uncomfortable with a gay man in the locker room. Translation: They are uneasy with an openly gay man in the locker room; they choose not to accept there are already gay men there.
Dale Hansen—venerable sports anchor for the ABC affiliate in Dallas, TX—boldly confronted the argument that Sam’s disclosure makes people “uncomfortable.” In a withering and spot-on commentary, Hansen catalogues the many abhorrent behaviors the NFL condones: “You beat woman and drag her down a flight of stairs…? You’re the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft. You kill people while drunk driving? That guy’s welcome. Players caught in hotel rooms with illegal drugs and prostitutes? We know they’re welcome. You love another man? Well, now you’ve gone too far!”
Hansen told Robin Young of WBUR in Boston that he admires Sam’s courage and integrity: “He seems to be a young man of great character, of great inner strength.” Although he acknowledges that Sam has a hard road ahead, he feels encouraged by his fortitude and his authenticity. Unlike many in the NFL, Hansen sees strength, hope and valor in Sam’s disclosure. He supports Sam’s decision to reject the far easier lies of omission.
Hansen’s stirring commentary aligns closely with Stevenson’s conclusion: “[I]t is only by trying to understand others that we can get our own hearts understood; and in matters of human feeling the clement judge is the most successful pleader.”