By The Way, We're Gay

But the approach Parsons took was also about changing tactics — a strategic shift for an era in which confessionalism has been replaced by a kind of well-choreographed offhandedness. Quinto came out publicly last October in the middle of a New York magazine profile just by using the four words ''as a gay man.'' Bomer did it by thanking his partner, veteran publicist Simon Halls, and their children while accepting an award. Andrew Rannells, who just left his Tony-nominated role in The Book of Mormon to star as one half of a gay couple planning to have a child on a new NBC comedy, did it on the entertainment website Vulture.com in response to a question about his appearance on HBO's Girls. His upcoming series is, appropriately, titled The New Normal.

Even if it's accomplished in a subordinate clause or a passing reference, coming out casually is, in its way, as activist as DeGeneres' Time cover, although few of these actors would probably choose to label themselves as such. In 1997, her long, self-revealing interviews drew some criticism, but it was the right way for her to own her identity — and, really, the only appropriate choice given the moment in history. It was just after the U.S. apex of the AIDS crisis; the country needed not just to be aware of gay people but to understand that their backgrounds, their hopes, and their struggles were universal. Just saying ''I'm gay'' wasn't enough — you had to be willing to tell your story. The current vibe is, by contrast, almost defiantly mellow: This is part of who I am, I don't consider it a big deal or a crisis, and if you do, that's not my problem. It may sound like a shrug, but it shouldn't be mistaken for indifference. By daring anyone to overreact, the newest generation of gay public figures is making a clear statement that there is a ''new normal'' — and it consists of being plainspoken, clear, and truthful about who you are.

That stance is not nearly as casual as it often appears to be. The new art of coming out was field-tested about five years ago, when three TV actors, Frasier's David Hyde Pierce, Grey's Anatomy's T.R. Knight, and How I Met Your Mother's Neil Patrick Harris, came up with the first shrewd post-Ellen approaches to the subject. Knight, after being backed into an unwelcome spotlight by the news that costar Isaiah Washington had used an antigay slur against him, chose to come out by releasing a statement to People magazine — which many gay celebrities have identified as a sympathetic outlet. His words have since served as a template: ''While I prefer to keep my personal life private, I hope the fact that I'm gay isn't the most interesting part of me.'' Pierce came out merely by permitting a reporter writing about him to mention his partner by name. And Harris was one of the first stars to come out with absolutely no hand-wringing; he addressed the increasing flurry of gossip about his life with a short statement so cheerful and unflustered — it pointedly included the words ''proud,'' ''content,'' ''happy,'' ''fortunate,'' ''wonderful,'' and, yes, ''normal'' — that it almost cheekily threw down a gauntlet: You wanna make something of it?

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