hen Jim Parsons, the Emmy-winning star of CBS' hit comedy The Big Bang Theory, publicly confirmed that he is gay this week, he didn't announce it in a hyped TV interview, or declare "Yep, I'm gay" on the cover of Time magazine. Instead, the 39-year-old actor casually shared the information with The New York Times' Patrick Healy, who mentioned Parsons' sexuality and his 10-year relationship with a man almost in passing, near the end of a lengthy article on Parson's role in a Broadway revival of Harvey. It was the kind of low-key coming out that's becoming increasingly common. Here, a chronological look at how we got from "mega-outings" to casual exits from the increasingly transparent closet:
February 1976 — Elton John
John comes out with a splash in an cover-story interview with Rolling Stones' Cliff Jahr. "I've never talked about this before — ha, ha," he says. "But I'm not going to turn off the tape. I haven't met anybody that I would like to settle down with — of either sex." Asked if he's bisexual, John replies, "There's nothing wrong with going to bed with somebody of your own sex." He adds that he might have outed himself earlier, but "nobody's had the balls to ask me about it before." His comments generate headlines worldwide.
June 1992 — k.d. lang
The Canadian singer comes out in an interview with The Advocate, and follows up her announcement with a Vanity Fair cover in which scantily clad supermodel Cindy Crawford, armed with a straight razor, hovers over lang, who's sitting in a barber's chair, lathered up and in drag.
January 1993 — Melissa Etheridge
The rocker comes out to a crowd of about 2,500 people on the night of Bill Clinton's first presidential inauguration, at the Human Rights Campaign's first-ever Triangle Ball. I didn't plan it, Etheridge tells The Advocate in 2002. "I didn't even think, 'Oh, I'm going to come out here'... It was, 'Gee, I'm really excited to be here, and I'm really proud to have been a lesbian all my life.' And a big cheer went up through the whole hall, and k.d. [lang] came out and hugged me."
April 1997 — Ellen DeGeneres
DeGeneres employs a huge multimedia roll-out, says Alyssa Rosenberg at The Atlantic, that is part career advancement and part striving for "a more honest, fulfilled life." The key components of the coming-out strategy are "The Puppy Episode" of Ellen's primetime TV show, featuring Oprah Winfrey; an appearance earlier that day on Oprah's talk show; and, 16 days earlier, a TIME cover with Ellen and the boldface words: "Yep, I'm gay."
April 1998 — George Michael
The international pop star comes out to the world on CNN. "This is as good of a time as any," Michael tells CNN's Jim Moret. "I want to say that I have no problem with people knowing that I'm in a relationship with a man right now. I have not been in a relationship with a woman for almost 10 years." The announcement's impact is blunted by the fact that earlier that week Michael had been busted for a "lewd act" in a public men's room in Beverly Hills. "I feel stupid and I feel reckless and weak for having allowed my sexuality to be exposed this way," he adds. "But I don't feel any shame whatsoever."
February 2002 — Rosie O'Donnell
O'Donnell sort of blurts out her sexual orientation — "I'm a dyke!" — during her act at an Ovarian Cancer Research benefit. But by that time, she has already taped an interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer in which she talks about being a gay parent of adoptive and foster kids. Actress Anne Heche, now married to a man, had alluded to her two-year relationship with O'Donnell in an earlier interview with Barbara Walters.
December 2007 — Jodie Foster
The May 2007 cover of Out magazine features models covering their faces with photos of Foster and Anderson Cooper and the headline "The Glass Closet." When asked about the cover, Foster has no comment. But in December, at a non-televised Women in Entertainment Power 100 awards ceremony, Foster nonchalantly thanks "my beautiful Cydney who sticks with me through all the rotten and the bliss." Cydney Bernard had been rumored to be in a longterm relationship with Foster, but that one sentence was "all Foster had to do" to make it official, says Adam B. Vary in Entertainment Weekly. "There was no TIME cover story or official statement to the press, no Today show sit-down with Matt Lauer, no follow-up photo spread in People with her partner and family."
March 2010 — Ricky Martin
The Latino pop star outs himself with a very low-key personal letter posted on his website. After years of sidestepping questions about his sexual orientation, he writes, staying in the closet would "diminish the glow" of fathering his twin 2-year-old sons. "I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man," he concludes. "I am very blessed to be who I am."
January 2011 — Jonathan Knight
'80s pop star Tiffany mentions that the New Kids on the Block star, whom she'd dated years earlier, has "turned gay." Responding to reports that Tiffany had "outed" him, Knight shoots back on the band's website that he has never been in the closet. "Apparently the prerequisite to being a gay public figure is to appear on the cover of a magazine with the caption 'I am gay,'" he writes. "I apologize for not doing so if this is what was expected!"
October 2011 — Zachary Quinto
The Star Trek star comes out by twice using the phrase "as a gay man..." in reference to himself in an interview with New York magazine. Quinto later explains that it was a conscious decision sparked by the suicide of gay 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer. Still, "like [Jodie] Foster, Quinto came out casually, in an interview that had nothing to do with Zachary Quinto Coming Out," says Entertainment Weekly's Vary.
February 2012 — Matt Bomer
The star of White Collar goes public at the Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards while accepting an award for his work on battling HIV/AIDS. In a nod to his longtime partner Simon Halls and their three children (via surrogates), he simply says that he'd "really especially like to thank my beautiful family: Simon, Kit, Walker, Henry.... You will always be my proudest accomplishment."
May 2012 — Jim Parsons
Five paragraphs from the end of a Times article that stretches to three pages online, Healy casually mentions that Parson's 2011 role in The Normal Heart (a drama about the world's unwillingness to confront the AIDS epidemic) "resonated with him on a few levels: Mr. Parsons is gay and in a 10-year relationship, and working with an ensemble again onstage was like nourishment, he said." And that was that.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why is American internet so slow?
- 7 ways to be the most interesting person in any room
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Colorado’s new ‘drive high, get a DUI’ commercials are actually pretty clever
- What the collapse of the Ming Dynasty can tell us about American decline
- Who are the real gay marriage bigots?
- Ukraine's fraught relationship with Russia: A brief history
- 22 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Sorry Belle Knox, porn still oppresses women
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
Subscribe to the Week