Coming out goes hand in hand with coming to terms with your sexuality and really, the process of both is something that changes and shifts throughout your life.
It’s an old adage in the queer community that you never stop coming out – but its the first time that really makes its mark. There is no one way to share your truth with your world, and everyone’s experience of this is different.
In the last 40 years the way we talk about, portray and converse about sexuality both on-screen and in society at large has changed and opened up, so we’re taking you down memory lane to remember the landmark moments (and people) whose coming out has helped to change our understanding of queerness for the better this Pride Week.
Elton John comes out as bisexual in Rolling Stone (1976)
Elton John came out as bisexual during an interview with Rolling Stone in 1976, and it was a landmark moment. Although David Bowie had proclaimed he was gay during in 1972, he would go on to retract this statement in later life.
Elton’s admission was game-changing for queer representation in music, given he was one of the biggest pop stars in the world at the time (and we all know he loved a sparkly number while he was tinkling those ivories).
‘There’s nothing wrong with going to bed with somebody of your own sex. I think everybody’s bisexual to a certain degree,’ the I’m Still Standing singer said at the time.
The Rocket Man star would go on to contradict this interview in future – but only to confirm that he was gay, and not bisexual. He is now happily married to David Furnish, with whom he shares two children.
Elton would continue on to have great success with his career after coming out, netting his two biggest hits, ‘Candle In The Wind 97’ and ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,’ a duet with George Michael and most recently embarked on his farewell tour before retirement, although this was cut short due to coronavirus.
Ellen DeGeneres comes out on The Oprah Winfrey Show and the cover of Time (1997)
Ellen DeGeneres would make history by coming out – both fictionally and literally.
The star of the self-titled sitcom Ellen at the time, the comic would first come out during an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 1997, before covering Time magazine, where her picture would be emblazoned with the words: ‘Yep, I’m gay.’
Not only that, but the fictional Ellen also came out too – to no-one other than a therapist played by Oprah. However, following historic ratings for the episode, Ellen would go into free-fall and be cancelled by 1998.
This slump was short-lived however, and she’s now become one of the most recognisable queer faces on the planet thanks to The Ellen Show, her international syndicated talk show.
She’s hosted the Oscars twice and even, for a time, held the record for the most re-tweeted tweet of all time (remember that?), furthering proof that although her decision may have faced backlash at the time, it opened the way for a much more liberal and welcoming media in its wake.
George Michael’s cottaging scandal (1998)
Quite literally the most handsome man to have ever walked the face of the Earth, George Michael’s coming out story is a little more complicated and speaks to how far media coverage of homosexuality has come.
The secret of the Wham! star’s sexuality had been a bit of an open secret for decades, and the signs were there if you looked hard enough in his back catalogue – Jesus To A Child was written about his lover who died of Aids and Fastlove doubles as an ode to polyamory.
Michael’s hand was forced in 1998 when he was arrested in LA for ‘engaging in lewd public activity’, propositioning an undercover policeman for sex in a public restroom.
A media frenzy followed and although his career never really recovered – he would only release one final album of original material in 2004 – the Faith singer would go on to make the best of a bad situation.
Composing the infectious funk-classic Outside about his experiences, it’s definitely the best pop song about cottaging ever written.
Frank Ocean’s Tumblr note (2012)
Previously a member of rap collective OddFuture with Tyler, The Creator, Frank Ocean would publicly come out in an open letter posted to Tumblr in the days preceding the release of his debut LP, Channel Orange.
In the letter, Ocean detailed a formative romantic relationship with another man, when he was a teenager.
‘I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together,’ he wrote. ‘There was no escaping, no negotiating with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love, it changed my life.’
It was the first instance of a central figure of the world of hip hop opening about his sexuality – a move that was widely praised by the likes of Jay Z and Beyonce and also paved the way for more openly-queer stars such as Lil Nas X and Kehlani for mainstream success.
Janelle Monae comes out as pansexual (and grinds on Tessa Thompson in a music video) (2018)
Janelle Monae’s entire artistic identity is built around the concept of us not really knowing who she was, or what she was about. In her first two albums, she presented herself to the world as an android from a future utopia inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolois.
But something happened when Monae released her third LP, 2018’s Dirty Computer – she started being honest, and a little bit horny. The pop star grinded and grooved against Westworld’s Tessa Thompson and a male actor in the video for Make Me Feel as well as presenting an ode to the vagina with the Grimes collaboration Pynk.
In an interview with Rolling Stone that summer, Monae would further elaborate and call herself a ‘black, queer woman’ and announced her pansexuality, or attraction to another person that’s not based on gender or sexual orientation.
We may still be guessing over the exact nature of her relationship with Thompson, but Monae’s statement was alarmingly clear and refreshing – she doesn’t really care which gender she’s attracted to, and neither should we.
Sam Smith comes out as non-binary (2019)
Sam Smith was already openly out as gay when they debuted on the scene with chart-topping hits like Stay With Me and Latch, but as their career grew and their own identity started to open up, they made a statement in the summer of 2019, announcing to the world that they were non-binary, and had changed their pronouns to they/them.
Never have we seen someone more at home with themselves on stage than Smith was in the ensuing months since this statement was released, and this just so happened to coincidence with the most commercial music of their career – How Do You Sleep? and Dancing With A Stranger with Normani – proving once and for all that queerness is now no longer a barrier to mainstream success, especially in the music world.
And not only that, but it brought the conversation around a more fluid definition of gender – away from either totally ‘masculine’ or feminine’ – to a global audience.
Lil Nas X’s tweet (2019)
Lil Nas X had just conquered the world with Old Town Road (which broke Mariah Carey’s record for longest-running number one on the US charts) and had just released his first EP, 7, when he tweeted something, seemingly off-the-cuff and without the fan-far stars usually have to make public statements.
‘Some of y’all already know,’ he said. ‘Some of y’all don’t care,’ and he would go on to confirm in an interview on BBC Breakfast that he was a gay man.
Not only did this bust the myth that artists have to acquire a certain amount of mileage and fame before making such personal admissions, but it was a throughout Generation Z move, to just simply tweet it out into the world, accompanied by GIFs.
Oh, and the hot-pink, cowboy in suspenders he rocked to this year’s Grammy’s was so proudly queer, it made us tear up a little.
Phillip Schofield comes out live on This Morning (2020)
What Phillip Schofield did on This Morning on 7 Feburary hasn’t happened before, ever. Or, at least not in this way, on this scale or with this much scrutiny.
After posting a statement to Instagram, the presenter appeared with co-host Holly Willoughby to open up for first time about being gay.
It was a landmark moment in British TV, and its impact should never be forgotten, not just for the bravery Schofield showed that day, but for the palpable atmosphere of love and compassion that Holly, Ruth Langsford and Eamonn Holmes broadcast to the nation.
This Morning is one of the most popular and well-recognised shows in the country, and Schofield has been broadcasted into our homes for well over 20 years, he feels to many people like part of their own family.
Not did this only start necessary conversations about how we perceive and talk about coming out in relation to people who have previously as presented as heterosexual, but that it really is a unique process for each person – and Schofield shared his experience with each and every one of us.
We may be too close to the event right now to appreciate how much this will help the conversation shift and change, but in decades to come, we will.
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