Coming Out of the Closet Is So Yesterday

Last week, Lance Bass, a former member of the boy band 'N Sync announced that he's gay. Humorist Brian Unger shares his thoughts on the politics of coming out of the closet — and the real challenges of engineering an "outing" to make a big impact.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

DAY TO DAY resident humorist Brian Unger has been spending a little too much time in airports lately. Here's Brian with today's Unger Report.

BRIAN UNGER reporting:

I'm gay, screams every inch of a gift shop at JFK airport. Those words are the backdrop for travelers wanting Sunchips and stuffed animals, alongside close-ups of Lance Bass, hundreds of him floating on covers of People magazine, his doe-eyed mug filling all the negative space.

The former singer of the group N Sync doesn't want you going anywhere without knowing, hey, I did dudes. It's proclamation by wallpaper. This is what a former boy-bander who made girls swoon has to do to move units. It's sexual reorientation by interior design.

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UNGER: Cue the violins. It's hard out here for the outed. Whether one's outing themselves, as Bass did, or is being outed by someone else, society is so flooded with the once-secret peccadilloes and proclivities of the famous, religious, and political, a self-administered outing, especially the gay variety, is passed by as scenery.

Who cares if Lance Bass is gay? Hillary Clinton and John McCain once had a vodka-drinking contest in Estonia two summer ago. Now that's an outing. One account of this hard-partying fusion ticket says McCain thinks of Hillary as one of the guys. Clinton spokesman says what happens in Estonia stays in Estonia.

So singer George Michael trolls public parks for anonymous sex. Big deal. Clinton and McCain, the Absolut senators, are slamming vodka shooters in a dark Baltic watering hole. Who held whose hair back while the other got sick in the bathroom? And more, if Democrats in Connecticut can forgive Hillary for getting bombed with McCain, will they forgive Senator Joe Lieberman for supporting Bush's bombing in Iraq? It's disloyal folk, not queer folk, who make better headlines these days.

In serious times, the annals of outing have moved beyond the cheap prurience of celebrity sexual preference. Tom Cruise? Eh, whatever. An outing these days requires more meat on the bones. Enthusiasts of outing want more substance. Mel Gibson shouted anti-Semitic remarks when being arrested for DUI in Malibu? Anti-Semitism, now that's something to work with.

Today outing as media spectacle needs to be more issue-oriented than sexually oriented, though some haven't heard the news and have been mocked for it, or even fired. Serial provocateur Ann Coulter, who relishes being hated by anyone to the left of Jerry Falwell, had it right, at least as a media exercise, when she called liberals Godless, but then slipped and lost her mojo last week when she tried to out Bill Clinton as gay and call Al Gore, quote, a total fag.

America yawned. Ann Coulter ended up outing herself for what she truly is, a clown. Meeting a worse fate than humiliation is Gary Lankford, an employee of the Ohio Republican Party. Lankford sent emails in July from state party headquarters to GOP supporters raising questions about Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland's private life, among them that Strickland and his wife are both gay. Strickland, once a Methodist minister, has been married for nearly 20 years. The state Republican Party apologized on Thursday and the author of the emails, Mr. Lankford, has been outed - as unemployed.

If outing is reviled, or at the very least a snore, it's a sign society is moving on, a tacit acknowledgement that being gay isn't an issue. With all due respect to Lance Bass, who declares he's gay, no one really gives a darn. But you've got to wonder which way he votes.

And that is today's Unger Report. I'm Brian Unger.

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