It takes on some sense of importance and sometimes immediacy when the person in question is a public figure. Certainly lawmakers who are closeted and yet espouse anti-gay sentiment and push anti-gay legislation are candidates for what used to be called "outing." But that ritual - once much more popular than it is now - gets pretty murky and questionable when it's simply an issue of a person's sexual orientation.
Of course, celebrities get the question more intensely than others.
And today, Anderson Cooper, the host of a news show on CNN and a talk show on syndicated TV, trending big-time on the web, when he - clearly with much thought - responded to an openly gay blogger about a magazine story called "The New Art of Coming Out" - which deals with the rather no-big-deal ways some celebrities now come-out about their sexuality.
"The fact is," Cooper wrote, "I'm gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn't be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud."
Does anyone really care? Apparently they do, at least judging by the vast interest on the web, and from my experience with people wondering about Anderson's sexual orientation. Full disclosure: My wife was for years his executive producer at CNN, and he is a former colleague here at ABC News. And, among the general public, the "is he gay or not gay?" question was asked a lot more about Anderson than it was about other news people on TV.
Does it really matter? I never thought so. And certainly among those who know him, there was never an attempt by Anderson to hide his sexuality. In that way, he wasn't in the closet. He just hadn't publicly announced it.
But there was no small amount of pressure on Anderson over the years to come out. He had revealed so much about his complicated - and sometimes sorrow-filled - life, that it seemed talking about his sexual orientation was less a big-deal than talking about his brother's suicide, or his dad's death, as he had in various interviews and in his autobiography.
Anderson always answered those who asked the question - by saying that there are parts of his private life that he wanted to keep private.
So why the change now? He wrote about this to the blogger: "Recently I've begun to consider whether the unintended outcomes of maintaining my privacy outweigh personal and professional principle. It's become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something - something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true."
Clearly, a thoughtful analysis, and just as clearly, an issue that has gnawed at him for a while.
So now the question's been answered. And we can move on. At least I hope so - for Anderson's sake, and for the rest of us as well. Now perhaps we can focus on Anderson Cooper's respected reporting and storytelling, and not on who he's socializing with.
I'm just sayin'.
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