I don’t know too many people who were shocked by the “revelation” that CNN anchor Anderson Cooper is gay. I immediately penned an Onion-esque headline: “Anderson Cooper Comes Out As Gay: One Person On Planet Surprised.” Also, I firmly believe that sexuality is part and parcel of who a person is, and that each person should embrace and be happy with who they are. In short, good for him.
Both of these statements, of course, perhaps reflect the fact that I live in a comparatively liberal, Jewish, nebbishy Northeastern US bubble. I’m sure that in many places, Cooper’s revelation that he is gay was shocking and perhaps upsetting–but those worlds and Facebook feeds are far from my own.
There’s only one part of Cooper’s revelation, though, that gets under my skin. In the moving letter that he wrote to Andrew Sullivan about being gay, Cooper wrote, “I have always been very open and honest about this part of my life with my friends, my family, and my colleagues. In a perfect world, I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business, but I do think there is value in standing up and being counted. I’m not an activist, but I am a human being and I don’t give that up by being a journalist.”
I certainly agree with the last part of that sentence–journalists are people, too! — but disagree with the first. I agree that in a perfect world, no one would care about anyone else’s sexuality. But there is certainly value in standing up and being counted. By being a human being, you are inherently an activist–and that is a lesson I learned most by becoming a parent.
You may not be out waving a placard or participating in a boycott, but the choices that you make as to how to conduct yourself in this life make you an activist. Choosing one path over another makes you an activist: through your actions, or lack thereof, you are inherently taking a stand. I would also argue that this is particularly true for people in prominent positions–that by choosing to remain publicly silent on his sexuality, Cooper was an unintentional activist for public closeting, and that now, he has changed his stance and I applaud him for it.
I think every parent, like it or not, is an activist in this way–and a critically important one. While your kids may have no clue who Anderson Cooper is–even though he’s watched by thousands upon thousands every day–they know you, as their parent forwards, backwards, and sideways. Children see how you act whenever you are with them. And whether you like it or not, they internalize it, process it, and learn from it. They see how you treat other people, whether with respect or contempt. They see how you conduct yourself in every element of your life. Unfortunately, they also see when there is a disjunct between what you say and what you do.
As a parent, you are the role model upon which, at least in some part, they will base their entire lives, for good or for bad. And if you embrace that role and opt to teach your children, through your own conduct, how to be a better person, you will reap the rewards of that for years to come. Every choice you make, both as a parent and as a model for your children, can be an active choice, infused with meaning and replete with love. And while contemplating what you do and acting deliberately rather than unthinkingly can be tiring, I’d argue that there is nothing more gratifying.
Cooper’s statement is one more small step forward, I hope, toward a world in which people recognize the rights of others to live and love as they will. And that is the world I want for my children.