Op-ed: The Curious Case of Ronan Farrow

By Neal Broverman

Originally published on Advocate.com January 17 2014 5:06 AM ET

Ronan Farrow is pretty damn funny. “90% of the world's data was created in the last 2 years, according to the World Econ Forum,” he tweeted recently. “That's a whole lot of One Direction fan fiction.” And he’s as accomplished as he is amusing — entering college at 11, becoming a Rhodes Scholar, working for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and now writing a book about foreign policy and gearing up for his own MSNBC show. He's 26, slackers.

As the son of actress Mia Farrow and either legendary director Woody Allen or legendary crooner Frank Sinatra (the sparking cerulean peepers kind of give it away), he had a leg up on late bloomers like Rachel Maddow and Don Lemon, who didn't get their own cable news shows until they were old farts in their 30s or 40s. Regardless of family connections, Ronan is clearly a brilliant and charismatic figure and maybe, hopefully, a political contender one day. We need a guy like this on our team.

Vice magazine already says he is. In response to a New York Times profile from the fall that obliquely referred to some sort of relationship between Farrow and Jon Lovett, a former Obama speechwriter, Vice essentially outed him. It wasn't just a salacious, we-saw-him-at-a-bathhouse article, but a keen commentary about why dancing around the truth of Farrow's life is detrimental to society (the New York Post, on the other hand, soon after published a prurient Page Six item saying Farrow is attracted to both sexes). Both the Times and Vanity Fair, which recently interviewed Ronan's mother, avoided discussing the younger Farrow's love life, though “neither publication seems very interested in protecting Farrow’s privacy,” wrote Vice’s Christopher Glazek. “The articles reveal bracingly personal details about Farrow and his family, including lurid speculations about paternity and painful references to the drawn-out custody disputes with Allen. Why a veil of secrecy for this particular detail? Is 'outing' even a thing that publications worry about anymore?”

The Times didn't have cooperation from Farrow and, as Vice points out, NYT writer Michael Schulman may not have been able to confirm whether Farrow is, in fact, gay. Schulman could have also thought it a weird angle to chase after, but it remains a pointed omission. If he was unquestionably straight — something no one has ever, in the history of the universe, been afraid to reveal — I'm sure Schulman would have found a way to describe his girlfriend or mention how he's too busy for lady friends.

Relationship status is central to one’s identity, and for a profile to not go there means someone — the writer or the subject — is avoiding something. It also means we’re not that far removed from puff pieces on, say, Jodie Foster or Neil Patrick Harris that touch on everything in their lives except who shares their bed.

The Gray Lady again profiled Ronan, this time with his participation, in a recent edition of its magazine. Again, no mention of Farrow's love life was included, though the wunderkind discusses his large family, which includes 14 siblings of varying races and backgrounds. Writer Jesse Lichtenstein notes that Ronan "prefers not to address rumors about whom he’s dating" and is not forthcoming about his personal life. But is his family not personal?

Farrow has previously tweeted about the Sinatra rumors — his mom told Vanity Fair it's quite possible Frank is Ronan's dad — and told Lichtenstein, “Look, I get it, it’s hilarious, it’s wild. There are salacious aspects of the story I’m able to sit back and appreciate with everybody else. And then it’s, ‘O.K., how do we move to the substance and redirect this conversation so we’re actually talking about stuff that’s useful?’”

I believe Ronan sincerely wants any conversation involving him to focus more on his interests in policy, equality, and justice, and less on his celebrity. But it gets hard to reconcile that belief with the tweet bomb he dropped during the Golden Globes. “Missed the Woody Allen tribute — did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?” Cue the mushroom cloud.

Ronan was referring to ’90s accusations by Allen's daughter, Ronan's sister, that the director molested her. I feel for anyone who's endured the trials the Farrow family has, but to discuss a subject like that in such a public forum and yet remain conspicuously silent on whether or not you're gay gives me bad pre-2012 Anderson Cooper flashbacks. Ronan doesn't need to fly a banner over Times Square or turn his MSNBC show into the last season of Ellen, he just need not shrink from it (I, in my Advocate capacity, unsuccessfully reached out to Ronan a few times via Twitter).

I asked Lichtenstein, the author of the most-recent NYT piece, if he thought it invasive to ask Ronan directly if he’s gay. “I acknowledge in the piece that he has tweeted about his family and the rumors about who his dad is, but that in general he doesn't like to talk about his private life,” Lichtenstein emailed me.

It’s a delicate dance we journalists do, trying to provide candid profiles of celebrities and newsmakers while still trying to conform to their requests and their publicists’ requests, and attempting to dodge their own agendas and image-crafting. I hate that I, Lichtenstein, or any other writer still has to worry about just coming out and asking that question — not because it makes our jobs harder, but because in 2014, mentioning being gay, bi, or trans shouldn’t be dissimilar to telling a reporter you’ve gone vegan, your grandmother is Indonesian, or you enjoy “Wrecking Ball.” If it’s not yet totally innocuous to be out now in public life, I would hope someone as principled as Ronan Farrow would tell any and all dissenters to fuck off. His mother would.

NEAL BROVERMAN is a columnist for The Advocate and the editor in chief of Out Traveler. Follow him on Twitter @nbroverman