According to this article, actress and New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon has announced that her oldest child has come out as transgender.

This kind of announcement is not a surprise from an actress, but I fail to understand the rationale for doing so from a political person, as this belongs more to private life rather than the public one.

This article argues about Nixon's sexuality:

“In terms of sexual orientation I don’t really feel I’ve changed,” she told the Telegraph in 2008. “I don’t feel there was a hidden part of my sexuality that I wasn’t aware of. I’d been with men all my life, and I’d never fallen in love with a woman. But when I did, it didn’t seem so strange. I’m just a woman in love with another woman.”

So, her being a gubernatorial candidate and a (sort of) bisexual already shows a tolerant society. I wonder why the need for such declarations. If her bisexuality does not seem to matter when running for governor position, why the need for further confessions?

Of course, I am interested in the reasons within the political context (political candidate).

Question: Why do some politicians share relatively private information from their family lives?

  • 39
    What, apart from the answer "because it appeals to their voting base", do you expect? I mean, I could make this an answer, but it seems so obvious that I somehow expect that you want to focus on something else.
    – Thern
    Jun 25, 2018 at 9:42
  • 6
    What exactly do you consider "relatively private information"? I think hiding who she is dating is difficult (and doesn't seem that private; this is public information for most politicians), so "dates a woman" is probably not it? Is it about her declaring that she isn't a lesbian? That's probably something only she can answer; but if people were attaching a label to me that didn't fit, I'd probably mention that it's incorrect at some point. Accusing her of not hiding who she is dating to appeal to voters seems unreasonable in any case (especially if you consider that the interview is from 08).
    – tim
    Jun 25, 2018 at 10:06
  • 3
    That example doesn't seem that great either though. Her full post: "I'm so proud of my son Samuel Joseph Mozes (called Seph) who graduated college this month. I salute him and everyone else marking today's #TransDayofAction #TDOA". It's just her congratulating her son for graduation, not a big coming out post or similar.
    – tim
    Jun 25, 2018 at 10:12
  • 1
    @tim - no, her dating a woman is not relevant here. I am arguing about declaring that her child is transgender. While her personal life might be important since she is a political actor now, I find that her son's personal life is way less public. Anyway, SJuan76 and user4012 provided a great insight into possible reasons for such declarations.
    – Alexei
    Jun 25, 2018 at 16:18
  • 1
    @ tim: There's a difference between hiding something, and choosing to make it a matter of public discussion. As a teenager or young adult, I would have been terminally embarrassed if my parents had talked about my at all, even in private.
    – jamesqf
    Jun 25, 2018 at 18:02

4 Answers 4


To show his/her position and/or commitment

By telling about her and her child's gender identity openly, she is making a statement about how she views these as normal situation and nothing to be ashamed about, which signals that she would be in favour of laws against discrimination. The fact that she is using her personal story shows that she is less likely to change opinion once in office or use it as a bargaining chip.

Re "If her bisexuality does not seem to matter when running for governor position", this seems a bit too optimistic. There are still lots of people who take issue with these things; just remember how Hillary Clinton was attacked for turning a blind eye towards her husband's infidelities and how Trump was praised by some religious figures as representing "family values"

So people can relate to him/her

She is not just some politician, but a person too, with her own opinions, problems, hobbies. This is done a lot, although usually in less controversial issues:

A candidate needs not only to sell his/her political program, s/he needs to convince the people that s/he is someone who can be trusted.

To get publicity

Specially since Cynthia Nixon is a challenger, it does not hurt to get the press attention so people can remember her candidature and positions.

  • 1
    This answer would be more balanced if it included things like Bill Clinton being praised for his feminist values.
    – user4012
    Jun 25, 2018 at 14:07
  • 4
    I think the one thing missing from this answer is the fact that even if they wanted to keep it private that may not be possible so going public with it on her own allows her to control the narrative so to speak and ensure it happens on her terms. Now a days all it takes is one blogger or one wanna be Twitter star to start a "story" and things can take on a life of their own. Jun 25, 2018 at 22:53
  • @EvanSteinbrenner but in general, there is not much of an story unless it conflicts Nixon's stated positions. It would mean a lot if Nixon stated her support to LGBT people and then it was reported that she had kicked her children out of home for being trans, or if she lied trying to hide her children posture, but otherwise the story would not have impact. The journalist would ask "Is your children trans" and she would say "Yes s/he is" or "That is a issue that I do not want to discuss", and it would be all. If she is the one putting the spotlight in it, it is because she wants it to be known.
    – SJuan76
    Jun 25, 2018 at 23:09
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    Your example of Nixon's dog (Checkers) was a deliberate invocation of the rule established by FDR (he gave the Checkers' Speech on the aniversery of FDR's Fala Speech). Long story short, even if you don't consider the politician's family off limits from criticism, nobody attacks the politician's pet. Unless it is Polly, Andrew Jackson's Parrot, who had picked up so many swear words that at Jackson's death, Polly was removed from the funeral service for swearing up a storm. Such an incident would be expected of Jackson's pet parrot.
    – hszmv
    Jun 26, 2018 at 16:22
  • @SJuan76 you and I may not think it's much of a story or a big deal but that doesn't stop it ending up as a story for some blogger or anyone who thinks they can get some traffic off it. They might just object to the idea of Trans/Bi on principle and use it to attack the candidate and her daughter. Spin it as a "Shocking revelation" and you've got your typical click bate headline. I'm not saying it's right or I agree but anyone in the spotlight doesn't have much of a private life anymore as anyone can have a huge microphone on the net. Jun 26, 2018 at 17:27

This is not actually relatively private information.

It is very common to know about the existence and genders of some person's spouse and offspring. This holds both for public individuals, as well as for personal acquaintances.

Whether or not someone is transgender might be private information. However, if it was previously public record that someone is of one gender, and this record needs correcting later on, it is rather immediate that that person is transgender.

  • 2
    -1 This doesn't answer the more general question of why private information is shared. I think this would have been more appropriate as a comment encouraging the asker to come up with a better example. The other answers do a much better job of addressing the question's intent. Jun 25, 2018 at 18:38

First off, the "why" question may be difficult to answer.

Unless the candidate explicitly explained their thinking, we can only guess at plausible reasons (and even if they did explain, there's no guarantee that the candidate was honest in their explanation, OR has correct self-awareness as to actual real reasons - there are cognitive effects that ensure self-offered explanation may not be the real one in many cases). In other words, the only correct answer to "Why" question is "we don't know".

For all we know/care, in general some private information sharing could just be a "reason"-less chattering. I know people who post intimate details of their personal lives on SE chat, for no discernible reason whatsoever other than internal need to share.

Having said that, let us examine the plausible reasons based on what we knw of politics in general, and the candidate and their race specifically.

  1. Progressive bona fides.

    Nixon is, in practice, running against an establishment Democratic politician (a Republican in that race, for all intents and purposes, doesn't matter). The only way to succeed for her would be to run to Cuomo's left.

    LGBTQ* issues are basically one of the standard ways for a progressive politician to do this.

  2. "Lived experience".

    Progressives in USA have strongly embraced a concept called "lived experience". Basically, your opinions/positions are considered to have more weight if you have some sort of authentic personal experience with the topic at hand. Regardless of the validity of the concept[1], the fact that it is strongly subscribed to by the left in general and a progressive wing of Democratic party is pretty established.

    As such, having a personal family experience with TG issues is considered a significant plus from that viewpoint.

  3. Emphasis on feelings

    As multiple research solidly indicates, people are more swayed by feelings and emotions than by facts.

    So "I have a TG family member" is a far more potent way to convince people that you support TG people than some dry policy discussion about a proposal to benefit TG community, or abstract discussion about rights.

  4. "Personal experience" works as political convincing tool

    I feel compelled to include this because it is an important point from practical political science view, but I must admit I doubt that it is directly related to Nixon's case.

    Somewhat in the same vein as #3, there was a fairly well publicized piece of sociological/political-science research recently (Brockman and Keller), that shows that there is a marked shift in opinion on LGBTQ issues when you talk to opponents on a personal level (basically, instead of abstract "LGBT rights" thing, you discuss a specific, real person).

  5. Virtue signalling

    I'm using the term it its original, non-perjorative, signalling theory meaning here.

    This is basically (similarly to #1 and #2) a way for the politician to officially show that they are on the "correct" side of specific issues. This isn't really about "personal/private information" - the same is true of, for example, a rich politician going to eat at McDonalds, or announcing they give volunteer time for some charity, etc...

[1] spoiler alert: the author of this post disagrees with the idea of "lived experience" on the grounds of being familiar with what a logical fallacy is. But the author of this post is not a NY State Democratic primary voter and is not an intended audience for the candidate's statement

  • 1
    I don't get the downvotes. Why downvoting without providing any feedback?
    – Alexei
    Jun 26, 2018 at 14:25
  • @Alexei - it was only 2. I often get more on popular questions. People don't like seeing their faith disturbed with inconvenient facts
    – user4012
    Jun 26, 2018 at 14:57

The simple answer is: because it will help her to get elected. Public moves of a politician are usually well calculated and you can expect that such a decision is not made without prior advice.

Considering that such a statement might well hurt her chances with some voters, it might be surprising that she made it, but that is a short-sighted view. In a campaign it is critically important to remain in control of the public narrative. It is simply better to come out (no pun intended) with a fact at a moment of your choice with your statement defining the tone of the public debate. If you don't do that, it might come out at a less convenient time and with the pressure to respond to the news. After the statement though, people have time to let the news sink in and soon there will be other issues about her campaign that will be more important.

The fact that such a statement is made simply shows that the American public cares about the issue and that it can affect your chances of election. In other parts of the world (namely Europe), the public is much less obsessed about the private live of their politicians and so statements like that (even though they occasionally happen) are much rarer. As an example, ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany had just married his fourth wife a year before being elected. This was not a big issue in the news and had no observable effect on him getting elected.

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