When people picture Kal Penn, they most likely think of a certain stoner with a munchie-induced craving for hamburgers. Others might remember Penn’s two-year stint as an associate director in the Office of Public Engagement during the Obama presidency. But whether you associate him with White Castle or the White House, Penn recently revealed what most of the world did not know about him: that he is also the loving fiancé to his partner, Josh, of 11 years. His first public coming out came alongside the promotion for Penn’s new memoir, “You Can’t Be Serious.”
The actor known for his roles in the “Harold and Kumar” movie series tweeted that the book delves into his story of growing up as the son of immigrants, moving out to Hollywood to pursue a dream of “making people laugh” (which apparently involved some racist auditions for shows like “Sabrina The Teenage Witch”) and taking a break from acting to work at the White House. The book also covers Penn’s relationship with his partner Josh, including their first date watching NASCAR.
— Kal Penn (@kalpenn) October 7, 2021
According to People, “You Can’t Be Serious” details their meet-cute, with Josh arriving at Penn’s apartment with an 18 pack of Coors Light, ready to watch a car race. Penn wasn’t quite ready to think of this date as romantic. But don’t worry, this love story has a happy ending.
“I thought, ‘This obviously is not going to work out,'” Penn told People. “I have one day off from The White House and this dude is unironically watching cars go around and making left turns? Next thing you know, it’s been a couple months and we’re watching NASCAR every Sunday. I’m like, ‘What is happening?'”
I mean … if that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
For Penn, this aspect of his identity came later in life. He shared with People that “I discovered my own sexuality relatively late in life compared to many other people. There’s no timeline on this stuff. People figure their s— out at different times in their lives, so I’m glad I did when I did.”
Penn also shared that coming out to his parents was relatively easy, telling People that “I know this sounds jokey, but it’s true: When you’ve already told your Indian parents and the South Asian community that you intend to be an actor for a living, really any conversations that come after that are super easy. They’re just like, ‘Yeah, okay.'” He noted that everyone has different coming out experiences and that he was “very fortunate” to receive his family’s support.
Kal Penn, once one of People’s most eligible bachelors, corrects the record: He’s been with the same guy for 11 years. (And yes, he’s gay.) https://t.co/4S9Ye8Wcq3
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) November 1, 2021
Though Penn has been very eager to share his relationship, he had the challenge of respecting Josh and his family, who “don’t love attention and shy away from the limelight.” This includes a “big disagreement” on whether or not to do a huge wedding or a tiny wedding. Penn told People, “I want the big ass Indian wedding. Josh, hates attention, [has said], ‘Or we could just do quick 20-minute thing with our families and that’s it.’ So we have to meet halfway in the middle.” I think all couples are really just different versions of tiny wedding Josh’s and big ass wedding Kal’s.
Of course, we’re striving to create a world where instead of headlines reading “Kal Penn Comes Out and Is Engaged,” we can see something as simple as “Kal Penn Is Engaged” without needing a public announcement of sexual orientation. But the truth is that for many cultures this subject is still under a challenging stigma. And for someone like Penn to normalize it helps others like him make it normal too.
Take a look at some of the responses he’s received online.
One person wrote: “this was originally gonna be a generic Halloween tweet about a costume but given that he came out today & announced he is engaged to his boyfriend of 10 years I just wanna say thank you @kalpenn for inspiring a whole generation of Indian kids to break stereotypes. I owe u so much”
this was originally gonna be a generic Halloween tweet about a costume but given that he came out today & announced he is engaged to his boyfriend of 10 years I just wanna say thank you @kalpenn for inspiring a whole generation of Indian kids to break stereotypes❤️I owe u so much pic.twitter.com/tvlba0weSA
— abby govindan (@abbygov) November 1, 2021
This comment pretty much sums it up: “because of you I felt safe pursuing entertainment, and now thanks to you millions of LGBTQ+ indian people will get to see themselves represented in the mainstream media.”
because of you I felt safe pursuing entertainment, and now thanks to you millions of LGBTQ+ indian people will get to see themselves represented in the mainstream media🤩 how amazing
— abby govindan (@abbygov) November 1, 2021
Sometimes these seemingly small moments of expressing individual truth helps others live their lives in a more authentic way.
Others responded that they were disappointed in Penn’s announcement, including journalist Louis Peitzman, who wrote “Kal Penn coming out by announcing he’s marrying someone who isn’t me … that’s a choice.”
Kal Penn coming out by announcing he’s marrying someone who isn’t me… that’s a choice.
— Louis Peitzman (@LouisPeitzman) October 31, 2021
Considering that Penn has been listed as “Most Eligible Bachelor” by People magazine, I’d say he’s probably left many feeling unrequited love. It’s well worth the broken hearts, Kal! Congrats to you and Josh.
Penn told People that he wanted his book to feel like “sharing a beer” together while he brought people into his stories. You’ll be able to check out those stories for yourself on Nov 2.