I realize that this news is a few weeks old, but given that it was far from the most shocking headline ever to cross the cover of People (reportedly at a very hefty price tag to the magazine — $500,000, to be exact), I felt it was worth addressing anyway: Former American Idol winner Clay Aiken has officially sashayed out of the closet, and long-suspecting Kathy Griffin was forced to go scrambling to write hours of new material for her upcoming tour.
I couldn’t be happier for Clay. No matter what he was paid, it was obviously not an easy decision, and his love for his child is endearing (if you haven’t watched the above Good Morning America interview, I highly encourage doing so). I mean, if you were someone with any degree of gaydar, it would be a lie to say that you had never at least suspected Aiken’s sexuality, given years of ambiguous answers to questions on the incessant rumors, lack of beard/girlfriend (which many other Hollywood types feel the need to employ) and any other number of factors. But there’s no word other than naive to describe those who at once claim to not be homophobic while also claiming that Aiken’s choice to make the announcement was somehow made less valid by our perception of its transparency. Below are excerpts from some comments posted on a friend’s uploaded photo of the People cover:
ROFLLLLLLL . NO WAY! Clay is gay? *gasp* how could this ever be? … i think its hilarious he even bothered to make an announcement of it … timing isn’t his forte im guessing? … What a bitch! lol.
These comments are exasperating, almost more so than the comments by Aiken’s many right-wing middle-aged female “fans” expressing disdain for being “misled” by the singer. When Aiken announced his sexuality, he opened the giant box of paradox facing queer entertainers today. By coming out, he risked losing thousands of fans, promotional deals and has forever — for better or worse — altered his career path and faced thousands of criticisms ringing of the familiar “why do you gaaays have to rub it in our face?” If he had remained closeted, he would have forever known that he was not being fully honest. He would forever be a caricature of what record labels and publicists wanted him to be in order to sell records, and would likely have faced struggles to build a positive self-image as a human being.
As trite as it might sound — and I can’t believe I’m even saying it — but figures in the public eye have feelings, too. Often growing up in front of casting directors, agents and the public, many have probably have not had the opportunity to learn more well-adjusted means of dealing with feelings like internalized homophobia and low self-esteem. Money and fame simply do not buy happiness. And who are we to criticize anyone’s decision to come out and acknowledge any piece of their identity puzzle, whether it be their sexuality or anything else?
Just take a look at the story of 23-year-old Korean actor Kim Ji-Ho, who committed suicide earlier this week. Kim hung himself at his home in Seoul. When he had announced that he was gay, he faced public scrutiny and a destroyed career. His suicide note read, “I’m lonely and in a difficult situation. Please cremate my body.” This was the fourth such suicide in South Korea this month.
As much as it may be trivialized by tabloid rags covering Aiken, Lindsay Lohan‘s trysts with Samanatha Ronson or the gay rumor du jour, we need to realize that these issues still hold a lot of significance for many, many individuals in our ever-diversifying and global community. Coming out, as well as discrimination, is a never-ending process. For some it is empowering, for others, a constant struggle. For many, it is a matter of life or death. Above all, it is an experience that cannot and should not be generalized or patronized.
National Coming Out Day is two days away, this Saturday, October 11. Take the opportunity to go and do something that makes you feel good for being you, and tell someone you hold dear how much you appreciate them being them.
And never forget to smile.