When I was a baby queermo growing up on the conservative sidewalks of Sacramento, the only gay people (fictional or otherwise) I ever saw on television were of the Japanese animated variety.
Somewhere in the world, Will and Grace were sassing it up on primetime, but for my personal social circle, it was two-dimensional dudes with improbable hair making out or nothing.Magical wizard boys declaring their forever-bond with their super-hot warrior soul partner boyfriends were literally my only foray into televised gay relationships until I was about 18 or so.
Since then, things have started to change, albeit gradually. In the decade or so since I properly hit puberty with a vengeance, more and more actors in popular TV shows and box-office giants, are coming out, which is awesome. But there’s still a major dearth of visibly queer actors in Hollywood.
Not exactly a surprise, of course. For lots of celebs, it seems, the ability to live one’s personal life without the constant, creeping fear of being outed isn’t worth having to slog through life having only done Progressive Insurance commercials and one brief stint on “Law and Order.” That hasn’t stopped the tabloids, though, from generating homo-centric media shitstorms every fortnight or so.
Most recently, the actress Raven-Symone (most famously known for “The Cosby Show”) was “outed” by The National Enquirer as a lesbian. Having been acquainted with Raven primarily through terrible shows on “The Disney Channel,” I wasn’t really aware that she was still a celebrity whose sexuality actually mattered to anyone.
Even so, Raven took to Twitter to defend herself. “My sexual orientation is mine, and the person I'm datings [sic] to know. I'm not one for a public display of my life,” she said. “however [sic] that is my right as a HUMAN BEing whether straight or gay.”
Considering the depressingly knee-jerk reaction of lots of celebrities in the same situation, I thought Raven’s response was pretty fucking classy. Unfortunately, in the current style of social media discourse, once the gay bull is out of the pen, it won’t go back in easy.
Even OUT Magazine jumped on the lesbian bandwagon, cheerfully aggregating the links despite the clear weirdness of the source.
Personally, I’m conflicted by these situations. First of all, I think it’s very harmful to out someone as LGBT without their consent. Celebrity or no, declaring someone’s sexual identity on their behalf based on whom they date (or not) and what they wear (or don’t) is obnoxious and, potentially, extremely devastating. I think Raven has every right to keep her personal life private, whatever she’s doing with it.
However. There’s always going to be a part of me that gets the tiniest little problematic thrill out of the prospect of more visibly queer people in Hollywood. For one thing, the idea that a celebrity that I -- okay, didn’t love, but was decently acquainted with -- would be going through the same sort of emotional angst that I did as an awkward teenager fills me with a strange sort of gay esprit de corps.
I, too, spent most of my formative years in what had to be the most transparent all-girls’-school-closet ever conceived by Rainbow Ikea. Just like Raven’s family reportedly did, my parents faced my burgeoning queerness with suspicion and denial.
It’s strangely heartening to know that no matter our Wikipedia status, we all played the pronoun game with our extended relatives! Some of us just won a Teen Choice Award immediately afterward.
Yes, I know it’s incredibly weird, but I find the thought of Raven -- or Andrew Garfield, or Ellen Page, or any of the other young celebrities whose atypical gender presentation tends to get them labeled as gay -- facing the same adolescent queer narrative that I did to be at once deeply tragic and kind of inspiring.
I can’t be the only one, either. Why do you think Tumblr is full of people declaring Kristen Stewart to be a super-dyke? It’s not because they love her in flannel. It’s because including her in the Lesbian Club makes her seem even more accessible. (And, OK, because she’s super hot in flannel.)
At the same time, though, I’m afraid that the collective squee (including my own) is indirectly contributing to the unlikelihood of more public figures coming out in the long run. I’m no expert on the celebrity machine, but I’m pretty sure that the general stumpiness and bigotry of Middle America strikes fear into the heart (and career prospects) of many a secretly queer actor.
That’s not a hard one to suss out. But given that a great way to defeat homophobia is to represent queerness in a very familiar framework, the public’s tendency toward histrionics in response to gay celebs is only perpetuating the labeling of queer relationships as worthy of horror and/or mockery.
Loath as I am to admit it, even my own keysmashing at the slightest whiff of Robert Downey, Jr. making out with his Avengers cast-mates just serves to further the sidelining of hypothetically gay celebrities, however well-intentioned.
Whenever this all comes up, I just can’t stop thinking of the teenage queerbies these days who need LGBT role models more than ever. Yes, they’ve got Gaga and Obama on their side, which is a far cry from even the mid-2000s in terms of general acceptance. I’d love, though, for them to see the micro-dramas of actual LGBT celebrities play out in a way that’s as trashy -- and as nonchalantly exposed for public consumption -- as those of their straight peers.
Of course celebrities deserve to keep their personal lives private. Let’s be real, though: so few of them actually do. Sure, it’d be kind of heartbreaking to open a People and see Matt Bomer storming out of Nobu in a fit of rage at his boyfriend. It would also be eminently, refreshingly normal.
Gay relationships aren’t all sunshine and coordinated outfits at the Tony Award -- they’re full of the same stupid fights and gross morning breath as every other goddamn relationship. You’d never know it from Twitter-stalking Neil Patrick Harris, though.
Putting gay celebrities on a pedestal or making their come-outs headline news doesn’t do us, or them, any favors. So maybe Raven is shacking up with a super-hot ex-Top Model. Maybe she’s not. I’m going to try my best not to feed the linkbait-beast by following the story any more than necessary.
But I’m really looking forward to the day when I can imagine inducting a celeb into the LGBT Club without having a giant freakout about it. I’m getting there, I think. It’d be nice if the rest of the world came along, too.