Is Twitter A Safe Space for Gay Celebs?

Seventh graders these days don’t have to sit in the dark watching the Mary Martin version of "Peter Pan" and feeling angry in their underbellies. They can have access, however constructed or temporary it may be, to people who have clearly taken their non-heterosexual identities and made it work for them

Jun 11, 2012 at 11:30am | Leave a comment

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I know. The resemblance is uncanny.

Most people I know have a “best friend celebrity:” a famous person whom they don’t want to sleep with so much as spend a lot of time with them drinking wine and having super-intense dance parties.

When I was a kid, for example, my prevailing fantasies were largely centered around meeting and subsequently charming the voice actor Jason Marsden, whose most famous role to non-giant weirdoes is probably the cat from "Hocus Pocus." I admit, I still kind of get a pang every time I watch the dubbed version of "Spirited Away," knowing that our best friend love will never be.

This hypothetical celebrity friendship-bracelet can be especially important for baby gays. Like I’ve said before, it was pretty freaking tempting for mini-Kate to glom onto any vaguely LGBT public figure, even if those figures were a) dead and/or b) characters in films based on very odd British novels.

In seventh grade, I’d sometimes just sit in the gloom of my basement, watching Rupert Graves trade cow-eyed glances with a blonde dude and feeling a strange, longing thrill in the pit of my stomach. If this seems a bit dire, at that point in time, Rosie O’Donnell hadn’t even come out yet. Yeah. Dark days indeed.

In lieu of real-life friends who felt comfortable identifying as LGBT, it comforted me to think of these characters, whom I often conflated with their actors, having non-heterosexual relationships and thriving somewhere. As far as I knew, they were.

These days, the rise of Twitter has made it even easier to manufacture that imaginary celebrity best friendship. And of course, now that I no longer need a Wise Gay Mentor, there seem to be spades of them. Or at least a few.

Take Adam Lambert, for instance. When Glambert first auditioned for "American Idol" in 2008, the judges made a lot of harrumphing noises about how he was “aaaaawfully theatrical” in a clear (and annoying) audience-nod that basically telegraphed “This Guy Certainly Is Homosexual, America! Be cool.” Adam was eventually voted second to Kris “Plaid Shirt” Allen, who was about as threatening to Idol-watchers as baked beans. 

Lambert then officially came out to Rolling Stone, surprising exactly zero people and giving him the freedom to go to Burning Man in as many spangly tights as his little heart desired. On his Twitter, he’d talk openly about his same-sex relationships and occasionally send reassurances to LGBT fans who were having a tough time.

What I find most encouraging about this whole thing isn’t just that Adam Lambert is apparently made of kittens and glitter. It’s that after all that, his new album still debuted in the number one slot in the Billboard 200, making him the first openly gay artist to ever get to that spot. 

Considering that even Adam considers himself to be “a post-gay man working in a pre-gay industry,” that’s freaking amazing. As AfterElton points out, "Other gay performers such as Elton John and George Michael have hit No. 1, but only before they came out, and they haven't managed that honor since." 

By contrast, I was pretty disappointed this weekend when my other GBFF-crush, rapper Azealia Banks, deleted her Twitter in a flurry of manufactured controversy and grumpiness. I loved that Azealia identified as “bisexual” and wrote lyrics that were specifically about fucking women, but I also had a giant brain-boner for the frank discussions she had via Twitter with her fans about femininity and sexuality in the rap industry. She told the Times she didn’t want to be “the” bisexual or lesbian rapper, but when she’s singing about “c*nts getting eaten,” it’s hard for me to refrain from fangirling all over my face. And despite her surrounding controversy and the acknowledged homophobia of the hip-hop industry, she recently signed on to Universal Records. 

Of course, as soon as I got good and attached to her online persona, she decided that Twitter made her too “vulnerable” and deleted the entire mess. Bummer. And that move alone has been enough for some publications to suspect she might just be a flash in the pan.

I get that there’s a lot of danger in putting celebrities on pedestals, particularly in relation to their public sexualities. When we spotlight an individual as a representative of an identity, it’s way too easy for them to become the representative of that identity, which isn’t fair to anyone. 

And for that matter, I would hate to ascribe an entire pro-LGBT movement to the ebb and flow of a social media network. What happens on the Internet generally stays on there for a grand total of about 10 minutes, or so it would seem. A frillion Twitter followers do not pro-equality legislation make (though I wouldn’t put it past politicians to start grubbing for digital votes via @reply).  

But I do think that Twitter can be a fabulous “safe space” of sorts for LGBT celebrities to reach out to like-minded fans without fear of rejection from casting agents or record producers or whoever else controls the Puppet Strings of iTunes Acceptance this week. With artists like Adam Lambert and Azealia Banks rapidly setting the bar for mainstream success, it’s becoming harder and harder for musical artists to justify staying in the closet for career reasons.

And, more than that, Twitter also brings those LGBT musical artists closer, figuratively, to their fans. Seventh graders these days don’t have to sit in the dark watching the Mary Martin version of "Peter Pan" and feeling angry in their underbellies. They can have access, however constructed or temporary it may be, to people who have clearly taken their non-heterosexual identities and made it work for them. 

As far as I can tell, LGBT visibility in the mainstream media has become a continuous cycle. Particularly in the music industry, where commercial success is largely determined by fan response, the perceived accessibility of LGBT celebrities can act as both a beacon of optimism for gay fans and a signal to record execs that non-heterosexuality doesn’t have to be a death knell.

The more comfortable fans are with their idols’ non-heterosexual lifestyles, the more demonstratively profitable gay celebrities will seem to the kind of executives that still think promoting Nickelback is a good idea. And as more and more teens flock to Twitter as a primary social medium, I don’t think it should be discounted as an indicator of consumer trends. 

The fact that we currently live in a world where Adam Lambert has made more history than Elton John ever could speaks volumes, I think, to the power of social media presence. Obviously, I don’t think that Adam’s Billboard drop or Azealia’s Universal signing is the key to eradicating marriage inequality idiocy or anti-gay bullying in schools. But I do think that at least some of Adam Lambert’s 1.5 million Twitter followers probably do sleep a little better at night imagining their BFF-montages with the man himself.

You, too, can imagine yourself in a best friendship with Kate on Twitter!