I’ll admit it — when I first heard the news of Ricky Martin’s coming out, I greeted it with the mental equivalent of a yawn. Like just about every other gay man in the universe, I had picked up the general vibe from his performances and seen the succession of beachside vacation photos of Martin relaxing with men who were every bit as impossibly handsome as he.
There are hints, and then there are hints.
A few days and some reflection later, I can say that my reaction is…
Well, my reaction is still meh.
A culture that worships celebrity as one of our highest aspirational goals — to be on television independent of any personal skill, talent or accomplishment is a status apparently to be revered — is a culture that will judge its growth and success by what celebrities choose to do. Hence the attention lavished on celebrities who, after long years climbing the ropes of stardom, suddenly decide to make the brave announcement that, ”I’m gay.”
Except it rarely seems quite so brave.
It’s brave to come out at the beginning of your career; it’s less so to come out to revive it.
I understand that Martin’s coming out is, perhaps, a bigger deal for the Latin American world than it is for North American LGBT communities. His coming out will stoke discussion and provide visibility much needed throughout the world, and will likely help some youth envision their own future LGBT lives more brightly.
Just imagine what could have happened if Martin had come out sooner. Obviously, the hindsight game is hideously inaccurate — Martin may not have had much of a career had he come out earlier. But that’s the point.
I came out over two decades ago at 19. Given the changes in our culture over those intervening 20 years, it’s sometimes hard even for me to remember how different things were — while gay and lesbian journalists move freely between mainstream and LGBT media these days, in those days coming out was no career boost.
And I was fairly fortunate to enjoy the privilege that came with a college education and a family’s support. There were plenty of others I knew who came out young and without those advantages, whose lives were otherwise harder than they would have been — but whose lives were lived openly and honestly.
That’s why the tendency to shower praise and awards upon celebrities who conveniently pop out of the closet after they’ve achieved success — I’m fairly sure that Lance Bass walked directly out of his closet and onto the stage to pick up his trophy — annoys me so. We have a community teeming with people who work every day to make the world a better, safer and more equal space for us all, far too many of whom will go unheralded.
Lest my churlishness get the better of me, I should note that coming out is the beginning of the process, not the end, even for celebrities who come out later rather than sooner. For those who enjoyed the benefits of fame that came in part from staying in the closet, using that fame to help other LGBT people would seem an easy call to make.
Fame may be fleeting, but it can be useful, whether advocating for LGBT political causes or helping with the struggles of LGBT youth.
So, to Ricky Martin, a heartfelt welcome. Now, what’s your encore?
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