I always feel a little conflicted when a major celebrity finally comes out after years of speculation, especially when their career is on the slide or they have a memoir to advertise. I mean, on the one hand, more visibility is always great. Their story will help to inspire others and they usually become excellent ambassadors (at least in the short term).
Yet there is also the sense that it might have meant a hell of a lot more when the celebrity was at their height of their success. That's what makes Ellen DeGeneres and Neil Patrick Harris so important. Both celebrities came out when they were already well known performers but have parlayed that into even greater subsequent success. They are important symbols against the idea that being gay inherently limits your career options.
I am genuinely happy for Ricky Martin, who has finally announced that he is “proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am”. His letter is sweet, if at times reads like a 90s era Diane Warren ballad (example; “Today is my day, this is my time, and this is my moment.” – just imagine the swelling strings as Celine belts that one out). But he makes clear in the letter that this was as the result of him writing his autobiography. The 'revelation' will generate headlines and publicity in a way which will no doubt guarantee a large amount of media interest when the book is released as well as a raft of media appearances. I can also imagine the long line of gay rights groups who will only be too eager to bask in this reflected light by giving Martin some kind of award (Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD and Stonewall leap immediately to mind).
One of the things I hear in switchboard all the time is then pain, fear and horror that closeted people have about coming out. Their view of it is as a traumatic, public declaration which leaves them exposed and vulnerable to attacks from all corners. In some respects, high profile coming out announcements merely reinforce this by underlying a similar ‘all or nothing’ approach. It's one of the reasons I continue to admire the ‘coming out’ scene in one of the early episodes of Glee. Its simply understatement was exactly the type of message which should be sent out to people who are struggling with similar issues.
Is it hypocritical of me to admire the coming out of Donal Og and Gareth Thomas but to feel conflicted about Martin simply because of the respective industries that they work for? Because Martin was a performer, I should expect him to be more open? Looking back on some of his videos, it’s hard not to get the impression that the lady doth protest too much, and yet this is what is expected in pop music.
Gah... I don’t have an answer to this. I’m sure Martin will do well commercially out of this, and I truly hope it does give him personal peace and happiness. I just wish it would lead to some truly high profile and relevant stars also taking the plunge.
So as a thank you to Mr Martin for finally putting to bed all those rumours, here is the Grammy performance which re-launched him as a pop star in the English speaking world. Though I prefer La Vida Loca, this is one of those moments where you can see a pop star being born.
Ricky Martin - The Cup Of Life (Live Grammy Music Awards)
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And as an added gay extra, here is Martin and Queen Kylie singing La Vida Loca