Tuesday, February 21, 2006

New Olympic Sport: Closet Watching

When my college roommate came out of the closet, he introduced me to a game I call “closet watching”. In his newfound Pride (as dyslexics and lefties tend to do as well), he kept telling me about all the famous people that were gay. This was back in the mid-1980s when there were very few “out” celebrities. A lot of them, like Elton John, Richard Simmons, and Freddy Mercury, fell into the “Well, duh!” category. Some, like Richard Chamberlain, Lily Tomlin, and Jim Nabors, were news to poor sheltered me. Others were pure wishful thinking on his part.

Anyone suspected of being gay went on the Closet Watch List. We would watch for evidence in the press or gossip magazines for evidence one way or another. Many times he was eventually vindicated, but not every celebrity that was rumored to be gay was. Burt Reynolds really was very, very sick.

Then Rock Hudson died of AIDS and this parlor game went mainstream. There are tabloids that have annual, or it sometimes seems weekly, Are They Gay? issues. These articles rarely “out” anyone not already out and are usually just innuendo-ridden rehashes of existing speculation.

In this post-Seinfeldian “not that there’s anything wrong with that” era, closet watching is a much more challenging sport. Even today, some gay celebrities have public personas where it would damage their careers if their fan base knew the truth. One of the unwritten rules is that while it is okay with the mainstream media to be gay, being a hypocrite about your orientation is grounds for scrutiny. The press has developed a set of dog-whistle adjectives to alert those in the know while still sounding innocuous to the general public. For example, gender neutral references to a “partner” or “companion” are a good clue.

Now it seems that there is a male figure skater named Johnny Weir that is rather flamboyant, but not publicly “out”, even though his behavior leaves little doubt about what side of the fence he is on. Who knew there were gay figure skaters? Well, the Advocate claims that half of the recent medal winners are, and they should know. I know I can’t name seven openly gay figure skaters and most people can’t because that is personal information they don’t share with the world.

Hank Stuever of the Washington Post wrote an exceptionally catty article called Out? In? Or Past All That? Johnny Weir's Fancy-Free Skate. The general tone of the article was Johnny, you silly nellie, why are you being so coy? You’re not fooling ANYone, girfriend. Hank Stuever is a very talented features writer who just happens to be gay (A fact not prominently mentioned on his website bio, but why should it be?). He has written excellent articles in the past about closeted celebrities and politicians. I just found the article on Weir particularly mean-spirited. Would such an article have passed muster or even have been considered if the subject had been a hyper-masculine female speed-skater instead of a Bjork impersonator?

Stuever is not the only writer to take a stance on this issue. David Haugh wrote an article for the Chicago Tribune that quoted Rudy Gallindo trashing Weir for his reticence. Being called “over the top” by Rudy is a serious bitch-slap. In counterpoint, Philip Hersh of the same paper took offense to the article in his offical blog saying he doesn’t “give a damn” about Weir’s orientation. Ann Killion of the Mercury News also had a great defense of Johnny’s privacy. For the record I agree with a lot of this article.

When a putatively straight male like me sticks a toe into the waters of sexual identity politics, it can only turn out bad. No matter what I say, I will be branded either a latent homophobe or a humorless politically-correct priss. So as an exercise, I am going to make a list of celebrities, none of which I know for a fact is gay, and it’s very likely that some are not. Then I am going to ask a series of questions that I will not even attempt to answer myself. Think them over.

Sean Hayes
Clay Aiken
Ricky Martin
Brian Boitano
Jake Gyllenhall
Tom Cruise
Collin Ferrell

  • Who on this list would it be safe to write a bitchy article about what an obvious closet queen they are?
  • Who can be safely ridiculed for blatant hypocrisy about their private lives?
  • Which careers would be affected positively or negatively if they were to come out?
  • Is flamboyance a positive or negative trait for a gay celebrity?
  • Do gay celebrities have an obligation to be a role model for closeted homosexuals?
  • Can only gay writers write articles ridiculing closeted gay celebrities?

Johnny’s Olympic medal hopes were dashed when he, as some wags put it, “flamed out” during competition. I’m sure the controversies over his orientation, whether self-inflicted or not, didn’t help his mental preparation. Let’s hope for a world where one day these sort of private conflicts do not have to be public issues.

Update: In the February 22 Post, Libby Copeland writes Drop Till You Shop about a purse-shopping trip with Johnny to Louis Vuitton without mentioning his sexuality once. That's a way to give us a peak inside his closet (literally) without dragging him out.


Anonymous said...

Rather than commenting on the interesting topic of this well-written post, I just want to back up something you say in passing which is: left-handed people are always on the lookout for left-handed people! It's true! I never realized this until I met my wife, who is always spotting fellow southpaws. And since being left-handed, unlike being gay, is something you can spot relatively easily, watching TV is always a game of "spot the lefty." Much fun!

As for your list, I'm going to weigh in as follows:

1. Duh
2. Mmmmmaybe
3. Probably
4. Almost certainly
5. Could be, but I doubt it
6. Please don't sue me in England Mr. Cruise
7. Sweet God no


J.Po said...

Good thoughts. What is it about male figure skaters that just SHOUTS "gay," whether they are or not? I mean, Scott Hamilton supposedly is married with children, but his Olympic commentary makes him sound like the Biggest Flamer On Earth. Let's at least not perpetuate the stereotype, OK?

What do you suppose they all say to each other in the dressing rooms? "May I push your Dick Button?"

Anonymous said...

I think Weir brought a lot of this attention on himself with his NBC profile piece where he talked about what an open, don't-give-a-damn person he is, and then beat around the bush (sorry about the pun) about his orientation.

Impetua said...

Oh, merciful heavens. If the world at large didn't like watching gay (or presumably gay, or gay-ish, or gay-like, or gayly dressed, or etc etc) men skate around on the ice like beautiful fairies skimming a limpid pool, ice dancing would never have been invented. I'd say it's one of the few professions where one's orientation is just completely beside the point: once you don the spangly costume, you're gay, honey. And we love you for it! Put on the snug little ensemble and twirl for us, Johnny!

All kidding aside, I too hope for the world of which you speak. Until then, I and my partner and our daughter will suffer the slings and arrows. I'm always happy when someone can balance being openly gay with being just a normal human being, and I'm ready for it not to be an issue.

And for a putatively straight guy, you're all right. :)

Mooselet said...

I've always thought it's too bad certain aspects of our society are hung up on a person's sexual orientation first and personality, or what kind of person someone is, second. Personally, I don't care who you sleep with. Are you a good person? Are you not a psychopath? Are you not an ignoramous like Tom Cruise? These things are so much more important that who you 'do'.

That said, men who participate in figure skating have got to be very secure in their sexuality to put on those outfits and do their best to be the Fairie King. For heaven's sake, those outfits are so tight you can tell what religion some of those men are. And for the record, I love Brian Boitano - that routine back in 1988 still gives me chills.

As for your questions, I don't think anyone has an obligation to be a role model to anyone else unless it's parent to child. Should be, perhaps, want to be even better, but not obligated. And if a straight writer wrote an article ridiculing a closeted gay celebrity, he/she would be instantly branded a homophobe or worse. It's not right, but it's what would happen.

yellojkt said...

The list is not meant to be comprehensive or even accurate.

This is the best set of comments I have ever received. Maybe I need to cross post to some NASCAR fan sites to get some flames.

HRH Courtney, Queen of Everything said...

What is it about people who identify as gay that makes the world so interested, and yet so repressed at the same time? If we're so interested in who they're sleeping with, we should also be interested in allowing them equal civil rights as those who identify as straight, including, but not limited to, gay MARRIAGE.

Excellent post, yellojkt.

Anonymous said...

Man, it's just a matter of time before Tom comes out of the closet. Seriously, that man is as gay as they come. I just wish he'd admit it.

[place eye roll here]

Impetua said...

Yes, perhaps if we were allowed to be legally MARRIED my partner wouldn't have had to stand in our house looking at a lot of blood and being given the runaround by the local 911 system while I sat in the emergency room ALONE having what almost turned out to be a miscarriage.

But I guess it's more important that my privacy be protected against my will than it is to provide me with basic civil rights. It was worth crying alone for an hour and a half in a cold exam room. Right?

(... Sorry, it's been just over two years and I'm still bitter. I didn't miscarry, was put on bed rest, and the baby will be two in May.)

yellojkt said...

Forgive me if my sarcasm tuner is a little out of spec, but if you follow the link, I have said in the past that I don't think Tom is gay. Not all rumors are true.

The Complimenting Commenter said...

I think that you have a well thought out post. It seems like you thought about what you were going to write instead of just reacting. Well done.

And I hope that you had a good birthday this week.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Tom Cruise is gay, either. I think he's supremely egocentric and driven by his need for attention. But that should not be a surprise in any major movie star. He has turned in some good performances. Show business people are all whores at heart, and I mean that in the best possible way.

What do you say about Kevin Spacey? Richard Gere?

And one more thing: I think Liberace set gay people back a lot by being so obviously gay and at the same time officially closeted. I saw so many interviews where he said he wasn't married because he "hadn't met the right woman yet." It made it acceptable to be blatently dishonest, and I think it set a bad precedent.

Anonymous said...

For some unusual reason you have Collin Ferrell on the list. He is so very UNGAY that I suspect when you look at him or see his movies, it's you who can't look away. Therefore your name should be there with 'about Collin Ferrell' right after. He is so very NOT gay that I would suspect alot of closet hangers spend alot of time ga-ga-ing over him and wishing him to be so that, like so many of we women, daydream about him! I have no gaydar but believe me I have never been wrong about whether a man is straight or not!

Trish Stratus said...

This is truly wicked. closet watching. lol

Viagra Online said...

I have always had my doubts about Tom Cruise heterosexuality... I mean, have you ever listened to him speaking. He is so effeminate! About tabloids, I think they are not even worthy to read.