Disclosure & Choice: When Do We Deserve to Know Someone’s Sexuality? (Handy Flowchart Included)

Last week, Ricky Martin came out and the blogosphere emitted a collective “duh”.
Newsweek issued a slideshow titled “We Already Knew, Ricky” and Gawker gleefully compiled an entire slideshow of people who “need to finally come out of the closet”.
Even relatively mainstream media sources like ABC News and Rollingstone.com were sure to mention the “years of scrutiny about his sexuality” and “speculation” that preceded his announcement.
The jokes, puns, and in some cases, ridicule, did not stop there. Headlines like “Ricky Martin decided against a “DUH!!! I Love Dick!” People magazine cover” (DListed) and innumerable “livin la vida blank” puns filled my reader.
After these knee-jerk reactions came the just-plain-jerk analyses. Why did Martin wait so long to come out? Didn’t he care about gay rights? How selfish and spineless was he not to have come out at the height of his career? And wasn’t *like* Barbara Walters *like* soooo vindicated?!
This week, Julia Baird of Newsweek took it a step further, even going so far as to praise this public reaction as indicative of how tolerant, progressive, even “healthy”, our nation has become:

“While it may have been a wrenching decision for Martin personally, there was something refreshing about eye rolling replacing homophobic invective…tolerance of homosexuality is likely to mean we live in a democratic, developed, wealthy country.”

This analysis of the public reaction to Ricky Martin- and a plethora of other celebrities- coming out misses the point. Eye rolling isn’t replacing the homophobic invective- it is the homophobic invective.
More ranting- with graphic accompaniment- after the jump.

Acting publicly cavalier, catty, and sometimes cruel about something so personal, at a time when people in different professions, locations, or economic situations could face tangible hardships, discrimination, and prejudice because of just such an announcement, is ignorant at best and homophobic at worst.
These reactions don’t suggest tolerance, but exploitation. They don’t reflect social enlightenment, but social entitlement. And they don’t reflect progress, but privilege.
As a bi-racial cis-gender able-bodied woman in a heterosexual relationship, I may not be able to say I know what it is that Ricky Martin went through before deciding to come out. But I can’t help but be struck by the hypocrisy of an America that forbids disclosure from their armed servicepeople and demands it to the point of issuing a frenzied media mandate from everyone else. Whether the criticism was coming from other gay men and women or not, rushing to judge the timing or impact of his decision fails to acknowledge his humanity and undercuts the ownership of his decision.
As long as our reaction is an invasive, entitled “duh” rather than an informed, supportive “thanks for choosing to share”, our collective privilege is showing, and we’re not making real progress for the LGBTQI rights agenda.
The truth is that we still live in a society where you can be best-friend gay, or girl-who-kisses-girls-gay, or celebrity gay, but you can’t be soldier gay, or congressperson gay, or equally-employed gay, or teen-at-her-prom gay, or married gay. And as long as we’re saying “duh” instead of acknowledging these realities, we’re at a standstill as a society on this issue.
So you know what I think? The real “duh” move is to repeal DADT, legalize gay marriage, and leave everyone’s choice about when, where, and to whom they disclose their sexuality as just that- a choice neither mandated nor forbidden by the government, media, or anyone else in between.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • Lynsey MacGregor

    Know what would be great too? If websites like Gawker, and feminist blogs to boot, would consider the possibility that not everybody queer is gay or lesbian, that bi people exist and that “gay marriage” is an exclusionary term.

  • leah

    Speaking of social entitlement, nice bi-invisible flowchart. I couldn’t get past the first question to find out my result! Oh, maybe that *is* my result.
    Now that I think about it, in addition to being homophobic (and you make a good point here – it is very homophobic), the “duh” reaction is also biphobic. Because any same-sex relationship or activities automatically makes one gay, right? Jeez quit fooling yourself and come out already. Except if you’re in a opposite-sex relationship. Then just STFU and stop trying to get attention.
    I couldn’t agree more with this: “leave everyone’s choice about when, where, and to whom they disclose their sexuality as just that- a choice neither mandated nor forbidden by the government, media, or anyone else in between.” I wish we lived in a world where nothing was assumed and we were just free to be with who we want to be with, no drama.

  • tpaperny

    Yes, yes, yes! Well said (or written, rather), Lori.

  • Jack

    I’m kind of surprised that Ellen Page wasn’t on that list, but maybe the writer isn’t hanging around the same parts of the internet I am. What’s struck me as strange about her is that a lot of people seem to genuinely resent that she isn’t gay. It’s less laughing behind her back about how obviously gay she is and more longing for her to fit within a certain niche that they’re trying to put her in, but it still strikes me as offputting.

  • dondo.myopenid.com

    Loved this (paraphrased):

    [This doesn't] suggest tolerance, but exploitation. It does not reflect social enlightenment, but social entitlement. And it does not express progress, but privilege.

    That’s quite brilliant.
    I think the difference between an exploitative reaction and an enlightened one is captured by the difference between “duh” and “oh.” “Duh” is an expression of scorn. An enlightened, tolerant reaction is never scornful. For something like this, it seems to me that an enlightened, tolerant reaction is mostly one of disinterest.
    The day that this sort of announcement is greeted by the same type of coverage that a celebrity marriage or divorce garners is the day I will believe we are reaching “enlightenment”. Enlightenment really includes not covering any of this — because really, who the hell cares? The only way this matters at all is that for those who indulge in celebrity fantasy, an attractive male has just entered — or left — the realm of faux-realistic dream.

  • nestra

    Don’t you think this post is a little hypocritical seeing as how when Feministing first reported about Ricky Martin coming out, Miriam felt the need to include a “finally” and then did not edit the post nor apologize for it when readers commented on how inappropriate it was?

  • Comrade Kevin

    I am out as bisexual and genderqueer here and to many. If anyone asks me, I’m always honest. But I must admit that I’m not completely out and often selective closeted, particularly because my parents would not exactly be thrilled if it got back to them that I was completely public about it. My mother has two brothers who are homophobic and their response would really hurt her.
    I’ve often wondered how I would handle it if I became famous—whether I’d come clean in some interview, or hide it.
    As much as I am all for being open with my sexual orientation, I also don’t want to unduly cause pain to people who love me. And there’s always biphobia to deal with, too. Even my partner has been known to say that there are two sorts of bisexuals: those who are attracted to either sex and those who are slutty and just want to screw anything they can. That statement offends me on all sorts of levels, but I try to understand where she is coming from, since she is not bisexual herself.

  • marissafromboston

    that flowchart is indeed handy.

  • middlechild

    So you know what I think? The real “duh” move is to repeal DADT, legalize gay marriage, and leave everyone’s choice about when, where, and to whom they disclose their sexuality as just that- a choice neither mandated nor forbidden by the government, media, or anyone else in between.

    I’m totally with you. I agree, the “duh” reaction has nothing to do with acceptance, or the idea that being gay is accepted and unremarkable…especially if you are famous and that fame depends in part on you’re seeming sexually available.

  • bradley

    Come out, everyone goes berserk = Bad
    Come out, nobody cares = Bad
    Come out, ?????? = Good

  • nikki#2

    When I saw the news that Ricky Martin announced that he is gay I actually said, “Well Duh”. Why? Because everyone has known it for years! When people say something obvious or something everyone already knows about the word to use is Duh.

  • MLEmac28

    I think the flow chart is meant to be sarcastic and highlighting how the public demands full disclosure from celebrities, but refuses to accept that soldiers can be gay too. And bi people are invisible to most of the public, sadly. Remember when Lindsey Lohan acknowledged that she was dating Samantha Ronson? The headlines all said “Lohan’s a lezzy” without even thinking about the fact that she’s dated men too.

  • MLEmac28

    Well, since polygamy isn’t what we’re trying to get legalized, the term bimarriage wouldn’t make sense. Any individual marriage would either be opposite sex or same.
    That said, assuming that same sex marriage would only be for gay people is exclusionary. I think people just like to say “gay marriage” because its less of a mouthful.

  • rebekah

    it’s because she is a feminist. We all get called lesbians. She just gets it worse because she is a feminist and a successful actress. Not exactly a combination that people want to see in this world. A feminist who has money, and therefore some power

  • Gular

    The hardest part about, for most people in a relatively comfortable situation like Ricky Martin was, about coming out is actually doing it. There’s a tangible fear of the unknown which keeps people closeted. It’s getting to the point of “you know what, this is who I am. fuck it” that drives a lot of people out of the closet. I think it’s one of the reasons why a lot of gay people are so strongly opinionated and educated. They’ve had to come to face hard truths, do some hard examining and really draw a very personal conclusion — one they’ve not necessarily wanted to accept.
    I agree with you that the collective “what took you so long?” is homophobic, or at the very least, ignorant of the process of coming to terms with yourself. It shows a type of inhumanity that is really sad.
    But, this is also by the same people who freak out when a celebrity gets a stretch mark — or, at least, decides not to cover it. So, I can’t really be outraged. It really more saddens me.

  • gothicguera

    I have this personal rule. I mind my P and q about others people’s sex lives. Unless they are hurting other humans or any other living animals. Or Unless I’m involved in in any shape, way or form. A perfect example, I have an crush and zachary quinto and OF course I Google him and I read all these comments that he is gay and gay rumors. yeah ,just because the man supports gay rights and wants his private life private, make him gay.* scarsims* (What does that make me, then?) you what, another ” Duh ” movement , how about treating people like human beings? As my sister says “does it matter, if someone is say? how does it affect you? ”

  • Sarah

    I had a conversation with a lesbian on that recently, actually. She told me that ‘gay marriage’ was a more appropriate term than what I suggested (which was either ‘marriage equality’ or just ‘same-sex marriage’) because it was important gay folks’ visibility, that far more gay people want to marry their same-sex partners than do bi people, and that bi people have heterosexual privilege (which is true, of course, if we are in an opposite-sex relationship but not necessarily completely true if we are in a same-sex relationship, right?). Her other reason was that NOM (and related groups) use the term same-sex marriage. Note, this was on Twitter, not exactly the place to have a big discussion on this thing, but that was some of the reasoning she gave me.
    I do not necessarily agree with her, though. Some of it, on a personal level, makes me kinda feel like I am not that important in the LGBTQ rights movement, even though I do have a stake in it too (as do many, many people, I realize). Sorry if that sounds kinda silly. :)

  • Lynsey MacGregor

    Ha, yes. No, I’m not gay! Oh, no more flowchart for me?

  • Robin

    The most interesting thing here is the different stereotypes of gay people allowed to be out in society — the best friend, girl-who-kisses-girls, celebrity, etc. It’s like throwing the gay community a bone — “Look, see? We love gay celebrities, so there’s no homophobia!” It’s this weird illusion of equality, hoping that people won’t be smart enough to wise up to the fact that this isn’t anywhere close to the equality that we deserve!

  • Tokidoki

    “As long as our reaction is an invasive, entitled “duh” rather than an informed, supportive “thanks for choosing to share”, our collective privilege is showing, and we’re not making real progress for the LGBTQI rights agenda.”
    Wow. You do realize that on this site his coming out was linked a feministing blogger said “Ricky Martin FINALLY comes out,” right? (Caps lock added for emphasis). I rolled my eyes when I saw it phrased that way last week, and snorted when I saw this post. Hopefully you didn’t SEE the post period, because otherwise that this hella ridiculous.
    Forgot how to link, you can copy + paste it:

  • katemoore

    Blame Google. News outlets use the term “gay marriage” because that’s what overwhelmingly gets searched for:
    Better search placement = more hits = more ad dollars, even if it results in wording that’s sometimes incorrect. I’m not saying I think this is the best way to go about things, but that’s why.

  • Dawn.

    This is the grand illusion of equality at work. It’s a silencing tactic. Don’t complain about how hard you’ve got it, GLBTQI person/woman/person of color! We totally love you. See? *points to random celebrity woman/GLBTQI person/POC.* Bullshit.

  • jrav81

    Can I just go on the record as saying, I hate the word “tolerance”? I really think it’s just code for “when you’re in the room, I’m sorta ok with it, but the second you’re out of the room, that flies out the window.”

  • Icy Bear

    I agree with the sentiment in this post, but at the same time, I feel it ignores some important things. All the people I knew who commented on Ricky Martin “finally” coming out were gay. That certainly doesn’t make it right, but I think it’s important to remember that in some situations, for some individuals, this sort of thing can have more impact than it might seem.
    For some, creating a sense of community, of shared knowledge that others don’t have, can be crucial. While claiming knowledge of other people’s identity may be wrong, it can also be incredibly painful to know that there are people out there with power you never had, who by a simple statement on their website could make the world maybe a marginally bit safer for people like you. You might be thinking back to when you were a few years younger and the world would have seemed that much more hopeful if you had known of another gay pop star. Etc., etc.
    I am most definitely not saying this is right, but I do think we have to consider how some things may be important even if they are technically problematic. The way I see it, it’s sorta similar to people expressing hatred or even a wish to do violence towards an entire oppressing group – not right, but something we have to understand if we want to think deeply about oppression.

  • Sarah

    Oh, the conversation I referenced above actually started because the person with whom I talking about this Tweeted about an article about gay marriage/marriage equality/same-sex marriage (whatever you want to call it) that did not have the phrase “gay marriage” in it and also said to me that history needed to know it as “gay marriage” and that obscuring the issue in the name of inclusiveness did not help. But, I thought one of the big issues about all of this *was* inclusiveness. Right? That is what we are going for here and in general, I thought.

  • Carrie

    “Gay marriage” is a term that’s rejected by most major LGBT movement organizations, though. Freedom to Marry offers a good explanation why:

  • katemoore

    I was replying to Lynsey’s question about why Gawker / other blogs use “gay marriage.” I can’t 100% speak for them, but I know that’s AP style, for instance.

  • girlaboutoaktown.myopenid.com

    I was really pleased to discover this post, as I was thinking the same thing and briefly mentioned Martin in a blog post I wrote that addressed the issue of why one not-out celeb (Johnny Weir) is treated so differently in blogs and the media compared to other not-out celebs like Anderson Cooper or Ricky Martin before he came out.

  • nestra

    Yes, but it seems Feministing is just going to ignore that because it much more fun, although probably less productive, to take punches at other people’s perceptions than to clean one’s own house.