So, these two men both came out as gay recently. I’m very happy for them, since I know that can be a hard thing to do. But there is a certain trend I’ve noticed in the commentary surrounding their announcements, and it’s something I feel merits some discussion.
You’ve noticed it I’m sure. People saying “they weren’t out already?” or “that was obvious”, or “I already knew”, or “I’m not surprised”. Now, as I’m sure will come as no surprise, this trend KIND OF BOTHERS ME (I never blog about things that make me happy. I swear, I am a positive person really!). Let me tell you why.
First thing’s first. I feel like there is a context where lack-of-surprise is TOTALLY AWESOME in response to a coming-out announcement. In fact, I would like to think that in a perfect world it would be the typical response. Because really, someone coming out should be no more astonishing than, say, someone having eyes of a different colour than you thought. At least, in all contexts except some specific ones where a person’s orientation might actually be relevant (like ones where you might wish to make The Sexytimes with the person in question).
However. I do not feel the reason people “are not surprised” is this reason! They are “not surprised” because Martin and Hayes are, you see, flamboyant. Because, you see, Sean Hayes played “Jack” on Will & Grace! And Ricky Martin, he does all that dancing and singing and probably has other reasons people perceive him as flamboyant but I know almost nothing about him so it is hard for me to say!
The point is, neither of them really conform to hegemonic definitions of ‘masculinity’. And because of that, they get called gay. And have been since long before they came out.
It doesn’t work that way. You can’t actually tell if someone is gay by looking at them! You can’t. Okay? The most flamboyant guy in the world could be perfectly het*. Or he could be bi, or asexual, or any number of things. You can’t know. To assume that people who don’t fit into that masculine “norm” are gay is relentlessly heterosexist. It really is. Similarly, assuming people who do fit that norm must be het, and feigning (or genuinely feeling) exaggerated shock and surprise when they do come out? Also not that cool! Don’t pre-judge, people. It’s a bad idea. Relying on stereotypes to make predictions about people is a bad idea.
And the thing is, this particular form of heterosexism? Is something I also see coming from within the queer community. Which is ridiculous! We of all people should be dedicated to dismantling stereotypes, not reinforcing them by making snide comments when ‘effeminate’ men or ‘manly’ woman (and god how I hate those descriptors) come out. We of all people should know that not everyone does fit a stereotype, and the damage that can be caused by assuming people do.
Just…really. When talking about celebrities coming out, it’s cool to be glad for them. It’s cool to not give a shit. It’s cool to make cynical assumptions that it’s to boost their waning popularity (well, not really, because it is in most cases a pretty deeply personal decision. And taking that last route sort of invalidates that aspect of it). But please think twice before reacting in a way that holds up the harmful structures that encourage divisiveness and a “het vs. queer: IRRECONCILABLY DIFFERENT” mentality? Please?
*I don’t really like using “straight”. I feel like it has a lot of connotations I’d rather not tie explicitly to heterosexuality (I mean, my grandmother still uses “he’s really straight” to mean “he’s a stand-up guy**”). So I don’t, personally, though this is a preference thing.
**Also a phrase with troublesome connotations, this time related to ableism.