Ricky Martin, Clay Aiken, Rosie O’Donnell: What do these celebrities have in common?
They’re as gay as a handbag full of rainbows, that’s what.
I grew up in a not-so-distant time in a not-so-cultured town that embraced the gay stereotype and what it supposedly meant to be gay. And by “embraced,” I mean poked fun at, mocked and bullied with more gay jokes than Joan Rivers’ locker of one-liners could possibly manage to hold. Thankfully, I didn’t face the brunt of these–admittedly funny on occasion–jokes, but I did know people who did.
But when I consider what role models actually existed for gay youth only 10 years ago, the list is surprisingly small. In fact, the only gay icon I could have named a decade ago was Marcellas from “Big Brother.” They were few and far in between, and when they did pop onto the public scene, they were more likely to be lauded than praised, dismissed than warmly welcomed.
Since then, the world has opened its big bear hug arms to a slew of out celebrities, but it seems we still face the same types of problems we did even 10 years ago.
Using the examples mentioned above, Ricky Martin came out of the closet only after years of rumors, speculation and public embarrassment. Naturally, Ricky, when you’re parading about the beach in scantily-clad swimwear with a stud muffin all over you, someone’s going to be raising an eyebrow.
Clay Aiken had a similar experience, skipping out on what could have been a landmark moment in pop culture history had he been honest about his sexuality while the spotlights centered in on him during the second season of “American Idol.”
And poor Rosie O’Donnell lost her credibility card following her too dramatic, too long, too annoying public feud with real estate mogul and general jerk Donald Trump.
Where, oh where could the gay role models be?
I like to pretend the pre-Ellen DeGeneres era just doesn’t exist for a variety of different reasons. But even as beloved DeGeneres now graces our television screens during the daytime, which gay role model fills our primetime slots with positivity?
It’s certainly not to be found in shows like “Desperate Housewives,” where even though the show’s writers have made commendable attempts to be all-inclusive, they’ve ultimately fallen flat on their face with their unusual portrayal of gay characters. For example, supporting character Andrew came out of the closet only after having sabotaged the entirety of Wysteria Lane, driven his mother to the point of alcoholism and built a role for himself as one of the show’s antagonists. And the gay couple that moved onto the block a few years later? The couple serves as a step in the right direction, but plays too much on the annoyingly persistent idea in society that gay couples must play “roles.” That is, that there must be a male in a relationship as well as a female, even if they are a same-sex couple.
As I get older and breathe in more fumes of pop-culture madness, I only want to to slap my hand on my forehead. If a gay celebrity isn’t out and about stereotypically promoting the latest fashion lines, thrusting his/her pelvis or spewing faux-pas, they’re being portrayed as or even portraying character roles that are villainous and well-suited for someone to hate. Newsflash: The gay community has enough hate as it is, we don’t need to add to it.
I look forward to the day where I can return to my small town home and make a pop culture reference to my fellow hillbillies about gay culture they can embrace in the right way. No androgynous gay villains, no pansies like Kurt from “Glee” (Yeah, I said it), and no drunken celebutantes like Tila Tequila dominating reality television. One day, perhaps, the world will have a real gay role model, one who isn’t Kathy Griffin.
Brandon Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.