Why does the media assume queer celebrities are straight until proven otherwise?

In Entertainment, Fan Submission by Guest Poster0 Comments

Anna Buckley / HelloGiggles – Kevin Winter/BAFTA LA/Getty Images for BAFTA LA – Stephane Cardinale – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images – Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Imagine you’ve got a massive mole on your face. Whether or not you’re cool with the mole, it’s there, and it can’t be covered up. And you know that people can see it; they look right at it when they talk to you. In your mind, there’s no reason to mention it, since everyone knows it’s there. Except people are always asking you about it, hinting at it, in roundabout ways.

“Have you ever considered plastic surgery?” they ask, boring a hole into the growth on your face for which you are not responsible. “What do you think about your appearance? Anything out of the ordinary, that makes you different?” They ask you questions until finally, in a fit of rage and exhaustion, you burst: “YES, I HAVE A MASSIVE MOLE ON MY FACE. RIGHT THERE. SEE IT? I KNOW YOU DO. GLAD THAT’S SETTLED. NOW WE CAN MOVE ON.”

I’ll start by saying it’s incredibly important for queer celebrities to project visibility. By readily claiming labels like “queer” or “bisexual,” they offer up an image of survival and success for queer kids to pin to their vision board. There is life-and-death power in saying unambiguously, unapologetically, “I’m gay.”

What’s frustrating — and almost a separate issue — is the media’s coverage of queer celebrities who have not said those exact words into a megaphone. These people may have been openly living their lives, photographed with their partners and name-dropping them in interviews, but it’s as if they must wear a big “I AM A HOMO” sign on a red carpet à la Shia LaBeouf’s brown paper bag, or host a press conference solely to confirm their sexuality, to be considered “out.”

Take the recent interview in Vulture with Orphan Black’s Jordan Gavaris. In it, he’s asked about his sexuality, and Gavaris says he’s gay. He also says he’s been out since he was 19 (Gavaris is now 27), and goes on to offer insightful perspectives on the cultural currency of beauty, the demonization of femininity, and how rad women are. Instead of reporting on the thoughtful nuances of the conversation between Gavaris and the reporter, though, many publications latched on to the single question about Gavaris’s sexuality, and proclaimed he had just come out of the closet.

The man has been openly dating men since he was 19.

What the majority of the press misses in its reporting is that the closet is a construct. In our society, sexuality is structured according to the idea that if you’re gay and “out,” you’re honest — but if you’re “in,” you’re ashamed or deceitful, and that there is no in-between. Click-me-first headlines about celebrities “coming out” feeds into this binary thinking, which overlooks people who are already living full, out lives — whether or not they’ve publicly declared anything. What these stories fail to capture is the complex, genre-defying experience of being human.

But by not explicitly saying, “I’m gay,” they argued, Foster had chickened out and shirked responsibility to her community. If you read her speech through a less traditionalist lens, her coming out embodies the shame, discomfort, and uncertainty that often attaches itself to such an announcement. As a New York Times columnist pointed out, “Sometimes we ‘ramble’; sometimes we’re ‘disjointed’; but it’s the raw kernel of honesty that matters.” The columnist also noted that Foster had mentioned her partner six years earlier, but apparently that was “too subtle to be recorded as the definitive coming out” (shade-level: Pete Souza).