Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Trapped in the Glass Closet?

The deafening collective yawn that greeted yesterday's news that Ricky Martin is gay got me thinking about a good article by Michael Musto, which Out published as a cover story a few years ago. Musto used the term "the glass closet," so perfectly put, to describe celebrities who are publicly gay, but officially sexually-agnostic.

While no sea change has occurred since the article's publication, in 2007, the notion of a glass closet seems quaint and unnecessary. Perhaps it's the saturation of openly gay celebrities in popular culture (Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O'Donnell, Neil Patrick Harris, Adam Lambert, Cynthia Nixon, Wanda Sykes, the Queer Eye guys, Rachel Maddow), coupled with recent political victories like the legalization of gay marriage in five U.S. states (and the District of Columbia) and the dismantling of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but being gay now seems as unremarkable as it should.

Yet some public figures stubbornly remain in the glass closet. Anderson Cooper and Jodie Foster (whose visages graced the aforementioned cover of Out) are the most famous examples. Cooper is a regular of New York City gay clubs, while Foster's sexuality is an open secret in Hollywood. Sure they have a right to their privacy, and it's no one's business anyway. But by having an openly-gay public life, while dodging the issue in the media, they implicitly imbue their sexual identities with the sour hint of shame.

The salient question is: what effect does coming out have on a celebrity's career today? Ellen and NPH are more popular post-outing than they were when closeted. Celebs like Wanda Sykes and Cynthia Nixon have seen no discernible change in their popularity either way. Since Ricky Martin's career has already declined, the effect of his revelation would have been more evident 10 years ago.

I may be naive, or so utterly cocooned in my big gay reality, but I doubt coming out would ruin many careers nowadays. We won't know until a current A-list celebrity comes out. Will it happen? I'm not so optimistic. I suspect no A-lister wants to be the one to test how their sexuality affects their career. It would take an act of great courage, something you don't witness often.

Still, hats off to Ricky Martin. Welcome to la vida homo, Ricky. You got the best reaction you could have hoped for: complete indifference.