The Gay Glass Ceiling
Does the straight-skewing American audience need its gaylebrities to keep at least one foot in that closet door?
By Frank J. Rivera,
5:37PM, Thu. Nov. 19, 2009
"I think I would've been more famous if I'd [sort of] been more subtle about my sexuality," Rufus Wainwright told me in an interview before his November 16 performance at The Paramount.
I doubt it, I thought.
Now, I played "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" on loop for a month in 2002. And the Judy Garland performance Mssr. Wainwright channeled at Carnegie Hall? I walked that yellow brick road. I'm no stranger to Wainwright's charms, but mainstream – even by his own admission – he is not.
I spoke to Wainwright about his role in and relationship with the gay community:
A pioneer attitude? Perhaps. He didn't hide his sexual orientation at any point in his career, even in the face of the setbacks it caused k.d. lang and other out artists' mass appeal.
Yet, as Wainwright points out, "I make heavy demands of my listeners." His work has been described as "popera," draws inspiration from French and folk musical traditions, and doesn't always follow a chord-refrain progression.
It isn't exactly top-40 material, nor justify his missed "big MTV video budget." You write for a smaller audience, you reap smaller rewards. So you can understand my doubts.
Then the editor of Out penned a letter to American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert, following his appearance as one the magazine's "Out 100" which lambasted Lambert's handlers for the – seemingly true – perception that Lambert was being goaded into "playing it straight."
Concerning the force with which Lambert's managers asked the star be photographed with at least one heterosexual woman on the cover, Editor Aaron Hicklin wrote, "Much easier to stick you in Details, where your homosexuality can be neutralized by having you awkwardly grabbing a woman's breast and saying, 'Women are pretty.' So are kittens, Adam, but it doesn't mean you have to make out with them."
Lambert has responded since, via Twitter, but it's hard to deny that a focus has been placed on making this out performer more sexually accessible to women.
I'm not saying that sexuality is a binary, Lambert can't find women attractive, or doesn't want to kiss them on occasion. However, the manner in which his statements are highlighted in the Details article begs a few questions. Does the music industry believe that to market a gay performer to a mainstream American audience, they must sublimate that performer's sexuality? A whitewashing – or rather, straightwashing.
Would Rufus Wainwright's career have reached larger audiences had he played it coy? Would k.d. lang still be relevant? Which other artists would have kicked down their closet doors by now?
k.d. lang fans, please forward all complaints to Kate X Messer for the comments concerning her lack of relevancy.