The Gay Glass Ceiling

Does the straight-skewing American audience need its gaylebrities to keep at least one foot in that closet door?

"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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Gaylebrities
Cho My God!
Cho My God!
Nobody does scat so sweetly. Nobody.

Kate X Messer, Sept. 13, 2010

You Say You Want a (R)Evolution...
You Say You Want a (R)Evolution...
Vogue Evolution, NYC's premier voguing crew (America's Best Dance Crew), and queen supreme Sahara Davenport, (RuPaul's Drag Race) sashay into UT.

Ricky Hill, Feb. 16, 2010

More by Frank J. Rivera
Heroes vs. Terror
Heroes vs. Terror
Two women's bravery is more important than one man's evil

April 16, 2012

Frank's Tops & Bottoms
Frank's Tops & Bottoms
Top and Bottom 10 of 2011 and what we're hoping for 2012

Jan. 5, 2012


Gaylebrities, Rufus Wainwright, The Paramount, Adam Lambert, Details, Out, kd lang, gay, Austin gay, Austin LGBT, homophobia, Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk, American Idol, sexuality, Details, binary

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle