At this point it’s obvious that Buzzfeed is basically the crack dealer of media outlets, churning out mind-numbing content for mass consumption. But a new “trending” article has broken new ground, making me feel bad for not celebrating somebody’s coming out story.
My irritation began even before the “article” reached its first meme (the Buzzfeed version of an opening paragraph). The topline description reads:
“This is Austin (left) and Aaron Rhodes (right). They’re models from L.A., and they also happen to be gay.”
One does not happen to be gay. Being a sexual minority is a key identity factor. This may seem like an unremarkable turn of the pen (keyboard), but the writer is suggesting something insidious in subtext. Just “happening” to be gay implies that it’s no big deal and we can all just be bros, regardless of our sexuality, and whose right is it to make a big deal out of it anyway? These guys just happen to be models, have names that start with the same letter, live near the Pacific Ocean, and, oh yes, just happen to belong to an oppressed minority group that may or may not exhibit common characteristics that are both vital to people of that minority group and serve as fascinating foundations for sociocultural, psychological and political inquiry. And, oh yea, if the implication is that gay men are just so normal and we all just happen to be gay in the same way that I happen to be wearing green today, here’s a problem: this video wouldn’t be trending if they weren’t gay. It wouldn’t be a big deal. It wouldn’t, as the “author” (compiler of content) writes, bring us “ALL THE TEARS” (characteristically irritating Buzzfeed language). We can’t have it both ways, insisting that gay men are totally normal and so quotidian, and then go about appropriating the gay experience for mass consumption. Because, in fact, being gay is interesting and unique.
So these brothers that happen to be gay have decided to come out to their father. Which is great. And they’ve recorded the occasion for their followers. Lo and behold, daddy is totally accepting. Couldn’t you have guessed?
I want to celebrate. I want to share in the public joy and affirmation, especially as this specific relationship (father-son) is so sensitive for gay men who have grown up feeling like lesser men because we’re not attracted to the same gender as daddy and might be more feminine-acting than him, too. I certainly am happy that these stories are now accepted into our societal canon, but at the same time… it’s irksome that coming out has become a social media phenomenon.
Two gorgeous white gay men, twins are fun (people love twins), fathers accepting sons… who could object to all that, right?
Such is my objection exactly. It’s too easy, and that’s why it’s consumptive. It prompts absolutely no thinking. And there’s this inescapable fact: if you know you’re recording something, you act differently. In this case, you might use your father as a foil rather than treat him as a person with his own right to a place in this conversation. He might not want to be recorded. He might not want to act differently for the camera. Whether or not dad realized it at the time – and whether or not he objected after this was posted – his contribution to the conversation has been used to pad the social media following of his sons. And it’s not just that father-son(s) conversation that has been shilled for likes and shares: it’s also the dignity and self-respect of the brothers themselves. It’s hard for me to doubt that, at least at some level, they were hoping this would go viral, much as this Instagram photo of two (black) gay fathers going through morning routine did. They now now star in a commercial for Nikon. That I do not object to – those men weren’t posting to become celebrities, and it’s this amazing act of actual spontaneity that makes them genuine. The twins, however, were not being spontaneous. Their conversation was contrived, and now nobody – the twins or their dad – can ever have it in a genuine way.
So I object to the brothers’ decision to come out in this way. They’ve sold their experience for 2M+ views and the chance to be featured next to such rich content as “Which Ousted Arab Spring Leader Are You?“. Not kidding.
It’s sometimes hard to be such a stickler, but then I remember the conversations that I had when I first came out. They were heart-wrenching, personal, hours-long affairs at times. While it’s true that because they weren’t recorded I don’t remember every detail of my experience, I don’t necessarily have a desire to. The important parts stick out. When I came out, I was being my genuine, pure self – for the first time in my life. And that’s because there wasn’t a camera around, and I wasn’t worried about “sharing” the experience, digitally or otherwise, except with the very important person or people that I was sharing that conversation with, IRL.
Coming out is a sacred, deeply personal experience. Buzzfeed, social media, consumptive culture: these represent the opposite of the sacred. They are shallow, fleeting, and fueled by a quick high of unobjectionable feelings and a deep narcissism that has ingrained itself, now unquestioned, into the psyche of our culture. Obviously everybody’s gay experience is their own (everybody’s personal experience is their own), but if I had a younger sibling, nephew or niece, son or daughter that someday asked for my advice on coming out to a person that was important to them… I would advise them to do so with the cameras off.