Tag Archives: Coming out

One Time Buzzfeed Ruined Coming Out for Me

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.”

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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.

Intro blog / thoughts on Disney’s Frozen

An obligatory note on starting a blog:

Hello readers, most likely family and friends for now. Thanks for visiting! I’ve started a blog with the following ends in mind:

  • Writing consistently and staying politically active while I’m working in a position that is non-political and for which I do no writing.
  • Challenging myself to be productive and proactive. In the vein of “the perfect is the enemy of the good” (one of my favorite mantras), I’d like to set a goal to publish posts around once a week.
  • Self-promoting and maintaining a digital brand, which is apparently what we millennials excel at.
  • Commentating on political and cultural events that I find intriguing.

Everybody blogging thinks that their voice is unique and can contribute to a larger dialogue, and though there is an inherent narcissism in admitting this, it has to be true or else this would remain unpublished. My hope is that I express myself clearly and concisely, make arguments for causes I support, and eventually gain traction larger than my “core audience” (hi, Mom and Dad!).

This blog will probably not be:

  • Extremely frequent. There will probably be lapses where I don’t post for a week or two, and then I’ll come back to it.
  • Extremely collaborative/conversational, at least at first. I don’t anticipate wrapping myself in the world of the blogosphere, responding to other bloggers, spending hours checking up on competition etc. Frankly, I don’t have time.

As a larger philosophical commentary on both of the above points, I believe (as did our nation’s founders, by the way) that the health of the democracy relies on informed and active citizens, and not an entrenched political class surrounded by a cohort of equally-entrenched wonks. I didn’t stay in DC after college. I can’t name all of the congressmen. I don’t follow every political or cultural event — just ones that interest me. I tend to find political fodder for the fodder’s sake to be elitist.

Basically, I have a lot of thoughts that I’d like to organize and distribute (blogging!), so I’m starting one. And, as I have to start somewhere… below is my first post. Thanks for checking it out.

Disney’s Frozen

I went with one of my friends to see Disney’s Frozen this weekend, mostly because I wanted to spend time with her — it’s not the kind of movie I’d go to by myself. I thought it’d be sappy, canned, and would make me annoyed. However, I found it to be surprisingly entertaining and well-executed, as did most other watchers. Even better, it was extremely interesting from a political stand-point, which I’ll go into in a moment.

First, the movie (mild spoiler alert): essentially, two princesses grow up in seclusion from their semi-magical, ambiguously Nordic vassals because the older of the two, Elsa, has the dangerous power to turn everything around her into ice. Worse, because of the advice of some troll (literal troll), Elsa can’t tell Anna her secret in order to protect her. They live a life of extreme Disney-fied isolation, Elsa locked in her icy room. Obviously their parents are dead because, well, they took a ship at one point and uttered the key death line in a Disney movie: “don’t worry, we’ll be back soon”. Oops on their part.

Flash-forward ten or so years, and it’s time for Elsa to make her public entrance as queen: an exciting moment for her socially-starved younger sister, but a treacherous one for Elsa, as her secret may or may not be revealed — depending on the level of control she can exert over herself.

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trolling

 

The peasants are excited. People dance and sing. Anna immediately gets engaged (I know, desperate). Monarchs from neighboring kingdoms pour in, including the comically anti-Semitic caricature of the Duke of Weaseltown – uh, Weselton – who, with his goyish henchmen tries (shocker!) to steal the princesses’ Aryan loot. Between some cheery musical interludes and the commentary from the obviously-embittered single mother sitting behind us (note: does not come with every ticket), both me and my friend were thoroughly enjoying ourselves as we waited for the inevitable to happen: of course, Elsa spills the beans at the grand ball and ices a bunch of people, revealing her secret to her sister and to the world.

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The Duke of Weselton, a slight improvement on Mr. Weasel from Newsies

If you followed all this, you might have caught on to what I think is the most interesting aspect of Frozen: Elsa has been outed. She did it to herself. Like in real life, it doesn’t always go according to plan (or even willingly), but she’s out. They’ve seen what she’s been hiding, and she flees into self-imposed exile. Later, she’ll make her triumphant – and well-accepted – return to the kingdom, but for now it’s “Let It Go”, a song that, surprisingly, captures many of the nuances of coming out: its deep loneliness, its frightful uncertainty, but most of all its intense freedom and sense of agency. This is the emotional climax of the film, and it’s a not-so-thinly-veiled coming out anthem. Listen, and be uplifted:

Conceal, don’t feel

Don’t let them know

Let it go, let it go

Can’t hold it back anymore

Let it go, let it go

Turn away and slam the door.

BOOM. Slammed. Triumph. The song is replete with imagery of Elsa shedding layers, bursting through various doors, and building fabulous ice-structures. Humorously, she also morphs into a hip-swinging vixen at 3:14 (there’s an opportunity for a feminist critique here, but I’ll pass – overall, it’s an emotionally resonant song with an amazing message for kids watching).

We’re not looking at our first lesbian princess (although, satisfyingly, Elsa remains single at the end of the film) – but the implications are obvious to me when even Disney, one of our most conservative cultural vanguards, centers its most popular blockbuster in years on an allegorical coming-out story: undoubtedly, the LGBT community has come of age. Is it a marketing ploy? Possibly. A response to inexorably shifting political trends among consumers? Obviously. Was it a push from Idina Menzel (voice of Elsa), a seasoned broadway actress, or the other creative minds behind the film? Could have been. It’s impossible to tease out why this movie is the way it is, and I think it’s a combination of many factors.

What interests me most is how this movie reflects gay political power. To borrow a phrase from Roy Cohn, the wretched McCarthy-to-Reagan-era lawyer portrayed in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, the gay community doesn’t have clout. Or it didn’t, when Cohn was dying of “liver cancer” (read: AIDS) in the early ‘90s.

Now we do. New media portrayals, new legislation, growing tolerance of LGBT people across age and race demographics – these trends aren’t accidents. The lifestyle I’m allowed to lead openly, and see reflected in pop culture, is due to hard work of LGBT activists who spoke out when it wasn’t popular, long before the days of Glee, or of even of Will or Jack. As well as being entertained by the movie, I left the theater reminded that, as a gay man, I stand on the shoulders of giants who fought for me to be able to out and open.

Let it go, Amen. High-five Disney, thank you Harvey Milk, cheers to LGBT clout. I hope that closeted kids (or, maybe at that age they’re still just “different”) seeing Frozen were able to feel some reprieve as they watched Elsa triumph over the expectations of others and declare her own identity. I know I would have, had I seen it when I was still closeted. But such media portrayals (even indirect ones like this) weren’t available to me or to my peers when I was that age. How the world has changed in just the four years since I left high school and let it go myself.

At the end of the song, Elsa belts: “Here I stand, in the light of day”. Cheers to that.