So Ricky Martin came out as a gay man last week. After I read that in our local big city newspaper, I went looking for reactions on the Web. I didn't have to look far. Everyone who's gay, or not, seemed to have an opinion about Martin's announcement--from "Tell us something we didn't know," to "What took him so long?"
I was disappointed with these reactions. First, just because someone might appear to be or to act gay--whatever that looks like--doesn't necessarily mean he is. I used to get so pissed off in grade school when many of my classmates made the assumption I was gay--and teased me nonstop as a result--because, at the time, I wasn't even sexual, let alone gay.
Or maybe I didn't want to be gay (I wonder why that would be). I was at one of those stages one goes through to come to terms with his sexual orientation if it's not heterosexual. You know, not dissimilar to the stages one goes through when one experiences grief. The bottom line is, perhaps, for the benefit of the person involved, we should look at sexual orientation in the same way we look at someone who's supposedly committed a crime (all right, maybe this comparison isn't appropriate after all): It should be assumed one is straight before gay, in the same way that, in our society, one is innocent until proven guilty. (I realize there are no comparisons between being straight and being innocent, or being gay and proven guilty, so please don't write me about it).
This much I know for sure: If my classmates had spent more time focusing on their studies and less on my sexual orientation, which was none of their damn business in the first place, they might have performed better in school, and I might not still be working on restoring my battered self-esteem all these years later.
Under the subject of "What took him so long?", I have this to say: Coming out is never easy for any of us. We all do it in our own time. And, when we do, it's not a one-time thing. We continue doing it for the rest of our lives. It never stops. You can never say at some point that you are fully out, and everyone knows that you're gay. That won't happen.
Instead, what will happen is you'll get enough positive reactions from people you tell you're gay that you become empowered to tell most everyone you encounter--if it's appropriate, of course (no one likes a militant gay or lesbian, intent on proclaiming his or her sexual orientation, in whatever form that takes, because he or she is proud to be gay or lesbian and wants everyone to know--doesn't work because it alienates people). And you won't care one way or the other what they think about you as a result, because, in the grand scheme of things, what they think doesn't matter in the least. That's been my experience, anyway.
On the other hand, some people never come out--ever. I feel sorry for them. For whatever reason, they can't make the leap. Their lives are never truly their own. Either they completely deny themselves everything they are entitled to as human beings, never mind gay ones, or they live in the shadows, struggling to keep their secret at every twist or turn. I did that for a while, and, believe me, it's no way to live. In fact, it isn't living. It's going through the motions.
In the case of Ricky Martin, he waited until he was thirty-eight to come out--twelve years longer than I did, but at least he did it. Gotta give him credit for that. I'm not Ricky Martin, and I don't live my life on the world stage, but I have to believe that, at least professionally, coming out for him was far more difficult than coming out was for me.
So, to those of us who were impatient with Martin for not coming out sooner, I say, give him a break. You don't know what was at stake for him by coming out. No one forced you to come out, or, at least, I hope they didn't, so why should Ricky Martin be pressured to come out because you thought he should, because you thought he should be the poster child for everyone who's gay? Who are you to make that decision for him?
Finally, I read a comment in a blog that I couldn't agree with more: Now that Martin is out, the word "gay" will forever be attached to him. He'll be known as the gay Latino singer from Puerto Rico, whether he wants to be or not, whether it's fair or not, whether it matters or not. That's one of the benefits of coming out.
Funny, no one's ever described Michael Buble as a straight singer. He's simply a singer. His sexual orientation, because he's straight, is never attached to his name as an identifier. The same can be said of every other straight male or female singer, past or present. When you're straight, sexual orientation doesn't matter. And, what's perhaps even worse, the assumption is always made that you're straight--unless, of course, someone thinks he can tell that you're not straight. Then you get into that whole thing I started out saying above.
So why is it important that, when you come out, not only from that point is the word "gay" attached to your name, but also it's usually the first word used to describe who you are? Why is it so important that people know you're gay? For what purpose do they need to know that?
Does it help them to orient themselves around you better? Is their reaction toward you supposed to be somehow different, depending on your sexual orientation, so they need that information up front in order to respond to you in the way they should?
Should your sexual orientation be of any concern to people, if, in fact, they should make the determination of how to feel about you based on everything but who you sleep with? Like whether or not you're a good person? Or you make a valid contribution to society in some constructive way? Why does sexual orientation need to be a part of the equation at all? What does it matter whether you're gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered--or straight, for that matter?
That's where we need to get with this. We need to arrive at the point where, if someone like Ricky Martin chooses, in his own time, to announce that he's gay, the declaration doesn't mean anything to anyone. Even better. We need to get to the point where sexual orientation just doesn't matter at all, where no one needs to know, or cares to know, who you love and have sex with, because it has no bearing on you as a human being. That's where we need to be.
That's where we need to be.