Monday, March 10, 2008

"Be Yourself" (Just don't name it)

Just a couple of days ago, I was congratulating Danny for being openly gay on American Idol, before voters gave him the boot. I guess I was speaking too soon. In an interview posted on Yahoo! titled "'Idol' loser Danny Noriega stayed true to self," Danny talked about being himself and being really, really different, but when it came to the gay thing, he declined to directly address the subject of his sexuality in a conference call with reporters on Friday, saying it was a private matter. Oy vey!

Now, I'm not going to criticize an 18-year-old for being reluctant to say the 'G' word. (Lord knows I wasn't out at that age, much less in front of millions of people.) Maybe he's being pressured not to say it. Maybe he just didn't feel like going there with reporters after getting rejected by viewers. (There was no shortage of homophobic hate-speech on AI-related forums regarding Danny.) Maybe, like some kids his age, he's bored by labels. People assumed Danny was gay because, well, they have eyes and ears, and because of the little "I'm gay" rap at the end of the "Chain of Fools (Don't hate on my do-rag bitch)" YouTube video. (Copies of which seem to be evaporating.)

Officially, I guess Danny was never out. He was animated, to use one of AI's euphemisms. He was true to himself, Danny being Danny. Meanwhile, on various non-official blogs Danny's gayness was openly discussed and debated. Some people, not surprisingly, thought Danny was definitely gay, while others begged to differ. A sample argument from Yahoo! answers: Is Danny Noriega Gay? Be honest. I don't think he is. I think he's just in touch with his fenimen side and is being funny! Plus I have a bet with someone that he's not gay! All because his voice is high pitched doesn't mean he's gay...does it? Others claimed not to care one way or the other: omg i am so sick of this question WHO CARES!!!!!!! for god sake! does it really matter.

Does it really matter? No, it doesn't really matter if Danny is gay. He is what he is. The reason it came up--beyond the faggot rap--is because Danny was either unwilling or unable to pass as straight. This gets called "the stereotype" of a gay man, i.e. the effeminate queen. It may be a stereotype, but, like most stereotypes, kernels of truth lie within. Some gay people really don't have the option not to be out, and from all appearances Danny is one of them. (Rufus Wainwright is another. He may have chosen to be out from the start of his career, admirably so, but it's not like it was a true choice. He is out, he just is.) What's interesting is what the powers-that-be choose to do with what is right in front of them.

And, in 2008, they still dance hesitantly around it. I understand AI's (along with the entertainment shows that keep tabs on it) predicament. Outing a contestant who doesn't want to be outed would be uncool. Likewise, they're not gabbing about David Hernandez's gay stripper past on the air, even if Simon was apparently caught off-camera urging the other judges to say they "liked the way you stripped it down." But I suspect there's more to it than considerate discretion. In 2008, it's permissible to talk about someone being true to himself, animated, flamboyant, or different, but it's not permissible, officially, to say that someone is gay. To do so is still seen as a strike against them, personally and professionally. It's still an accusation. Is America ready for the first openly gay Idol? Probably not. And probably the American Idol producers aren't either.

So, I'm not hating on Danny's do-rag or his decisions about how out to be, I'm hating on a culture that keeps gayness hush-hush in the corporate sector even while gay-talk (and the accompanying homophobia) flows freely through the wild Internet frontier. I hope Danny doesn't retreat to some poorly constructed closet, because clearly that's not where he's meant to be. You can't shine in that dark space, sweetheart. But I also hope that one day the euphemisms will seem as silly and dated as Danny's do-rag.

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