Monday, July 28, 2008

About Celebrities and Their Coming Out [queer news]

I woke up this morning reading about how US talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres is to marry her ‘partner’, actress Portia de Rossi. California’s Supreme Court has finally lifted the ban on same-sex marriages declaring that “the right to form a family relationship” applied to all Californians, regardless of their sexuality. So far, so good…

Our cultural and political agenda seems to be guided by notions of representation of the queer (and the black, and the Hispanic, and the fat woman etc.), the need for a “re”-presentation as it is, the need to find a voice, to develop a new form of epistemology that takes into account the (in)existence of minorities (subalterns?), an attempt to revolutionize cultural representations, retrieve lost histories and demonstrate that knowledge (social, political, and even philosophical) is not as universal as it claims to be. The problematization I’m looking at here occurs at the following levels:

1- What is the role of celebrities in the ‘queer’?

It is a great feeling to see that the good old Californian State has finally granted the right to form a family to all its citizens (though opponents still claim that they will seek amendment to this constitution in order to overrule it), and it is all the more heartening to see that Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, both ‘out’, will be amongst the first ones to take the vow. The question is, simply in terms of representation (and here see, the real, existing celebrity with a power of her/his own, and a possibility of political propaganda that has much more potential that it may seem to have) what is the role of celebrities in notions of the queer, or as an extension when it simply comes to any community on the margins? Do celebrities qualify as stronger agents capable of change if the lines between their public and private life seems to be rather blurred? Do they face the same forms of discrimination that a common wo/man may face? Should celebrities see it as a duty (and here I accentuate the word duty in its largest Kantian implications) to represent themselves and their ‘peripheral’ origins? In the case of the queer celebrity, should s/he see it as her/his duty to come out and assert her/himself?

Those questions nonetheless have wider implications that can’t be overlooked but need to be underlined here. As I mentioned before, the sphere of the public and the private for a celebrity differs from that of the common wo/man. We can define as public sphere, a part of the celebrity’s life that belongs to the rest of the world with the latter having a claim to it. Thus, thrown into an open agenda may be the art, political take, physical performance etc. of the celebrity as well as (let’s face it) her/his private space that seems to belong to a wider range of people. While the common wo/man claims the intimacy of her/his room for her/his own, this may not be the case for a celebrity, as reflected in the over-exposed private lives of be it Bill Clinton or David Beckham for instance.

2- Does the queer celebrity differ from the common queer person?

In order to grasp the full impact of the queer celebrity onto the socio-empirical sphere, it would be of utmost importance to consider whether celebrity lives differ from common lives. This question has to be tackled only in relation with the private. Whereas the public as a space differs radically when it comes to the two population categories, the private space is still one that demands attention as I have already pointed above.

3- What are the Stakes in the Process?

What is at stake for the eighteen year old boy who comes out to his family or his friends as opposed to the twenty year old actor who comes out to the world. Sure, in the process, the singer or actor is also facing a coming out to his family and friends (if this had not already been done before) and a coming out that not only him but his entire family should come to terms with, for how does it feel for a parent to know that ones son is exposing his sexual life to the entire world? But the real question I want to raise here is in the nature of the support that the two persons receive. Is the celebrity likely to receive more support? I admit that having celebrities coming out can be of significant help to the rest of the population in feeling that one is not alone, that there are other people who are the same as we are etc.

But then when I was fifteen may be, I remember Stephen Gately (one of the former singers of the band Boyzone) coming out, after which he was sent flowers by Elton John. The question is: why wasn’t I sent flowers by Elton John when I came out?!!

No comments: