You know, it kinda irked me when I found out on Tuesday that Clay Aiken came out. But then, it kinda irks me when Clay Aiken does anything. From the moment I laid eyes and ears on him, I didn't like him or his soul-free showtuney crooning. I was an avid American Idol watcher back in the day and I never believed a word out of this guy's mouth when he was on stage, not even when he compared himself (like so many) to a bridge over troubled water -- and that was a metaphor! His entire square shtick -- musical stiffness, gleaming whiteness and apparent interest in performance over communication -- just has nothing to do with what I enjoy in pop music. He's sort of like Céline Dion inhibited and in Raggedy Andy drag.Totally boring and utterly false, on stage and off.
And duh, we all knew it. Kathy Griffin owes much of her career to this communal knowledge. Even serious journalists like Diane Sawyer made double- (triple-, quadruple-) sure that his standard denial was true when his sexuality came up in interviews, as it often did. When Clay's coming-out story cascaded through the Internet on Tuesday, the general gist was: "No shit, Shirley." And my knee-jerk was, "Oh, so now that Shirley's made a shitload from babbling sweet nothings to Middle Americans dumb enough to take them seriously, now it's OK for him to come out."
I understand that coming out is a process (I didn't so much as kiss a boy till I was 22 and I die a little inside when I think of all the hot guys at NYU that I missed out on because I was a pussy with a paralyzing fear of myself -- it made me as good as the other kind of pussy to them). Still, Clay's reactions since 2003 (the earliest time on record that I could find and remember, in which he entertained the question of his sexuality) seemed to bespeak offense at the notion that he could possibly like dick. Like, how dare people think his faggy ass does what faggy asses do?!? Gay? What an insult! To shade in my point, here's a brief history of Clay's squirreliness. But it's, like, limp-wristed squirreliness, which is so not optimal for dealing with nuts...which, come to think of it, is probably the point.
"One thing I've found of people in the public eye, either you're a womanizer or you've got to be gay. Since I'm neither of those, people are completely concerned about me."
"What do you say (to that question)? … It's like when I was 8. I remember something would get broken in the house, and Mom and Dad would call me in and say, 'Did you do this?' Well, it didn't matter what I said. The only thing they would believe was yes. … People are going to believe what they want."
[On coming out:] "That would not make any sense for me to do that. That doesn’t make any sense. I’ve gotten to a point now where I feel it’s kind of invasive. You know? You know what, forget it. It’s what I do in my private life is nobody’s business anymore. Period. You know? It’s one thing to try to be open and talk to people and try to share as much as I can, and of course I want to do that. But at some point, it becomes just really rude, you know?"
"I'm not going to discuss it...I'm not going to discuss it...I think we're done...No, we're done. I thought NEWSWEEK would be more reputable. I'm surprised...[The Kelly Ripa "homophobic" incident] was a year ago. This is NEWSWEEK. It's not the National Enquirer. I'd hate to have a job where I had to be rude to people."
[On love] "I just don’t have an interest in...any of that at all. I have got too much on my plate. I’d rather focus on one thing and do that when I can devote time to it, and right now, I just don’t have any desire...Ah think maybe I don’t [have needs]! I mean, not really. I’ve just kind of shut it off, maybe. Is that bad?"
"People don't want to have that type of stuff pushed, people who are living in Omaha or in Charlotte or wherever. They don't want stuff like that pushed in their face. I don't think that's necessary and that's also not what I'm here for. I mean, I went on Idol to be a singer, I went on Idol to be an entertainer and that's what my priority is."
Like I said: it's a process and, certainly, one's road to self-acceptance is no one else's business...unless it's made public and paved with potholes for a segment of the population that's so much more important collectively than your adult-contemporary polluting ass. There's something very Auntie Tom about a willingly closeted man expressing disgust about being implicated in homosexuality or pretending that gay sex isn't something well worth singing about.
So yeah, fuck him, not that I would. Ever!
...Or, at least, that's what I initially thought. His full interview on the topic of his homosexuality made me like him a bit more, even though his selective memory (which is a nice way to say: his inability to stop lying) is distasteful even on this celebratory occasion: "...I've never intended to lie to anybody at all. The truth is, I didn't answer questions."
But then, I was thinking about it some more tonight (I've thought more about Clay Aiken in the past three days than in the preceding five years), and I realized that maybe this all played out for the very best. Had he been out going into American Idol (an he could have been -- he said he realized he was gay in college), he wouldn't have garnered the support needed to shoot him into megastardom. It just would have been impossible five years ago (it'd still be too difficult to attempt now, like, hello?). He wouldn't have nearly the amount of people loving him and affected by him today. And, because mere association can work wonders on curing homophobia, maybe this coming out will work as ground-level activism on the ignorant mindset of Middle America. It could have the Dubledore effect, which Entertainment Weekly's Mark Harris detailed in the most eloquent essay I've ever read about coming out:
"It's often said that if every gay person in the world were to turn purple overnight, homophobia would disappear: In other words, fewer people would be inclined to vilify other human beings if they woke up one day and discovered that they'd been aiming stones at their college roommate, their aunt, their grocer, or their grandson. Statistics bear this out: People who have a gay family member or friend have more enlightened attitudes about homosexuality than those who don't. What [J.K.] Rowling has done, brilliantly, is to turn Dumbledore purple. She didn't reveal his sexuality in order to unlock a new way of reading the books, or as a provocation. She simply told the world that a main character in the best-loved books of the last 10 years is homosexual, and asked her audience to contend with it — and with the fact that it shouldn't matter. And her choice to make a beloved professor-mentor gay in a world where gay teachers are still routinely slandered as malign influences was, I am certain, no accident."
And so, the adoring fans have a new gay person in their lives via the same old Clay. The resistence is palpable (Adam K. Raymond did this clever informal survey of message boards to see how fans are coping), but so is the acceptance. With his new platform and renewed attention, Clay can show the world that a single gay man can be a great father. This is perhaps the most important thing he'll ever do. In my mind, gay adoption is an issue more crucial than gay marriage, even, as it affects not only gay people but orphans, little babies and kids, whose miserable lives are denied the chance of improvement by selfish hypocrites who don't even understand their own religious beliefs (it boils my blood to hear John McCain, an absentee dad who cheated on his first [and, let's face it, probably second] wife, feign concern for the future of "the family"). Clay speaks about his child with more passion than he's ever put into a song. At last, it would seem, he's truly found his voice. For once, I look forward to hearing more of it.