As long as there are celebrities, and people are curious about their lives, there will always be celebrity gossip. The media has recently been a flutter with the rumour that Raven Symoné may potentially be in a same sex relationship with America’s Next Top Model beauty AzMarie Livingston. Ms. Symoné took to Twitter recently to respond to the speculation.
Raven is not the only celebrity whose private life has been speculated about like this. Will Smith, Queen Latifah, and Anderson Cooper all face ongoing questions about their sexuality and all have refused to comment, preferring instead to keep their private life private. A refusal to answer in the minds of many constitutes affirmation that one is indeed a member of the LGBTQ community.
These inquires arise because we live in a heterosexist world, which assumes everyone is straight, thus turning homosexuality into something that must be divulged. If a celebrity plays a role in which they are a LGBTQ character, or sits too close to someone of the same sex, the rumors are off and flying. Will Smith didn’t even actually kiss his co-actor in Six Degrees of Separation and has been married to Jada for many years, yet still people continue to question his sexuality.
There can be no doubt that out celebrities serve as positive reminders that LGBTQ people are present in our society. In the case of LGBTQ youth, this can be especially helpful because it shows them that they are not alone, and that they are not deviant. The pressure for an individual celebrity to come out, however, normally has very little to do with affirming the life of LGBTQ people and very much to do with marking them as “other.”
One never has to disclose being heterosexual, or having an affair with a person of the opposite sex. This of course aligns with the fact that no one ever has to come out as straight because heterosexuality is assumed. The speculation about sexuality goes above and beyond the typical curiosity that the public has about celebrities. There are several celebrities who are out now, though coming out can have extreme consequences to one’s career. The attention is not focused on them to the degree that it is focused on those who might potentially be gay. Instead, out celebrities must deal with the doubt that they are capable of playing straight characters – as Sean Hayes discovered – though the process of acting means taking on a different persona. Actor Rupert Everett claims to be happier than actors who are closeted, but he asserted in 2009, “It’s not that advisable to be honest. It’s not very easy. And, honestly, I would not advise any actor necessarily, if he was really thinking of his career, to come out …”
For LGBTQ people, coming out can be a powerful experience. Coming out means the end of the closet; however, it is worth noting that once out, many still have to struggle to stay out, due to homophobia. In an ideal world, the process of coming out wouldn’t even exist, or it would be a process that all people have to deal with. This conversation began with the rumours circulating around Raven Symoné’s sexuality, but the truth is, speculation about sexuality is an everyday phenomenon. One need not be a celebrity for people to begin gossiping about your sexuality, as though this is anyone’s business in the first place.
The fact that we don’t gossip that someone might be straight, evidences exactly how deviant a queer sexuality is understood to be socially. No matter how far we think we have come, the demand that someone must come out, or the suggestion that they are being dishonest by their refusal to address something that is no one’s business in the first place is highly problematic. The way the conversation is framed positions a LGBTQ identity as something that must be defended against, rather than a simple occurrence in nature. As long as this is the dominate attitude about sexuality, then LGBTQ people will forever be positioned as “other.”
I completely support the way that Raven Symoné has handled questions about her sexuality. She is one hundred percent right, this is indeed a matter that concerns only her and the person she is involved with. Being a celebrity does not give the world the right to have access to the intimate details of one’s life. It shouldn’t matter whether she is gay, bisexual, or straight. With all of the consequences that come with being gay in a heterosexist world, no one should be pressured to declare for the purposes of the public’s curiosity.