By: Johnathan Fields
Yesterday, the New York Times published an article about CNN newsanchor Don Lemon’s memoir Transparent in which he publicly declares his sexuality. As many on Twitter–and various social media sites–went wild, blasting Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out,” I couldn’t help but feel unease at some of the responses to Lemon’s bold move.
Judging by some of the commentary you can see on these sites, we, yet again, have a case of the tragic gay hero. By no means do I want to suggest that Brother Lemon’s coming out does not mean anything significant for queers. I think his point about the visibility for questioning and queer youth is powerful in and of itself. He states, “I think if I had seen more people like me who are out and proud, it wouldn’t have taken me 45 years to say it…to walk in the truth.” I think many of us can agree this is something to be said about seeing a leader who we see pieces of ourselves reflected in.
However, there are some questions I have: why is it always the responsibility of queers to come out and acknowledge their sexuality? It would seem this is done to reinforce the comfort and normativity of heterosexuals. I do not hear any heterosexual celebrities stepping out with their lovers. It is assumed they are heterosexual until they can otherwise be dubbed “other.” Expecting gay men to come out does nothing to challenge heterosexism. If we want to keep our sexual partners private, why can’t we?
Many of the comments on Twitter expressed great sadness that Don Lemon was, in fact, gay. These comments were primarily made by women who, I assume, find Lemon to be attractive. When a man, woman, or trans-person, “comes out”, there is absolutely nothing to be sad about. You should not be sad because you “don’t have a chance now”, because you’ll “never have grandkids,” or whatever other pity party you choose to throw upon the situation to make it about you and your motives.
Forgive me for not being more compassionate in my response to your tragic view of homosexuality. As a gay man who has spent years battling my own internalized homophobia due to many of the reactions I received from family, friends, and outsiders who reinforced my sexuality as some disease that I now live with, I don’t show much compassion for those who don’t challenge their own homophobic rhetoric when someone “comes out.” People who do not “embrace” heterosexuality are not tragic. We are not dispensable. It is not acceptable for you to find a man attractive until you realize he’s gay then move along to the next news anchor whose sexuality is still up for grabs. If you’re that damn thirsty, get a Gatorade.
People seem to think it’s all peachy now that Lemon, and other celebrities, are “out.” What this logic fails to address is that he is still just as likely as the rest of us to be brutally attacked walking down the street, holding the hands of his lovers. While his celebrity protects him a little more than the rest of us, he still runs the risk of being called a “faggot” or being hit with a pipe walking down a dimly lit street. So until we challenge the heterosexism and homophobia of American structures, including masculinity, “coming out” does little outside of making heterosexuals a little more comfortable with the fact gay people continue to exist.
Now, I am not so naive as to misunderstand the power of coming out–particularly as Lemon identifies as an African-American gay man. The “DL” (down-low) phenomena has swept the nation by storm. Lemon’s comments begin to address the nuances of that conversation. But I hope Lemon will also address the importance of anti-racism work in queer activism. As a Black gay man, it will be equally as important for him to acknowledge the ways in which racism and/or white supremacy have influenced his life just as heterosexism has. If the purpose for his coming out was to protect our youth, he will hopefully recognize that as queers are more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, people of color are more likely than their white counterparts to attempt. As a queer person of color, I hope he finds merit in the fact that queer activism is racialized.
So just because Lemon has not been assaulted or publicly declared ever contemplating suicide at any point in his life, that does not make room for ignorant humor regardless of how it may be intended. Life has given us Lemon, now it is important for us to make an anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-sexist lemonade for American culture to enjoy. Afterall, summer is upon us.
Johnathan Fields is a DePaul University alum with a B.A. in African & Black Diaspora Studies and Philosophy. His areas of interest include: media representations of race, gender, and sexuality in popular culture, Black feminist theory, Diasporic literature and critical race theory. He is also the latest addition to this site’s family of contributors. For more information, visit www.adventuresofaboxcutter.com