Naturally, the internet has been abuzz for the past 36 hours or so, but I didn’t want to write anything about it until I reconciled my own feelings. This story resonates with me not only as a pop music fan (although I’ll admit not a huge fan of Ricky’s music) but also as a gay man of color. Having had some time to digest, I’m proud, somewhat skeptical and also a little bit angry. Here’s the deal:
This article (thanks Scott) echoes a lot of the feelings I have about the situation. A lot of the reaction has been either “Duh-we already knew he was gay” or “Isn’t he a has-been? Who cares?”. I’ll admit to my own skepticism. I feel like in a lot of cases-Clay Aiken and Lance Bass, for instance-coming out was a career move, a way to keep their names on front pages when their popularity had waned. Was Ricky doing this because he had an album coming out? Or an autobiography to hawk? I can’t help being a cynic.
However, the folks that call Ricky a has-been or ask if anyone cares seem to be mostly White folks who think Ricky was only that Grammy performance and “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and are unaware (or don’t care) that in Latin America and certain heavily Hispanic pockets of the U.S.-Ricky Martin was and still is a fucking ICON. While he may not be at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 anymore, he still sells out shows around the world and he’s been in a lot of people’s lives for 25 years now. Ricky Martin’s coming out, to a segment of the world population, is similar in scope to an event similar to, let’s say, if Justin Timberlake was to come out-and I might be selling Ricky a little short here, because he’s been a superstar since Justin was damn near in diapers.
This is also a big deal because Latin culture, in particular, is very predicated on two things that homosexuality (for most people) can not fall in line with-machismo and Catholicism. I have blood relatives as well as relatives through marriage from PR and DR (and I grew up in New York City), so I can tell you based on fact that for a famous Latino to publicly announce his or her homosexuality is, to put it mildly, a rarity. Whereas a lot of Ricky’s fans in the States might have a “so what?” attitude, that is definitely not the case in the areas where Ricky is still huge and people aren’t as tolerant. I’ve never been of the mind that having openly gay public figures as role models is a big deal, but there’s a lot about the world I don’t know. If there’s anything out there that can make gay kids (many of whom are ashamed to the point of wanting to kill themselves) feel better about something they can’t control, then it’s all good.
However, there’s a part of me that’s wondering “did he jump willingly or was he pushed?”. I remember watching a talk show (I’m thinking it was either Ricki Lake or Jane Pratt’s short-lived talk show) in the early Nineties and watching Michelangelo Signorile talk about outing celebrities, a practice I don’t really agree with. It just seemed like a way for miserable queens (*cough* Perez Hilton *cough*) to drag people into the mud who just wanted to mind their own business and be left alone. In certain cases, I think it’s necessary (Ted Haggard, Larry Craig). If a public figure is a hypocrite, the hypocrisy needs to be exposed. But Ricky Martin’s not a politician. He’s a tireless champion for human rights. He seems like an all-around good dude. He’s never (to my knowledge) outright denied being gay. So why not let the guy have his privacy? I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea that just because you’re famous, your entire personal life has to be put on blast. I can’t help but wonder if people like Barbara Walters or any one of a million bloggers had any influence on Ricky’s decision.
On the other side of the coin, I can also see the benefit of publicly outing yourself and not having to put up with a lifetime of “is he/she or isn’t he/she”. I can imagine having to dodge questions about private matters can be a pain in the ass to deal with. Well, it’s not imagining. I *know* it’s a pain to deal with, after years of being in and out of the closet myself-sometimes both to different people at the same time. I’m not a public figure, so I’ve never had to worry about constant inquiries, but I’d imagine at some point, you just reach the “fuck it” stage and you either announce it to everyone and let the chips fall where they may. Or you do the opposite and let the whispers and innuendo ruin you (I can imagine that some part of what eventually killed Luther Vandross was the stress of having to live something of a lie).
Ultimately, although I don’t think Ricky HAD to out himself, I’ve got to give him big ups for doing it in a very classy, scandal-free manner (and in a way that doesn’t make him come off as a publicity whore). I don’t see myself buying any of his records in the future (because I never did in the first place), but I do have a newfound respect for him as a person.