Can we call LGBTQ* celebrities role-models?
Growing up, everybody has a role model. You haven’t really experienced being young if you haven’t, at some stage literally felt like someone famous is the greatest person on earth.
My own icons were a tad obscure. When I was fifteen, John Barrowman was my idol, and I had big plans to marry him. When that didn’t work out, I became infatuated with Stephen Sondheim; teenage boy and lover of musical theatre, it was all a bit obvious.
My icons aside, everyone likes to have someone to look up to. But does being gay and a celebrity make you a valuable role model?
Today in Britain, there are plenty of gay men and women who are out in public, and that’s great. Coming out, famous or not, should be celebrated.
Back in 2009, when rugby player Gareth Thomas came out, it opened the flood gates starting a much needed discussion about homosexuality within sport.
It was a big moment, and he’s been cited by other sportsmen and women to come out.
However, coming out is too often used as a publicity stunt. Tom Daley’s vlog, while brave for someone of his age, came across as trying to actually hide from being gay.
The line in the video, ‘I still like girls’, was dropped a few months later when he declared that he was, actually, gay.
For me, that killed a lot of the power in his ‘coming out’, and it just looked too carefully planned. Coming out, and anyone whose had to endure doing it, is no walk in the park.
The fact that Daley’s coming out looked like it had been scripted by Max Mosley from inside the walls of HMP Brixton, just turned it into a stage show.
The media, of course, was very quick to offer its opinions, with some saying it was wonderful and others saying he was too young et cetera, et cetera.
The media turns every coming out story into a reality show. You only have to read the comments at the end of articles on Tom Daley to see how people have been egged on to spout incredibly uninformed views.
And it’s in those comments that you realise how many people are subtly homophobic. As a gay teen, I used to take a lot of those comments to heart, and I’m sure they affected my trepidation in coming out.
Being gay is still perceived to be a sneaky secret. The reaction to Harry Styles’ recent passing comment about how gender doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter in a relationship confirms that.
It was a just a comment but, of course, it suddenly became the big question which needed answering. Say that he is bisexual, and that he comes out, does that make him a role model? Not really, it just means he’s a singer who happens to be bisexual. Big flipping deal.
So what then? Is coming out just a cynical publicity stunt, or is it a brave decision which creates a role model? Aren’t role models desirable? Don’t they affect change?
Well, the problem with labelling a gay celebrity as a role model, is that you make their being gay the most interesting thing about them. It’s also the media who decide who is worthy of being called a role model.
Both Gareth Thomas and Tom Daley have been labelled as role models. But when MP Crispin Blunt came out, it seemed like he was punished by the media because he was a middle aged politician, about as exciting as a lukewarm cup of tea.
But wasn’t his decision to come out just as brave as Thomas and Daley? The media also loves to create role models out of gay men.
When a woman comes out as bisexual she is sexualised by the media. When a woman comes out as a lesbian she is often ignored, or the story gets little leverage.
But it’s the figures who come out quietly, with dignity who I think serve as better role models. Women like Clare Balding and Sandi Toksvig are great figures for LGBTQ* people.
They’ve both chosen to take part in LGBTQ* activism. Similarly, I feel indebted to men like Ian McKellen who really have changed the lives for gay people.
I think it’s a media misconception to label famous gay people as ‘role models’. From my experience of growing up gay, I spent a lot of time wondering what people would think, would they care?
I trawled through endless YouTube videos of people talking about being gay, or I’d make the mistake of watching a show like ‘The Big Questions’ where a room full of straight middle aged white folk discuss gay marriage.
Going back to John Barrowman (all good things go back to John) I used to read a certain bit of his autobiography over and over. The section where he talked about the fear of coming out, I found it relatable, but it didn’t inspire me to come out.
Because for all the reasons I liked him, his being gay wasn’t one of them. It was interesting to compare our stories, but I didn’t feel like I needed him, or any other famous person to be gay.
Because a celebrity is alien, it doesn’t really matter what or who they are, they don’t live in reality. Hearing them discuss their journey to coming out is all very well, but I don’t think it really inspires a young gay person. What inspires people to come out is the desire to be accepted.
Celebrities can lend a hand at wiping out homophobia, whether they be straight or gay. But it’s all about being supportive to gay teens on a daily and local level.
For me, having less stereotypical gay characters on TV would be a start. Characters on shows are too stereotypical, and the narrative for gay characters is this: you’re an outsider, you can meet another outsider, hold hands, get bullied, the end.
Being gay shouldn’t be portrayed as scary or daunting, because after all, it’s just about who you fall in love with.
A person’s sexuality should be the most uninteresting thing about them. I love being gay, but it shouldn’t define who I am. It shouldn’t define Gareth Thomas, or Tom Daley, or Clare Balding or anyone.
The real role models are the everyday people coming out. The boy who tells his religious parents. The school girl who tells her friends. The teacher who no longer wants to hide. Those are the people to celebrate and encourage. And if you’re one of them, you’re my role model.