“When is he going to come out of the closet?”: The historical obsession to glimpse homosexuality in heterosexual artists

Two weeks ago the singers Shawn mendes (Ontario, 23 years old) and Camila Cabello, one of the couples of the pop orbit most admired by generation Z, they announced that they had ended their relationship. The news still gives itself and, as the promotional times dictate, Mendes just released his new single, It’ll be ok (“Everything will go well”) that talks about this break (she has not released new music yet, but he has dyed his hair).

The summary of the news is: a man who has only known relationships with women has left his last relationship, which was also with a woman. There is apparently no reason to doubt his heterosexuality, especially when whenever he has been asked he has answered frankly that if his sexuality were another he would feel comfortable sharing it, but that is not the case. “There was desperation for me to come out of the closet, which is ridiculous. It pisses me off because I know people who are gay and they have not come out of the closet and I know the suffering that they entail. That people continue with that shit is ignorant and insensitive, “he complained in an interview in The Guardian a year ago. However, the networks are still full of insinuations and jokes that, half seriously, half jokingly, refer to the alleged homosexuality of the singer and more now, as if his break with a woman was the confirmation that some longed for.

The phenomen is not new. On the one hand, a group hungry for references looked for them in stars that could be or not, without caring much how much truth was in the rumors. Sometimes the rumors were so strong that they forced the actors to contract the famous “lavender marriages”, that is, unions of convenience that served to end annoying rumors and also use as a promotional tool, such as that of Rodolfo Valentino and Natalia Rambova or that of Rock hudson and Phyllis Gates. But as has been discovered in more permissive moments, many of those rumors had a basis of truth.

Actor Rock Hudson and set designer Phyllis Gates at their wedding in Santa Barbara, California on November 9, 1955.
Actor Rock Hudson and set designer Phyllis Gates at their wedding in Santa Barbara, California on November 9, 1955.Pictorial Parade (Getty Images)

“In the past we were desperate for references, the difference is that before no one came out of the closet. In Richard Gere’s time, even movie magazines wondered if it would or would not be ”. Alberto Mira is a writer and university professor specialized in film, musical theater and theory and queer story and remember how in the eighties Gere was the subject of rumors and jokes, simply because he got naked in his movies. “Real men didn’t get naked,” she recalls. Undressing was – is – an act of exposition, of passivation, even submission. Offering one’s own body for the consumption of others without one having control over how that consumption is carried out. Undressing outside the safety of the bedroom to be scrutinized, measured and weighed by unfamiliar eyes was something men did not do. Women do, but men don’t. Audiences longed to find something feminine in Richard Gere.

Something similar happened with actors: Tom cruise, John Travolta and Rob lowe. They appeared on the screen not as grown men, but as beautiful things destined to be consumed. Rumors spread, perhaps more slowly due to the absence of social networks, but they crossed oceans and crossed the language barrier: it was commented equally in a Minnesota hairdresser than in a schoolyard in Majadahonda. What, then, is the difference?

“This is nothing more than bullying, and give the message […] that being gay is something worthy of ridicule and gossip ”, commented a Twitter user. “How would you feel if everyone was commenting on whether you are gay or not?” another wonders. Another recalled “The awful feeling of being told I was gay because for a moment I’d dropped the mask a bit and done something slightly feminine.” The difference is that now there are more voices in the conversation, and there are forums in which to ask why the rumors.

Why is Shawn Mendes the subject of these comments and not, for example, Ed Sheeran? Because Mendes exposes his body, dresses extravagantly and resists falling into stereotypes of masculinity. “We live in a time of transition. There are people who want to take someone else out of the closet because that is the way to maintain the boundaries between masculinity and femininity ”, explains Mira. At a time when these barriers are blurred to the point of disappearing, there is a sector that is reluctant to let that happen.

Harry Styles on the red carpet at the 2019 Met Gala.
Harry Styles on the red carpet at the 2019 Met Gala.Dimitrios Kambouris (Getty Images for The Met Museum /)

Harry Styles it is, in a way, the antithesis of this phenomenon. Of course there are rumors about him – there are rumors about any male who engages in show business, at least anyone who is thin – but they are not so widespread. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that his love life is much more public and obeys the stereotype of a great conqueror. Perhaps it’s a matter of his fashion sense having gone beyond the quirky and into the swampy terrain of the performative rather than Mendes’ androgynous ambiguity.

Some of the voices raised against this trend draw attention to the fact that many of those who spread the memes and jokes are gay men. The very concept of outingunintentionally taking out of the closet a person who is hiding his homosexuality– is very polarizing within the gay community. For some it is acceptable to do outing to people who, in addition to hiding their condition, use a position of power to perpetuate discrimination against the group: conservative deputies, evangelical preachers and other authority figures have been exposed in the past, it is understood that in retribution for their crimes against their peers . For others, a majority, the outing it is never justified.

Today it is generally recognized the right of any LGTBQ + person to come out of their wardrobe at their own pace, with their times and on their terms. That right is blurred when we talk about celebrities: Pablo Alboran, for example, it took years to decide to go public with his homosexuality, and has been questioned for all that time. For Alberto Mira, the key is in the time that has passed, and that attitudes have varied greatly since the singer began his career. At that time, perhaps the admission could have affected him in some way, while “at the moment it matters much less to be gay or not to be gay, it may not be necessary to come out of the closet because no act makes you one thing or another.” In other words, everyone is free to interpret himself as he pleases.

Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello after winning the Best Collaboration award at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards.
Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello after winning the Best Collaboration award at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards.Doug Peters (Doug Peters / EMPICS Entertainment / Cordon Press)

It is possible that the bottom line is more one of projecting desires than of assigning sexualities: the LGTBIQ columnist and opinion leader Dan Savage speaks of the wishdar –a play on words with him gaydar, the supposed superpower that allows gays to recognize other gays. Savage says that “you don’t see much speculation about Louis CK’s sexuality,” implying that comedian Louis CK is a less desirable subject. If Shawn Mendes were gay, or Tom Cruise or Richard Gere in his day, they would be a jewel in the community’s crown, a beacon of beauty and plumpness, of success and desire. For Shawn Mendes to be gay would be, in a way, a victory. That Louis CK was would be indifferent at best.

The opposite phenomenon occurs with the gayface: artists who – for whatever reason – are considered clearly heterosexual but are criticized from certain circles (Twitter, mainly) who maintain an ambiguous presentation to benefit from the favor of the public gay-friendly. It is difficult to reconcile the two ideas: that there are a number of homosexual men who keep it a secret to safeguard their own prosperity and that, at the same time, other ruthless gentlemen like James Corden, Darren Criss or the aforementioned Styles are deliberately ambiguous and They base their career success on people thinking, precisely, that they are gay.

It is possible that all these seemingly contradictory trends in the background represent that moment of transition, in which there are forces pulling in all directions: gays looking for a reflection in an attractive, young and successful man; heterosexuals who want to reject this new model of masculinity and propose that no man properly can be like this; Non-binary people are enthusiastic about pop stars who break barriers without themselves being any of that. It is certainly possible that all those forces are eventually making the same noise by chance, causing the same finger to point in the same direction, but with completely different intentions.

What is clear is that attitudes and labels in the twenties of the twenty-first century are much broader and more flexible than they have ever been: there are men who have sex with men, heteroflexible, bisexual, pansexual, and a mountain of concepts differentiated by mere nuances that allow everyone to find their home, if they please, in one of them. As long as one isn’t Shawn Mendes.

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“When is he going to come out of the closet?”: The historical obsession to glimpse homosexuality in heterosexual artists