As news agencies worldwide eagerly churn out the ‘news’ that Ricky Martin has come out and said that he’s ‘proud to be gay’, I ask myself a few questions. Firstly: ‘is anyone shocked?’ I doubt it. Although it wasn’t exactly an open secret, Barbara Walters quizzed Martin heavily about it in an interview in 2000, and he refused to answer. That should have been enough to tell anyone who cared.
Secondly: ‘does anyone care?’ Well, probably – some teenage girls are most likely mildly confused and sorely disappointed, and some teenage boys are probably… well, let’s not go there. How about the parents of young children? I hope not, but I am not dumb enough to think that certain young people might be having a ‘talk’ over the next few days. Judging by Martin’s own statement, though, the people who will care the most are his management. He says, ‘advisors’ strongly counselled him against coming out from day one, as it would harm his career. That’s a pretty tough piece of advice to take, I imagine – and a harder one to ignore. Incidentally, his website is currently down, as it is ‘being updated’.
The big question for me is: ‘Why is this such big news?’ In fact, why is it even news at all? I am aware of the irony of asking that in yet another posting about Ricky Martin but would it even register on anyone’s radar if Thom Yorke came out and said that he was straight?
Why do we assume that everyone fits into the ‘mainstream’, ‘normal’, accepted mould of sexuality, when we know that being gay is as common as being left-handed? Is it because of a fascination with the unknown – or with sex? Is it a hangover from puritanical religious doctrine? Is it down to a skewed demographic within homogenised mass-media which tends to only represent the interests which own and control it?
The latter is probably an extreme exaggeration, and one way to look at the relatively objective reporting from most UK news sources is to say that this represents tacit support for other homosexuals – showing them that they are not alone – that successful people are able to come out and be openly gay. However, I think it’s naïve to believe that anyone in the media is really that altruistic; I think the story is printed because it is ‘sensational’ – regardless of whether or not it should be.
One thing I must say is that I do genuinely admire Martin for what he has done – in the West, it is no longer so much of a stigma to be gay, but there are ten countries in the world where the institutional penalty for homosexuality is death. Yep. Death. In six others, the punishment is life in prison, and in one, ten years hard labour. No Ricky Martin gigs in Jamaica, then. Even in his home country of Puerto Rico, the laws against sodomy were only repealed in 2005.
In the music industry, being openly gay is now much more acceptable than it was when Elton John first broke into the charts, but we see within other spheres – especially the world of professional football, that it’s simply not acceptable to be openly homosexual when you’re at the top.
Hopefully what Ricky Martin has done has helped the world take one small step towards a more open and tolerant society. Did I really just write that?