This morning there were two columns musing on the sexuality of Americans in the spotlight that got us thinking. First, Richard Lawson's treatise on why American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert's coyness over his homosexuality is hurting gay America pleased us. Then Michael Wolff's essay questioning the heterosexuality of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor made us angry. And we wondered why we had such opposite reactions — after all, the revelation of gayness on either part could possibly hinder their further careers, even as it boosted the gay community with two new, incredibly popular and timely public figures. So what gives?
What evidence do Lawson and Wolff have that they may be gay at all?
Lambert: He's been photographed French kissing a boy, appears willfully flamboyant in his performances, and refuses to comment on his sexuality.
Sotomayor: Is unmarried and childless, but is currently dating a man. Wolff fully admits he has "no idea what Sonia Sotomayor’s sexual tastes might be."
If they are, would outing either one help Gay America?
Lambert: Yes. A young, super-popular nationwide icon who is famous, talented, and happens to be gay (which many people, if not most, already accept as the truth) would do untold benefit for kids in high schools across America terrified to come out, or even to be different.
Sotomayor: No. Being outed would compromise her ability to be an inspiration to gays and minorities. Plus, she would undoubtedly lose her seat on the Supreme Court because of right-wing hysteria over having a definite "Yes" marriage-equality vote on the bench. She'd fall out of the public eye soon after dropping out of competition (anyone know where Harriet Miers is right now? Robert Bork?).
Will a whisper campaign questioning either's sexuality hurt their careers?
Lambert: No. As we've argued before, Adam is already the Other, and the fans who love him don't care whether or not he's gay. He's proven already that his talent is enough to earn him a recording career, whether or not people like him personally. Unlike Sotomayor, he already has the job.
Sotomayor: Yes. See above.
Why are we talking about this again?
Lambert: Because of his unwillingness to confirm his sexuality either way, despite being repeatedly asked. Also, yeah, those pictures of him kissing a dude. And the rumors that he'll come out on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Sotomayor: Well, we're not, really. Michael Wolff is. Most of the rest of us are talking and reading about her abortion stance, her life and judicial history, and even whether she's racist. But not whether she's gay.
And why are Lawson and Wolff writing about this?
Lawson: Because he's adding to a conversation that his readership has been having for months now.
Wolff: Because he wants to get attention and credit for starting such a conversation.
We yearn for the day when speculating about someone's sexuality has no consequences. But the fact is, we're not there yet. In fact, we're only just figuring out in which cases it is unimportant and in which cases it is all-important. In entertainment, happily, it's increasingly unimportant. In politics, unfortunately, it's all-important. Wolff can hide behind the argument that suggesting someone is gay isn't legal slander — and he's right, it shouldn't be (though throwing out the statement "Justice Souter, everyone seems to assume, is gay" just as he is about to cease to be a public figure seems to purposefully toe the line of taste). But the fact remains that there are places where it isn't openly harmful, and some where it is. Then again, of course, Wolff knows that.