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19 May 2006

Comments

Andrew in Seattle

While I deeply respect E. Lynn Harris and his work, I have to wonder about his assumption that in order to "have the chance to be happy," one has to be completely out of the closet, or actively open to the public about one's orientation. While it may be politically helpful to the queer masses and personally more self-actualized, one might actually be able to "be happy" by doing what Luther did later in his life, which was to bascially dismiss questions about Vandross's nearly-open "secret" with "it's none of anyone's business," (a tacit non-denial).

Is Mr. Harris not assuming happiness is only possible for a celebrity to be press-release-out of the closet? Discuss.

000000

Well, Andrew, nobody tells the hetero celebs that it's a bad idea for them to reveal their relationships - which will probably end sooner rather than later, scandalously. We've seen time after time that their unions are much less sacred than we once thought. So you would think the gays could take that as a cue to risk full disclosure. Besides, the standard we're measured against is pretty shaky itself. It's not about "happiness". Happiness is a crap shoot right after the decision to get out of bed every day. It's about the choice. Why do only the white gays think they have the choice to be who they are? Ellen, Elton, Rupert, Rosie, etc. On our side, we may be able to count on RuPaul, but his novelty factor went out with the 90s. An eternity has passed since Kanye challenged hip-hop to grow up and be accepting. Where are his backers? Not even LL Cool J spoke out in agreement. For some things, it takes a public face to drive a point home. Perhaps Luther did himself and his people an injustice. But I can't decide whether it was by staying silent or by singing love songs to chicks.

Carlos

E Lynn Harris is really rockin the Ceasar cut.

algie

i wish my favorite author all the best. i hope it works out. he truly deserves all the happiness he can get after all the storms he has seen. i also agree 100% with 000000 because no one is saying that you have to be out to the whole world but its like sometimes we as gay men especially black gay men can be so private that they miss out on things that you can't be so private to truly enjoy yourself and life and god wants his children to walk through life at some point without a huge brick on your back because you don't want the world to know that you're gay because you think people will think you are less than a man when being yourself makes you REAL MAN AND THEN SOME

Serp

While I've been a regular visitor to and fan of Rod's site for quite some time now, there was one particular opinion piece that he wrote that I COMPLETELY, WHOLEHEARTEDLY, UNEQUIVOCALLY DISAGREED WITH! And that was the piece that he wrote soon after the passing of Luther Vandross where he questioned and decried the motives of some journalists "rewriting" the after-death legacy of Luther by focusing on his long-questioned sexuality. We all know that there are too many deceased and extremely talented famous people, both black and white, ancient and modern, to name here that were gay or lesbian that more often than not did not reveal their true sexuality in their lifetimes, mainly because of how mainstream society may have re-acted. But it is important for that we, gays and lesbians, acknowledge and celebrate our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters that have contributed to the world's history. We've excelled in the arts, sciences, medicine, industry, education, politics, sports and so forth. I live in L.A. and I had the opportunity to be present at a few private gatherings where Mr. Vandross was present. I do not intend to name drop, so please forgive me. Let me be clear: I was never his close personal friend. I was never in his close-knit circle of confidantes. I was just a wall-hugging observer that can only speak of my own personal observations which is that I have no doubt WHATSOEVER that Luther was a same-gender loving person. But when we all collectively jump on the bandwagon to deny that fact then sadly we are willing participants in the tragic consequence of taking Luther's name off a long and distinguished list that includes Socrates, Proust, Bessie Smith, James Baldwin, Octavia Butler, Michaelangelo, Alexander The Great, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Wolff, Paul Robeson, Frida Khalo, Cole Porter, Alvin Ailey, Alice Walker, Greg Lougainis, Truman Capote, Andy Warhol, Martina Navratilova, Rudolf Nureyev....... But no Luther Vandross? Why not? I think it's extremely important that our history books do no fail to discuss the sexuality of some of the most important contributors to both ancient and modern civilization because there may be a young, talented and impressionable boy in rural Georgia at this very moment that my need to know that his being gay shouldn't be a deterrent to whatever his dreams may be. Sometimes I feel like we all want to make Luther this sexless performing puppet. I truly believe that Luther had a healthy love life, albiet a very private one. And yes, I do believe that it was most definetly Luther's choice to choose if he wanted to reveal his sexuality to his mostly heterosexual, female fan base in his lifetime. But I think that it would be hypocritical and unethical for a journalist writing about Luther to not seek the truth and discuss the fact that Luther may have led an alternative lifestyle. That's what good writers do - reveal the truth and set the facts striaght, no pun intended. And as a gay man, why should I be a co-signer in the appalling habit of denying the truth and not recognizing and honoring a person that I may have had more in common with than the vast majority of the population? If Luther was a gay man, A BLACK GAY MAN, then let's all say Hallelujah! That doesn't take away from his talent. That doesn't sully his reputation. That doesn't disminish his legacy. If someone says that it does then they were never a true admirer to began with. I applaud E. Lynn Harris for saying what he said because it's what we all should do. (Maybe Harris can relate because of his present relationship with a man that isn't yet ready to reveal his sexuality because he's an active professional athlete.) It's not about gossip and lies and it should never be. It's strictly about speaking the truth, FOR HISTORY"S SAKE!!!!

RickyRoss

E. Lynn is absoulutely right by concluding that Luther Vandross was not completely HAPPY. Gay men that are "out" and those that are living "closeted"(but everyone assumes your gay) lifestyles can relate to the awkwardness that comes when your sexuality is in question--whether it is a comment, a look, or some negative gesture.

Luther made that decision early in is career to avoid publicizing his personal/sexual life. I am sure this would have been disastrous if he would have come "OUT" during the 80s and 90s the most successful years of his career.

So like most of "Fortysomething" black gay men who arrived in the 80s(not the free flowing 70s) he shut the world out of his private soirees and gave them LUTHER on stage and in press--a relationship that made him millions and satisfied the appetite of thousands of (female)fans.

Eventually, the public started to notice GAYS and the GAY lifestyle thanks to Ricki Lake and other 90s inflammatory talk shows(Not to mention Luthers own Arsenio Hall Show appearances- wink). Exposing someones sexuality in an I Got Ya kind of way was great sport and Luther's name was in the mix of celebs presumed to be GAY. However, this would not have worked for a soul balladeer who seduced women. Whereas, E. Lynn emerged as the once sexually confused and typically closeted Bi-sexual black gay author(which has made him millions). Moreover, the sissy loud mouthed gay nor the low life brotha portrayed on these talk shows could not be assoicated with a high society celeb like Mr. Vandross. So I believe following the brilliant advice from his PR reps and label execs he did not come OUT then nor later--the walls of cashmere shall not fall!!!

Rod

Hello.

Whoa. The comments so far are very informative and I'm glad that people are so interested in Luther's legacy.

Serp, I specifically linked to the Luther Vandross post because it went to exactly what ELH referred. ELH was right in saying that Luther probably wasn't very happy, but, would he have been happier if he were forced out via blackmail or a lawsuit, a la James Mcgreevey? Would we as a community be better without his rich legacy or song? Probably not. Billie Jean King is the rare exception of a person who was forced out of the closet and became and became a gay icon. As blacks, do we have similar success stories? No.

Anyone who wants to come out should. But, sometimes we as black gay men are so starved for symbols and iconography that we become too aggressive. The result is that many of are overly-concerned with celebrities coming out of the closet (Kanye? Ginuwine? Tyson?) and refuse to recognize the unsung heroes of our neighborhoods, such as a grammar school teacher who may be out, the quiet lesbian couple in your building, or, the gay-friendly pastor. We don't even embrace black athletes who come out (Roy Simmons, Cheryl Swopes) but are fascinated with those who we "want" to come out.

Serp, you're absolutely right about the role of journalists and writers, which I know something about, after having worked at the LA Times, NBC and ABC News and other outlets. Hopefully you would agree that I've taken that same sense of professionalism and moderation to this blog. Not sure did you read the recent "Clik" that featured my interview with Wilson Cruz. He, of course, was out in '94 well before Ellen and many others. Let me quote:

"Although Wilson has “always been out,” he’s refreshingly non-judgmental about those gay actors or performers who are not. “Everyone has their own reasons for coming out. I used to feel that it was their duty, but you can’t force people to become activists or take on issues that they are not willing. It will do more harm than good. So for those of us who are out, we just have to take on more fervor. But I can’t see how those [closeted] people are happy.”

I totally agree. You can't try to force people to take on a fight for which they are unwilling to volunteer. You have to do you.

Lastly, regarding the "poor impressionable boy in rural Georgia" ... a tad meoldramatic, no? There are closeted/DL men in NYC and Atlanta, so what is the difference? In today's global village, there is cable and satellite television which features Logo, Bravo and gay-friendly reality shows. There are books and also, let's not forget, even rural Georgia, Idaho, or Mongoilia has access to dial-up or DSL, the internet, this site and many others. Teens and children today
have infinitely more possibilities to be exposed to gay friendly role models than even I did as a teenager in Los Angeles and Chicago in the 1980s.

Lastly, just as an fyi, my family is from Mississippi. I've been to Doraville, Macon, 'Bama, Grenville, Macomb, all over the rural south. Trust: The young black gay boys are quite out and quite loud!

Serp, I'm so flattered that you respect my work. But even the most die-hard Janet or Madonna fans will dislike some of the songs on the new album. ;)

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