Being a semi-closeted Indian gay male (Out to most of my friends but not to family), I have to be a silent witness to a lot of homophobic opinions. In due course of time I have realised that trying to point out the irrationality of their opinions is usually not a wise decision in these situations as reason is rarely the basis of said opinions. Therefore, I have learnt to silently observe, which in turn has provided me with many hilarious instances of inconsistency in their opinions.
My parents (who once lost sleep over my support of “anti-social and unnatural behaviour”, after I informed them that I was going to the Pride Parade) and I, once went to a new year’s family gathering where my parents were rejoicing among other like-minded relatives. The wine was flowing as my usually decorous aunts and uncles started dancing to the music. They were thoroughly enjoying themselves, each member throwing in suggestions for the songs to be played. My mother suggested Elton John. As the song played they knew every word and were noticeably enjoying themselves. This got me wondering about how my homophobic mother was such a fan of Elton John in spite of his very visible ‘gayness’. Singers like Elton John and Boy George were gay icons who publicly experimented with make-up and clothing and created a culture of breaking traditional gender norms. They were fabulous in their over-the-top costumes and were unapologetically themselves, Elton John even had an incredibly public coming out and marriage. But in spite of all this, many conservatives still love and admire him and his music.
On another occasion I was talking to a friend (to whom I haven’t come out yet for reasons that will be apparent) about homosexuality and she proceeded to compare gay people to rapists. She loves music so I thought I should play a little game. I compiled a playlist of all the songs I could find that were by queer artists and gave it to my friend. She loved all the songs, from ‘HIM’ by Sam Smith to ‘Girls like Girls’ by Hayley Kiyoko. One day she excitedly told me about how she recently read an article on Facebook titled “10 celebrities you probably didn’t know were Gay” and found out that Sam Smith was gay. I then proceeded to tell her about how all the songs that she liked are by queer artists. I was rejoicing in my evil genius, waiting for her to throw her phone to the ground and claw her ears and eyes out in true Sophoclean glory. To my utter disappointment, no such thing happened. Instead, she reacted with a shrug of her shoulder and moved on.
Having failed to impose my ‘gay agenda’ on my friend, I was dejected, but also realised the true power of celebrity and how a fan deconstructs and reconstructs the image and identity of a particular celebrity to fit their socio-political beliefs. They construct an ideal image of what they want that celebrity to be, by eliminating all aspects of their personality that clashes with their personal beliefs and by glorifying that part of the celebrity’s personality that is in sync with their belief system. Saturday Night Live brilliantly captured this in a skit titled “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black.” It shows how white people don’t view Beyoncé as black because they have a stereotype of what a black person should be like in their minds and since Beyoncé’s elegance and grace does not fit into that bill they just negate that part of her identity. Similarly, people also tend to negate the ‘gayness’ of queer celebrities like Ellen and Sam Smith.
Later, when I was talking to that friend again, I noticed that although she was listening to the same artists, her favourite songs had shifted from those that were explicitly gay (like Sam Smith’s HIM which uses the male pronoun) to those that didn’t make any direct reference to the artist’s sexuality (songs that used the gender neutral ‘you’ instead of a gendered pronoun). This shift was clearly subconscious and she did not even notice the difference but it did help me understand how my homophobic parents and friend could reconcile their love of queer artists. But that does not mean that LGBTQ+ celebrities don’t contribute to changing people’s opinions at all. When they are explicitly gay in their art, it is harder for homophobic people to reconcile their love for the artist, thereby challenging their belief system. Apart from that, these celebrities act as a role model to young LGBTQ+ children and help in alleviating some of their confusion and internal struggle. They also play an important role in normalising young queer people to non-queer children and since their homophobic parents don’t view these celebrities as queer, they allow their children to watch Ellen and go to Sam Smith concerts. Therefore, coming to the conclusion, that I did successfully impose my ‘gay agenda’ on my friend after all.