Everyone has heard the phrase “coming out of the closet” and, initially, this was in reference to someone declaring their sexual orientation as gay or lesbian. However, as time has moved on, coming out has come to mean anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+ making that information public.
Coming to terms with your identity can be difficult enough without the added complication of figuring out your gender identity or sexuality in addition to that. People who want to explore their sexuality may find it extremely intimidating and may not feel safe enough to do so. With all of the discrimination out there, it’s no wonder that some people choose to never come out on their own terms. However, whether they do is generally considered a personal choice of each individual person.
There are many reasons why someone may choose not to come out — such as familial pressures or rejection from their peers — but there are cases, generally with celebrities and people in the public eye, where the person isn’t allowed to publicly acknowledge their true identity. This is called Closeting.
In the case of the music industry, there are many instances where celebrities have been forced by their contract to be publicly seen as being in a heterosexual relationship in order to appear straight to fans. These contracts, when closely looked at, have many hidden clauses that give the music industry power over almost every aspect of the artists’ image. This means that the artist may have little to no say in their music, their image, what they say in interviews, or even if they want to post a picture or a tweet, without first checking with management that it’s ok to do so.
In the past, gay celebrities were placed within lavender marriages — a straight marriage to hide someone’s gay identity — were used in order to keep gay celebrities firmly in the closet. A major example of this would be Elton John, a huge gay icon in his own right who was initially maneuvered into a straight marriage early in his career. Nowadays, it’s more likely that you will be assigned a beard — a long term heterosexual relationship — to upkeep the celebrity’s straight image. This would involve staged appearances and stunts in order to keep their heterosexual relationship in the public eye, effectively dispelling any LGBTQ+ rumours that may exist about that celebrity.
The amount of emotional and psychological damage caused by closeting can be extreme, often resulting in the artist struggling with poor mental health. Chely Wright, an openly gay American country music artist, stated in a Q&A in 2010 that closeting, “kills people, spiritually and even physically.” Being in love and being allowed to show off that loving relationship is something that reverts back to basic human behaviour to flaunt that which makes us happy. However, to be denied that right just because of your gender identity or sexual orientation is to invalidate who that celebrity feels they are at their core. Wright goes on to discuss the damage closeting can cause, stating, “when you are denied that basic primal joy that everyone else gets to have, it hurts. And what do you do when it hurts? You medicate.”
This is something which is backed up by many gay artists. In 2016, Lance Bass (NSYNC) spoke to Larry King in an interview, describing closeting as, “very torturous because I didn’t want people to find out who I truly was…I thought my life would be over. People would hate me…you become very lonely.”
As upsetting and damaging as closeting is, Bob Lefsetz, a music industry critic, stated in a 2014 interview that closeting isn’t likely to change any time soon, as the industry is profit-driven first and foremost. He states that management cared far less about the artists’ needs than their “bottom line,” elaborating that, “if this artist isn’t going to pull in this many fans because they are gay, they are not gonna support him this much.”
However, Chely Wright feels this can be different and that artists will eventually get to be their true selves, stating “We need a huge, huge star at the top of their field…to stand up and say ‘I’m Gay and I’m normal…’” If this were to happen in each celebrity field — musicians, movie stars, athletes, etc — then closeting would die out, allowing those in the public eye to be free to be themselves.
Next Issue: Mark Feehily and his experience with closeting and the music industry.
- Chely Wright, Borders book store, New York City, NY, December 1, 2010, (2) Chely Wright answers a question from the audience – YouTube
- Lance Bass, Homophobia In Music, Larry King Now, Ora Tv, October 14th 2016, Larry King – YouTube
- Bob Lefsetz, June 11th 2014, (2) How The Music Industry Works – YouTube