Why do we think that our love lives are such a central part of our existence that we cannot be perfectly whole unless we’ve shared the major details with the world? I’m not arguing that Ricky Martin should stay in the closet–I’m glad he’s out and proud, and hope that it makes life easier for other gay people.
Rather, I wonder why the sex lives of public figures are so central to their appeal. Frankly, I know nothing about the love lives of virtually any movie star or musician: not gender, age, hair color, or names. And it doesn’t hamper my enjoyment of their work. Why should it matter whether Ricky Martin–or Anderson Cooper–comes out?
One answer: because it’s politically helpful in advancing the cause of equal treatment under law for gay people. Please note that I don’t want to start an argument over that; I mean that not as a criticism, just a description. If I were a gay activist, I would want as many closeted gays as possible to come out, to help normalize homosexuality in the mind of the public, and to make it easier for people like me to live as everybody else does. How can you blame a gay person for wanting that to happen? Forcing somebody out of the closet is a different matter.
On another Atlantic blog, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about the politics of black men dating white women, and how dehumanizing thinking about the love lives of individuals in the collective is:
One thing I’ve come to understand, through my own relationship, is that for people who are really working at commitment, a relationship quickly ceases to be a political statement. There is certainly part of me that feels my partnership with a black woman says something about me. But I vacillate on precisely what. The problem is that no committed person goes to bed with black spouse or a white spouse. They go to bed with someone who does, or doesn’t, think it’s a bad idea to blow the rent-check on school clothes. They go to bed with someone who does, or doesn’t, think it’s a priority to keep the living room clean. They go to be bed with someone who does, or doesn’t, want children. In other words, they go to bed with an individual who (hopefully) has very specific idea about their life that go beyond whether the revolution will be televised, or not.
I’m a black dude hooked up with a black woman–but I don’t sleep with “black people.” “Black people” don’t pay half of my rent. “Black people” didn’t take my son to tennis lessons this week. “Black people” didn’t support me while I was trying to make it a writer. An individual, with her own specific hopes, dreams and problems, did those things. Now it’s true that she’s black. But the qualities that allowed her to do those things–compassion, commitment, vision–are not “black” qualities.
Again, I’m not trying to demean my folks. But we often take this abstract, hazy view of an institution that, like anything else worthwhile, is mostly about dirt, work and tedium. Relationships are not (anymore, at least) a collectivist act. They really come down to two individuals doing business in ways that we will never be privy to.
Like Sabina in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” I think there’s something kind of monstrous about people who turn the intimate details of their private lives over to the public, even if (especially if!) it is to serve politically useful ends.