Ask, don’t tell

Pub date December 9, 2009
SectionArts & CultureSectionTrash

POP STAR ON FIRE Let’s get one thing straight — despite what his album (For Your Entertainment, RCA) and single proclaim, Adam Lambert is not here for your entertainment. Well, sure, he’s a performer, and as such he has certain obligations to his fans. But that doesn’t mean he exists solely for our benefit. If he did, we’d be able to mold him to our liking, creating either a sexuality-defying glam rock god or, to use a Rufus Wainwright term, the gay messiah.

Lambert is neither of those things, simply because people aren’t that easy to define. And yet, this affected tug-of-war has garnered plenty of media attention. The problem is that it doesn’t account for Lambert as a person — or as a musician.

It would be naïve to suggest Lambert didn’t ask for media attention, but he certainly never asked to be pinned down. Now, through no doing of his own, he’s been thrust into a lose-lose situation. If he appears with scantily clad women (as he does in his recent Details spread and in the "For Your Entertainment" music video), he’s too straight. If he, er, commits to gay by getting down with his bassist, he’s offensive to the mainstream.

In an open letter to Adam Lambert, Out Magazine editor-in-chief Aaron Hicklin laments that Lambert’s record label requested that his interview not be "too gay." Problematic? Most definitely. It’s shameful and upsetting that anyone would try to curb Lambert’s enthusiasm for manparts. But I found Hicklin’s letter equally bothersome. "You’re a pioneer," he writes. "An out gay pop idol at the start of his career. Someone has to be first, and we’re all counting on you not to mess this up."

Excuse me? Did you just tell Adam Lambert that he has a responsibility to please every gay person in the country? (No jokes, please.) That’s a pretty big weight to put on one guy’s shoulders. Not to mention that it severely inhibits his freedom of expression. Give Lambert some space to figure out his own shit. That goes for both an overprotective label and an overidentifying gay fanbase. I understand the urge to hold him up as a gay role model, but maybe that’s not what he had in mind.

Moreover, this controversy neglects the spectrum of sexuality that we queer people are supposed to promote. That’s why we use the word "queer": many LGBT men and women feel that the labels society has created for us just aren’t sufficient. Look at Lady Gaga, an artist for whom Lambert has frequently expressed admiration. Gaga came out as bi, then recanted — not because she has any problem with being bisexual, but because she doesn’t want to be defined. She’s queer (I doubt she’d argue that), and she’s awesome, but no one’s asking her to be the poster child for bisexual women. She’s a free bitch, baby.

So let’s step back. Adam Lambert just released his first album, and it’s pretty damn great. He’s openly gay and that hasn’t hurt his record sales. There’s a lot for the queer community to be happy about here, whether or not he chooses to be our spokesperson. If he does decide to be the gay messiah, I’m sure we can all get behind that. (Again, no jokes.) And if he decides to keep it fluid, I think that’s worth celebrating, too.

Hey, as long as the music’s still good.