Sunday, April 09, 2017

Even Now

Barry Manilow’s decision late in his life to come out was his alone to make.

Social media was bursting with sarcasm when People released an interview  with pop singer-songwriter, musician and producer Barry Manilow in which he officially revealed he was gay. 

“Shocking!” and “I never saw this coming!” were some of the more common jabs.

Of course, it wasn’t news that he was gay; it was news that he finally admitted it.  The story had broken two years ago that he married his long-time partner and manager Gary Keiff.  That revelation merely confirmed that he was gay.  For decades people suspected Manilow was gay, and it probably didn’t matter to most of his fans.

He launched his career at New York’s Continental Baths as the accompanist for Bette Midler who performed to enthusiastic, mostly gay fans.  This took place in 1971, and it would have been rather rare if a straight man entertained in such a venue.

(I actually knew Manilow was gay as far back as 1977 when a member of his touring band told me.  His secret was safe with me as I respected his privacy and I, too, was in the closet.)

Fans didn’t see Manilow through the lens of being straight or gay.  They saw an engaging, personable artist, whose Adult Contemporary songs—mostly ballads—were laced with saccharine and the melodies quite hummable. 

In fact, Manilow had 47 top 40 singles and 12 reached number one.  The Latin-style “Copacabana” was arguably the most famous of all his hits.

“I thought I would be disappointing [my fans] if they knew I was gay,” he explained to People. “So I never did anything.”

He counted females as a large portion of his fan base and he figured that coming out would hurt him professionally.  But through his five decades in the spotlight, Manilow was never considered a heartthrob in the way Elvis or McCartney was during the height of their careers.  

Moreover, superstar artist Sir Elton John, is similarly not heartthrob material (unless wigs, glitter-laced suits and oversized glasses appeal to many) yet his coming out did little to tamp down his popularity and commercial success.

Additionally, open lesbians k.d. lang and Melissa Etheridge have enjoyed lucrative careers as did openly gay Michael Stipe, the front man for R.E.M., who says he’s a better person for coming out.  And there are others.   

Good music, good talent and good artistry seem to transcend sexual orientation because it simply does not and should not matter. Entertainment value is what makes an artist popular, and it seems that those who are disappointed regarding an artist’s sexual orientation would have a negligible impact.
 
Aside from professional risks that Manilow may have considered in deciding not to come out, he simply could have been one of many older gays who still harbor fears about going public.

“Manilow was born in 1943. Someone born in that year has witnessed the McCarthy-era Lavender scare, police raids on gay bars, the Stonewall riots, the HIV/AIDS crisis and its accompanying stigma, the strong anti-gay currents of the 1990s, the heyday of anti-LGBT conversion therapy, and much, much more,” writes Samantha Allen in The Daily Beast.

“So no matter how accepting 2017 might be—and even that clause has to come with qualifiers about lingering cultural homophobia—they might still be extremely reticent to come out.

When LGBT people come out, the more visibility the community achieves.  More neighbors, family members, co-workers, and friends will then know an LGBT person and more likely will be an ally in the never-ending quest for equality.  #hocoarts

But there are risks in coming out: alienation from friends and family members, loss of job, rejection by religious institutions, being bullied, violence, to name a few.

Coming out as LGBT is a personal decision that must be taken seriously after extensive evaluation of the risks and rewards.  One must reach that comfort level that only he or she experiences before making such a monumental judgment.

Barry Manilow thought the time was right.  Even now.

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