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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

An Open Letter to Clay Aiken

By Steve Charing

Dear Clay,

I want you to know that I am a fan of yours. I rooted like crazy for you on American Idol, voted for you numerous times, and felt you were screwed by the ultimate voting snafus. I thought your single "Invisible" was one of the best releases of the year.

You’re talented singer and a sweet guy. So what I’m about to tell you is, I believe, for your own good, improve your chances at happiness, and will help you in your future career.

Clay, come out of the closet already!

Your defensive denials and evasion especially during your interview with and Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America made you look like you were squirming and, therefore, dishonest. Saying that coming out "doesn’t make sense" is wrong. It makes perfectly good sense, as I will explain.

Until you come out, you have to expect questions by media folks to whom you agreed to talk as you ostensibly promote your new album, "A Thousand Different Ways." Your reticence smacked of Ricky Martin when confronted with the same questions. Have you noticed which direction his career has gone?

Give your fans some credit. Do you truly believe that girls fantasize about marrying you and that’s the only reason they buy your CD’s and concert tickets?

People are far more accepting nowadays than when Liberace built his lucrative career by luring middle-aged women to his shows. Back then he could not come out and maintain his popularity, although most suspected his feminine antics were tied to being a homosexual. And Luther Vandross didn’t want to divulge his being gay lest he, too, lose his female fan base.

On the other hand, Elton John punched the rumors square in the mouth when he came out and proudly at that, although his initial claim of being bisexual was plain silly. He continued his fabulous run, on the path to superstardom without a hitch. He’s totally liberated by his self-acceptance and is still prancing down the yellow brick road, laughing all the way to the bank. And Melissa, Ellen and Rosie are also doing quite well since coming out.

As you know, Lance Bass came out only after being outed by "Page 6" of the New York Post. He was sighted in a very public, well-known gay bar in Provincetown. He basically had no choice but to admit it. Nonetheless, he seems so relaxed with himself. He also had a large female fan base and doesn’t seem concerned about it. Lance says he’s received a ton of support and has projects lined up for a busy year and beyond.

People appreciate honesty, so I will be honest with you. I hate stereotypes as much as anyone does, but you are not exactly "straight-acting"—another term I loathe. So many already believe you’re gay. Disclosures about you on the Net abound. You even have been dubbed "Gayken" all over the blogosphere. Clay, you need to come to terms with this and not duck the issue.

Sure, it’s no one’s right to invade your privacy. I think it’s odious, too. But remember you’re a public celebrity. The rules change for the likes of you. The public pays you to perform; you have to accept the attendant scrutiny. It’s not perfect, but it’s a fact of life. You can’t eliminate it with your incredulous denials and evasive banter.

What’s your downside for coming out? You lose a few teenage girls among your "Claymates" who still have delusional fantasies about you? So what? You don’t have much of a male fan base either. Mothers and grandmothers already adore you and will. Fans—young and old—will respect you more for your candor. How will they love you if you don’t love yourself?

I understand how you believe that your coming out would hurt your Mom. If she needs any comforting by others who have children who are gay, I’m sure there is a PFLAG chapter near her home. You should check out www.pflag.org to find that chapter. You’re still the same son she loves so much. Nothing has changed except the shackles from your self-imprisonment will have been cut off.

Over time your coming out will all be forgotten—a thing of the past. You still have talent and charm. That’s your key to success. You can widen your appeal by doing good things for the lgbt community. You can be an activist and a role model—unlike Lance.

Helping fundraising efforts for lgbt causes would be a good first step. Assist on voter registration drives. Be a Grand Marshall in a gay pride parade. Lend your hand to HIV/AIDS awareness. Help kids come to terms with their sexuality.

Come out in time for National Coming Out Day October 11. What a great message that would send! Be visible—not "invisible."

You’d be aiding a segment of the population who is oppressed by straight society—the same oppression and homophobia that is compelling you to hide behind a tortured facade which makes you reluctant to admit your true being. Do it for all of us who have to watch you painfully skirt the questions. But most importantly, do it for you.

Next letter, I will talk to you about your new "do."

Keep in touch.

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