Newark Mayor Cory Booker has just spent his first days as a newly-elected U.S. Senator marrying gay couples in New Jersey, where marriage equality has become a reality. This affirmation of gay rights fits in with Booker’s stated beliefs, even though he has consistently skirted questions about his own sexuality. Booker looked jubilant while uniting same-sex couples, but will neither affirm nor deny whether he is gay to persistent questions.
In an August Washington Post article, then-candidate Booker, who has been rumored to be gay by some, shared: “[I] want to challenge people on their homophobia. I love seeing on Twitter when someone says I’m gay, and I say, ‘So what does it matter if I am? So be it. I hope you are not voting for me because you are making the presumption that I’m straight.’”
With figures such as Booker taking the lead, we have a larger group of black celebrities than ever who do not have to answer the gay-vs.-straight question. From pop culture to politics, what goes unsaid can sometimes give us much information about the changing landscape of LGBT acceptance.
Society might finally be having its post-gay moment.
What does it mean to be “post-gay”?
While there’s nothing novel about the notion of an openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) black celebrity, it’s increasingly common for celebrities of color not to explicitly declare, or outright deny, a gay identity if people suspect it.
Many who face such questions seem unfazed by the rumors. And the public accepts their “shades of gray” answers.
Perhaps, to the public at large, coming out in the traditional sense is no longer necessary. It appears that society just doesn’t care anymore, suggesting that, as some say race is less of an issue today, so is sexuality. Gay advocates, however, caution against entirely overlooking the still-meaningful process of publicly coming out.
The meaning of coming out: Less clear
In this rapid response age full of real-time updates of our lives, what constitutes “coming out” is less clear. Critics balked at how quickly media outlets labelled celebs like Raven-Symoné as gay (who subtly tweeted “I can finally get married! Yay government!”), as well as the daughter of basketball iconMichael Jordan (who Instagrammed photos of her alleged girlfriend). Neither have “officially” come out as anything. Yet, their social media chatter is suggestive.
Regardless, when stars do hint at same-gender relationships, both gay and straight people care deeply.
“When celebrities choose to come out, it is an important gift they give to the rest of us,” said Dr. Imani Perry, cultural critic and professor at Princeton’s Center for African-American Studies. “Such examples can be powerfully important.”