Adam Lambert & Ellen DeGeneres, sexual shame, homonormativity

It’s a dismal situation for queer politics when gay and lesbian celebrities can’t talk frankly and openly about homophobia and sexual shame.

Take a look at Adam Lambert’s interview on Ellen, where he retrospectively evaluates his explicitly gay performance at the AMA’s.

Notice how he is concerned about his relationship to ABC. Notice how Ellen invokes “family values” as being opposed to displays of sexuality, including explicit gay-male sexuality.

Ellen defends Adam’s performance, saying that if anyone should be opposed it displays of sexuality, it should be of ALL sexuality, not just gay sexuality but “all shows, all forms.” She concludes by saying that “it (to what does this pronoun ‘it’ refer?) shouldn’t be excluded, because ‘everyone else’ (the nameless straight majority?) does it”.

He wants to be a rockstar, to defend and perhaps validate his masculinity by making out with a male dancer during his performance. But he doesn’t want to disrespect anyone. His dad even wanted him to apologize to the people he offended.

I see several things at work here, complicated and dynamic issues of identity, power, and privilege. On the one hand, Adam and Ellen occupy a very privileged space i.e. the wealthy, white, gay/lesbian celebrity. Lisa Duggan terms “homonormativity” to refer to the privileged groups of gays and lesbians who are complicit with the systems of domination/oppression. These gays/lesbians can be visible, present, powerful, and wealthy but are assimilated into mainstream culture insofar as their capital and privilege allow. Yet, their frank, unapologetic displays of sexuality (which the straight world gains their validity by) will not be tolerated. This is the paradox of homonormativity.

On the other hand, Adams performance shows the extent to which homophobia and heteronormativity saturate and do not allow gay displays of sexuality within mainstream media and culture. Ellen and Adam dance around this issue, being the complicit gays who are concerned and defend ‘traditional family values’ and do not want to challenge 1. the sources of their wealth and privilege and 2. the sexual shame entrenched within cultural discourses that SILENCE and MARGINALIZE them.

This was disheartening for me to watch.


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