There’s a difference between making a declarative statement and dancing around one.
So while I totally respect Jussie Smollett’s choice to offer the former during a recent interview with Ellen DeGeneres, I find the narrative surrounding it a bit misleading. Every headline I’ve read speaks to Smollett ‘coming out’ as gay, but to come out as gay is to explicitly say so. Smollett did no such thing, and if anything, stayed true to his previous promise of keeping his private life just that.
Yes, during their conversation, which carried over backstage and was subsequently released to the world online, Smollett had this to say any suggestion that he was closeted: “There’s never been a closet. That I’ve been in. I don’t own a closet, I got a dresser, but I don’t have a closet, but I have a home and that is my responsibility to protect that home.”
I live in a studio apartment in Harlem, but that has nothing to do with whether or not I’m more sexually attracted to Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, or somewhere in between.
Now, when Ellen offered, “You’ve never pretended to be anything that you aren’t,” Smollett did add, “Ever, ever. So lets not read into it the wrong when I say that I don’t talk about my personal life, I’m saying that. But it is in no way to hide or deny who God made me. Ya know?”
In other words, I’m not ashamed of who I am (whatever that is), but I don’t want you people in my damn business either. Fair enough, but again, is that coming out or just expressing a desire not to be categorized incorrectly one way or the other? Smollett did add, “My mama knows. My Mama likes me a lot. And yes I take her to the ‘Sound of Music’ sing-along every, single year. So, any questions?”
I have one: Did Queen Latifah write this?
I don’t find it unfair to ask Jussie Smollett about his sexuality. Though prejudices remain, it’s finally beginning to feel like such an inquiry isn’t tied to some attempt to soil one’s character, and subsequently, damage their career. Given that Jamal Lyons is such a groundbreaking character, there is a natural curiosity to find out how close to home the role may or may not be for the actor at the helm of it.
Besides, all celebrities are pressed about their personal lives and with marriage equality making so much advancement, it won’t be long before gay and lesbian actors are unjustly shamed for not having a spouse or kid the way Jennifer Aniston is.
Such prying can be a distraction, so perhaps that’s why Jussie is reluctant to open the door for that sort of coverage. Or maybe it’s for some other reason. Whatever his reasons are, he has every right to have them. Even so, while the optics were all there – him thanking Ellen for her representation of the LGBT community and her very gently nodding and supporting him as he shared his thoughts – what was actually said is being misrepresented.
His mama and God may know, but Ellen and the rest of us essentially got a wink and a nod to the elephant in the room.
My aim is to not play the role of sourpuss nor is it to take away from his moment. However, “coming out” is a very specific thing that shouldn’t be lumped into any sort of gray area. Coming out is: I am _____. It is still very powerful to hear the actual words. Smollett answered in a way that was best for him, but for those of us who have actually come out, we understand there’s a bit more to those two words than many of these headlines and stories have suggested.