It may be hard to believe, but just two weeks ago, “American Idol” runner-up Adam Lambert was attacked for not being gay enough. The pop singer, whose controversial performance at the American Music Awards featured him locking lips with a male keyboardist and receiving simulated oral sex from a male dancer, appears on the cover of this month’s Out, one of the most popular gay magazines in the country. Its editors had tried to snag Mr. Lambert before “American Idol”was even halfway through its last season, but his publicists had refused, fearful of what effect his exposure as a gay man might have on winning the competition. When they finally relented and agreed to have him photographed for the annual Out 100 issue (featuring the 100 most important and provocative gay figures and supporters of gay rights) it was with the stipulation that he appear alongside several other people (one of whom, fellow singer Cyndi Lauper, is a straight woman) and that he not look “too gay.”
In a perturbed open letter to Mr. Lambert, Out editor Aaron Hicklin observed that it is easier to get straight celebrities to appear on the cover of his magazine (as doing so “gives them cred”) than gay ones, many of whom are either closeted or do not wish to draw attention to their homosexuality. “Getting gay stars like yourself is another matter,” Mr. Hicklin told Mr. Lambert. “Much easier to stick you in Details, where your homosexuality can be neutralized by having you awkwardly grabbing a woman’s breast and saying, ‘Women are pretty.’ ”
Though Mr. Lambert’s gayness was a mystery only to the sort of person who assumed Liberace was really serious about Mae West, he waited until the season was over to publicly acknowledge it in an interview with Rolling Stone. So it must have come as a surprise to his gay critics when Mr. Lambert delivered his over-the-top performance at the AMAs, pseudo-fellatio and all, which earned ABC about 1,500 complaints. (Perhaps unintentionally, Mr. Lambert’s antics have successfully diverted critical attention from his abysmal new single, “For Your Entertainment,” which he performed in the style of a shrieking banshee.) Now, rather than criticize Mr. Lambert for being demure about his sexuality, many gays are attacking his attackers.
A predictable claim in the ensuing controversy is that Mr. Lambert, as a gay man, faces a “double standard” that does not apply to either female or straight artists. Mr. Lambert himself has expressed astonishment at the response to his risque dancing. “If it had been a female pop performer doing the moves that were on the stage, I don’t think there would be nearly as much of an outrage,” Mr. Lambert said on CBS’ “The Early Show,” citing the lack of outcry over Janet Jackson grabbing the crotch of a male dancer as an example.
To draw such distinctions is indicative of just how low the culture has fallen, but there’s a qualitative difference between clutching a dancer’s crotch and shoving his (or her) head into yours. Because Mr. Lambert chose Miss Jackson as a foil, a more accurate comparison to his own performance would have been the “wardrobe malfunction” she experienced at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, for which CBS was fined more than half a million dollars.
What’s most unfortunate about this whole episode, however, is that Mr. Lambert’s behavior has worked to confirm the negative stereotypes of predation, promiscuity and countercultural agitation that many of his straight, Middle American fans hold about gay men. Most people aren’t used to seeing such bare displays of homosexuality, and many lazily conflate even innocent expressions of same-sex desire with crudeness in a way that they don’t for heterosexual displays of sensuality. Mr. Lambert cannot be blamed for these widespread and exaggerated impressions, but he can hardly claim to be surprised about the controversy his behavior has caused.