Aiken’s Coming Out Matters

Clay Aiken’s coming out really doesn’t come as much of a surprise. We’ve all known for many years that the crooner goes for the guys. Nor is Aiken’s lavender revelation the most revolutionary. Scores of celebs have come out before him – Ellen DeGeneres, George Michael, Lance Bass and Martina Navratilova, a tennis player who came out far before it was fashionable – or advisable.

None of these outings were that surprising, but they have all slowly changed gay acceptance of Hollywood and, in fact, the world. Aiken’s outing differs, however, in two notable, intrinsically entwined ways. And the aftershocks could help change the State of gay play.

First, as a Southern Baptist, Aiken’s long been a friend of the Jesus lovers. The singer even performed a few Christian tracks while on tour, and recorded a Christmas album. He wasn’t proselytizing, but his right-of-center background helped build Aiken’s fan base in middle America. In 2004 and 2005, at the height of his post-American Idol fame, Christian Music Planet ran two stories on Aiken. As for Aiken’s own public beliefs, just consider the opening flap of his inspirational memoir, Learning To Sing, which reads:

My mother prophesied years ago that my voice would take me places. She was certain there was a reason I was able to sing. I am still discovering what that reason is, what it is that God wants to have happen.

Though he may have lost some hardcore Christians following gay sex allegations in 2006, Aiken still found fans throughout the nation’s heartland. How else does one account for the millions of naive “Claymates” who voraciously defended charges of Gayken?

Yes, some of those Claymates still refuse to believe Aiken’s words – one even decried it a “conspiracy,” whatever that means – a quick look at fan site Clay Board shows that the majority of Aiken’s fans support their leader. One follower writes, “I’m really proud of him for having the courage to do this. It can’t have been an easy decision.” Another offers this God-loving good will: “May God always be with you and may you forever and always feel the never ending love of your fans and their unending prayers and support for you, Jaymes & Parker!” Parker, of course, is Aiken’s new son, whom he had with the aforementioned Jaymes, his platonic lady friend. And it’s that son who makes Aiken’s outing even more groundbreaking.

It’s not unusual for gay celebrities to have children – Melissa Etheridge had a very public pregnancy, a tabloid bonanza fueled in part by the fact that a. she’s a lesbian and b. the singer refused to name the child’s father. [It would later be revealed that the legendary David Crosby donated his seed.] Another public lesbian, Rosie O’Donnell, makes no secret of her domestic ways – she and wife Kelli Carpenter have four children. They also appear regularly on the entertainer’s eponymous family cruises. B.D. Wong, a gay actor, also has children, although he’s not nearly as well known. Regardless, same-sex partners have children has become old hat in media land – and, we hope, among the general population.

Aiken’s story adds a new angle to the discussion because his outing is intrinsically tied to his son’s birth. Little Parker’s even featured on the People cover, on which Aiken declares: “I cannot raise a child to lie or to hide things.” The implication, then, is that Aiken had the baby because he wanted it. He is, like millions of others, a man looking to raise a child. And now he’s a gay man looking to raise a child – a relatively radical concept for many Americans.

The reproductive context in which Aiken has come out will no doubt resonate with those Americans still hesitant to embrace the homos, the people who fight for “family rights.” Aiken’s a talented – yes, he’s talented – young gay man who has declared his equality, however rhetorically. This Christian gay father’s coming out may change the way people look at queer celebrities – and, in fact, their fellow Americans.

When John McCain invited Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to join his ticket this year, the Republican presidential candidate successfully reignited the culture wars. Palin’s family life and fundamentalist Christianity turned the election on its head and brought the conservative masses back into the spotlight. Those masses, we imagine, are the same people in Clay Aiken’s fan base.

If the people end up accepting his gay ways – and his queer family – Aiken could in some small way counter Palin and her peers’ efforts to exploit gay fears. Now, he probably won’t decide the election, but Aiken’s a well-known with common familial goals – and seeing oneself in the “other” can be quite persuasive. And a little persuasion goes a long way.