Adam Lambert and double standards

December 1, 2009

IF YOU missed the recent American Music Awards, it would be worth it to check out the performance of American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert, which has caused a media frenzy over his sexually explicit performance.

Lambert's "shocking" performance included full mouth-on-mouth action with his male keyboardist, sadomasochist themes and a simulation of oral sex with a male dancer (which was edited out of the West Coast broadcast).

Groups like the Parent's Television Council and the Liberty Council have made formal complaints to Federal Communications Commission (FCC), claiming that "ABC should have to pay a hefty penalty to the FCC for assaulting its viewers with a debased performance by Adam Lambert." Consequently, ABC's Good Morning America cancelled Lambert's scheduled performance for fear of viewer complaints.

While this kind of response is ridiculous, reactionary and clearly homophobic, more shocking is the kind of response Adam Lambert has had from the so-called left, including equal-marriage supporters. Huffington Post blogger and equal-marriage supporter Jennifer Vanasco chastised Lambert in her piece "How Adam Lambert is hurting gay marriage." In her rant, Vanasco essentially blames Adam Lambert's overt sexuality for the right-wing backlash:

And what is the mainstream most worried about, Adam Lambert? Why are they afraid of our partnerships, our service to our country, our working lives, our families? They are worried because they think "gay life" is exactly what you portrayed on the American Music Awards: focused on the kind of sex that turns people into animals (almost literally, in this case, with crawling dancers leading you on leashes), geared toward enticing children (ABC is a network owned by Disney, for heaven's sake), degrading, rapacious, empty.

This is why mainstream America votes against gays, Adam Lambert. Not because of people who have families and jobs and bills and weddings. Because of people like you, who use sexuality thoughtlessly in order to advance your own agenda, instead of thinking about the very real consequences your actions will have on others' civil rights.

But the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement isn't fighting for people to be "respectably gay." Rather, it is fighting to have full equality under the law and in society.

The ways in which people choose to express their sexuality (whether it is how they dress, how they enjoy sex or how they perform on stage) should be their prerogative. And I believe that most people in the LGBT movement, like myself, want to see a world where sexuality can be expressed in all kinds of ways, without ridicule, harassment, shame and discrimination.

If Vanasco's criticism weren't enough, Lambert has been subject to criticism from Out magazine, of all places. Out Editor-in-Chief Aaron Hicklin, in an open letter, criticized Lambert's Details magazine photoshoot (depicting him holding a woman's breast, instead of a male body part) as well as the fact that his interview in Details had "No mention of your [Lambert's] gay fans, which is kind of disappointing, don't you think, given what your success represents."

In a society where homophobia is still rampant and where coming out can cost your career or your life, the fact that a self-proclaimed gay magazine like Out is accusing Adam Lambert of not being "gay enough" is too much to swallow.

THIS ATTACK on Lambert also tails the misguided idea that all of our pop stars must be the moral leaders of our movements and our children. So when Adam Lambert defensively says, "I'm not trying to lead the fucking way for the civil rights movement that we're in right now," he is being honest. Leaders of social movements aren't chosen because they happen to be in the spotlight--they are born and develop out of real struggle.

Adam Lambert is surely a role model for many gay teens who love his music and are attracted to the fact that he won't conform to societal ideas of what a "gay lifestyle" is. Part of the irony of the fact that Good Morning America cancelled his performance is that it is exactly performances like his which nab the biggest audiences for music awards shows. The music, entertainment and media industries makes billions off of the sexual objectification of teenage girls (think Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, etc.) and blatant misogyny. To then turn around and call Adam Lambert's fully clothed performance "controversial" is hypocritical at best.

In response to the so-called "controversy" his performance caused, Lambert has called out this double standard, saying, "Women performers have been encouraged to push the envelope sexually for the past 20 years, and all of the sudden a male does it, and we can't show that on TV. To me, that's a form of discrimination." He added:

I don't feel I owe anyone an apology for anything. I performed, it was late-night TV, I did something that female performers have been doing for years, no different. It's just the fact that I'm me, and it's a little different for people. It's really not that big of a deal. I'm not a babysitter, I'm a performer. I'm sexual person, and maybe people didn't see that on American Idol. But now they do.

Lambert is, after all, a rock star. Overt sexuality comes with the genre. But the fact that he is openly gay, is breaking the norm. This kind of candor and self-confidence is refreshing in a rock star and says something about the times: that people are more confident about standing up for themselves when it comes to the discrimination that LGBT people are subject to on a daily basis.

This has everything to do with the emergence of an LGBT movement that is demanding full equality, without apology.
Jessica Hansen-Weaver, San Francisco

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