Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Claymates Face the Music

Pop idol Clay Aiken or Indigo Girl Amy Ray? You be the judge.

Now that Clay Aiken has officially come out of the closet, calling the move "the first decision I made as a father," his most outspoken fans, the oft-mocked Claymates, are slowly inching from bargaining to acceptance. I've been observing their reactions from afar since last night, when the ban on the People cover story discussion was lifted at The Clayboard and members started consoling each other and weighing in on the announcement.

Claymates have always fascinated me. Their willful ignorance on the matter of Aiken's sexuality sometimes manifested itself in the darnedest ways, like the vitriolic, homophobic e-mail campaigns they'd launch when bloggers accused Clay of being closeted. Anyone who maintained the singer was gay was labeled a "basher" or a "hater," presumably because a significant number of vocal Claymates (many of whom are devoutly religious) could think of nothing worse than being called gay. How could you see the Claymates in action and not be amused by their inability to recognize their own homophobia, particularly as they declared their undying love and devotion to a man who could very well be the love child of Barry Manilow and Jim Nabors?

As it turns out, the Claymates aren't as crazy as I thought. They're still delightfully eccentric, employing frequent use of group hug emoticons (appropriately, the image is somewhat rainbow colored) to deal with Clay's coming out, but overall they seem to be coping just fine. The overwhelming sentiment on the Clayboard has been "I came for the voice and stayed for the man," and a few fans admitted they saw the writing on the wall when the baby arrangement was announced months ago. One fanatic who has long believed Clay to be gay even went to a "gay & lesbian ministry workshop at a religious education conference" so she would "understand & love him better." (Her long and very supportive post is one of the highlights of this thread.)

There are also fans who feel betrayed on moral grounds. Think of all the teasing they've endured over the last five years as they've defended Clay's non-existent heterosexuality to every friend, relative and coworker who'd listen. So far, few of these "I feel so ... used!" people have stopped to consider that they might have been the very reason Clay felt it necessary to stay in the closet, but once the dust settles and their Claymate hearts have mended, they might open their eyes a bit. The percentage of fans who've been openly bigoted seems relatively small, and they're generally smacked down by a chorus of detractors within minutes.

Below, a bonanza of quotes culled from the massive "Upcoming People Magazine Cover and Article" thread on the Clayboard. As for Aiken's announcement itself, I applaud him for finally coming out. I've criticized him in the past, both out of a general disdain for closet cases and a particular intolerance for closeted celebrities who pander to a homophobic fan base, but I respect what he said when asked why he's coming out now: "I cannot raise a child to lie or to hide things. I wasn't raised that way, and I'm not going to raise a child to do that." There will be people who say he used his child as a prop, but it's virtually impossible for a public figure to come out without someone somewhere finding a reason to complain about it. I like that he's pictured with his son, and I hope this becomes an important magazine cover, maybe the sequel to Ellen on TIME, that paves the way for other gay celebrities to come out and raise their children honestly.

Fan reaction:
"please tell me I'm not the only one who is shocked beyond belief! I feel numb I'm so upset. This can't be real!! How can you guys say this won't change anything? This changes EVERYTHING. I don't even know what to think right now."
"It is 2.57am here, just cant sleep. I have cried, tossed and turned, but have had a feeling about this for a long time, being Christian does make it harder, but I have decided not to judge anyone ever again, and it is Clay that has taught me this, and unconditional love, and I do not even know him. He still has the voice that I adore, and he is the bravest classiest, and the least vulgar person I have ever seen."
"Looks like I've got the hots for a gay man. I'm not going anywhere - I fell for Clay because of his voice and his heart - those are still the same."

"Can't imagine how hard this has been for him. I really admire the courage this takes. It makes no difference to me and hope he sleeps well tonight."
"I've cried a river of tears and truthfully do not know where I stand right now. I am envious of those who can take this news and continue to state their unconditional love and support for Clay. Right now all I can think of is that he is a fantastic entertainer but I took him at his word and it appears that his word isn't what I thought it was."
"I just feel rather silly now having spent the last 5 years drooling over and being fan girly for a singer I thought was straight and now finding out he is gay. It does change my perception of who he is and how I see him. We always called him our boyfriend and that won't be happening anymore. I just am sad, disappointed, and because he is not what I thought he was in terms of his sexuality and how he portrayed himself. He still is a great singer and humanitarian but my "crush" on him is over and that hurts."

"I don't feel at all that I was lied to. If there was a question about how to answer the rumors, I believe that he did as he was directed by his producers and RCA. Then, perhaps he wasn't absolutely sure of his own preference at the time, since he hadn't been around a lot, and later realized his true feelings.. Maybe he has met somone, who knows? It's his business."
"I'm slightly shocked at some of the comments and emotion coming from some of Clays fans tonight. I used to always think of this fan base as an open-minded quagmire of women who loved a man for his voice, talent and his unending ability to make people just feel good. Clay coming out and saying he is gay does not change him or all that he stands for, it just adds a little bit more to the man he is."

"I don't quite know what to say. It hasn't fully sunken in yet. My dad was the first person to break the news to me when I came home from an errand this evening. As soon as the news reached my ears, the blood drained from my face and a literal rush of shock surged through my body. My face fell. For a few milliseconds I felt...nothing. Not long after that, I shut myself up in my room and wept silently, my heart breaking. This has all happened during a rough time in my life so that makes it all the more painful for me. I just...I don't know what to do. I'll probably never hear the end of it from my dad. Part of me still thinks this is all a dream, yet the whole of me knows it isn't. I will be withdrawing any financial support of him, as my beliefs do not condone his lifestyle. However, I will continue to pray for him and await further details on the situation."

"I cannot continue to support him financially now that I know he has chosen this lifestyle"

"That just means that when I buy my ticket I'll be one seat closer to the stage."

"IF homosexuality is not a choice, to have gay sex still IS a choice. So I would say that a person can be gay, that is, be attracted to other men, and still choose not to have sex. If Clay does say in his interviews that he is gay, I hope and pray he chooses that route -- abstinence. But its his decision, of course. "

"I feel sad that he may lose some fans because he came out, but perhaps he'll gain new fans because of his coming out."

"I do not have any problem with anyone being Gay. I have in my library CDs of Elton John, K.D. Lang (who sings some of the most beautiful love songs), Melissa Etheridge and I LOVED GEORGE MICHAEL in the 80s. What hurts so bad is that CLAY LIED. For 5 yrs now he's been lying"

"He is still the same person he always was. Had he not told us, we would have noticed no change. He's still Clay, people, no matter who he decides to give his heart to. I know that when I love somebody, even if I don't really -know- them, I just want them to be happy. I just want Clay to be happy. I think now he finally can be, and that is a blessing. Love is the greatest thing that God has given us. Who are we to deny somebody that?"

"I think many will realize tomorrow that he is saying he is Happy = Gay. Happy about his new son, Parker. Not that he likes men. "

"Goodbye, Clay. I truly wish you and Parker all the best."
Here's one of the thread's"Oy, homophobes" epic bitchslaps:
"Are YOU kidding ME?!?! One day, ONE DAY... that's all it has taken you to change your mind from thinking Clay Aiken was the epitome of kindness, compassion, intelligence, humour and warmth... into thinking that he should be SHAMED for who he is and for bringing a child into the world. Talk about judgemental! I'm sorry, I know that everyone handles this sort of news differently, but how can some of you think this way? If you don't condone homosexuality, fine, that is your belief. But how you can possibly say that he is dysfunctional?? Or EVER believe that homosexuality is a choice? Something he chose out of gay peer pressure and not being able to find "the right girl"?

"Give me a break. Have a little more respect for the man who for FIVE YEARS you and others have found to be a great humanitarian. And if you think it's hard for you to come to terms with this, just imagine the strength of character he must have to be able to come to terms with this, and still remain an upbeat, positive role model and lovely person. I'm not disappointed in Clay Aiken. I'm disappointed in people who make such unfair judgements on him and his family. And before anyone else gives out about him being a liar, allow him the benefit to explain. And think about how hard it would be for YOU to come to terms with something so life changing - and in the public eye no less. It's not like falling down a hill in front of a hundred people, or farting in front of your boyfriend on the first date... it's telling the WORLD that you are gay. That's not an easy decision for anyone to be able to make. /rant"
And my personal favorite, a high school student putting things in perspective:
"Y'know, it's funny, for years I thought that, despite the fact that %50 of my male friends are gay, and are like my best friends -ever-, that I would be extremely upset if he ever revealed he was. Despite my better judgement, I believed Clay when he told us other wise, and defended, much to my own mockery, him and his sexuality for five years. And whenever indications would come up, I would find myself getting upset.

"I'm seventeen now. I don't know weather or not it's because I've grown as a person, or because I made a bigger deal of something in my head than it actually was, but I'm completely and totally fine with this. Happy, even, because now I know that, once the storm blows over, he will be happier than ever in his new life, and can finally be with somebody without worrying if tabloids would unwillingly out him to the public, family, and friends.

"And, really, I don't think that the response will be that bad. Sure, there will be some close minded people, people who think that a gay man shouldn't raise a child, but the majority of people who have made snarky comments about Clay's sexuality, made fun of him, etc, the same people I defended him against.. will either not care, or support him now. Because what they have always said is "I don't care if he's gay. I really don't. I just wish he'd admit it." And just as the storm blew over with Lance Bass, the storm with Clay will, too, in time, fade away, and he can just be who he is both privately and in the public eye.

"... Now with all of that being said... Is it weird that I want to go boyfriend shopping for him now?"

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