My involvement in fashion often eclipses my involvement with athletics. Everyday I trade in the pinstriped Ralph Lauren double blazer and slim cat-eye sunglasses for a maroon training Speedo and goggles (not that I wear the pinstriped blazer everyday). But I’ve been a competitive swimmer since I was twelve and have continued the sport to the collegiate Division 1 level. My prolonged interest in athletics has ultimately been translated into my interest in the Olympic Games.
The Olympic Games create historical moments. In the recent Winter Olympic Games that took place in PyeongChang, South Korea, one “historical” moment that received plenty of media coverage was made by Team USA’s freestyle skier, Gus Kenworthy. This moment did not entail a won medal or groundbreaking performance, but a televised kiss of Gus and his boyfriend. Kenworthy’s claim to fame and the media attention on a shared kiss by two gay men does not normalize homosexuality and is rather another example of how being a white, decent-looking, heteronormative man equals privilege.
The Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea was incredibly unique. The United States’ athletes did not only medal, but made history. Mirai Nagasu was crowned as being the first American female figure skater to land a triple axel in the Olympic Games. Alex Shibutani and Maia Shibutani were noticed as being the first American sibling duo to share an olympic medal.
I am not at all discrediting Kenworthy’s hard work as an athlete and shaming him only because he came up short from getting a medal. I, again, understand the time and effort that goes into being an athlete. But it makes me uncomfortable to see how much more attention Kenworthy is getting over medaling Olympians because of his sexuality, 'masculine' demeanor, and looks.
For many years, the LGBTQ+ community has fought aggressively for social acceptance. I remember watching the news as gay marriage was legalized and feeling incredibly emotional. I remember moving to New York City for college and going to my first pride parade and feeling incredibly welcomed. I’ve had my share, just like any other LGBTQ+ member, of torment and insecurity and I understand the community’s struggle with acceptance thoroughly.
However, the media constantly highlighting when someone is or comes out as gay, lesbian, etc. is more detrimental than helpful. Kenworthy won no medals at the games and it’s hard to argue against the fact that his media attention is solely based off of his sexual orientation. Take a step back: being a heteronormative, straight, white male is easily the most privileged demographic in society. But if you think about it, there were plenty of white, straight, heteronormative males that took part in the 2018 Winter Olympics that have attained a far less amount of media attention than Kenworthy has. Kenworthy was only able to capitalize on the media coverage because of his openly gay status, and without this label, Kenworthy would sit at the same lower media level of his other teammates.
Focusing on one’s sexuality does not “normalize” anything, but contributes to distinguishing gays from everyone else. It forces another label onto a group of people which separates them from a “normal” society. There are complaints of why people within the LGBTQ+ community still have to “come out” to the world, but the media highlighting one’s sexuality only continues the act of “coming out”. Being gay should not be news and would not be news if it was authentically seen as normal. In Kenworthy’s case, glorifying public figures primarily for their sexuality and not their accomplishments (or lack thereof) sends a subconscious message through society that being gay is still synonymous with being different.
Some may argue that Kenworthy’s sexuality is groundbreaking because he’s also an Olympic athlete, taking away from the societal assumption that one cannot be gay and athletic. However, the glamourous medal-earning figure skater, Adam Rippon, does the job adequately. Also, what about Australian swimmer, Ian Thorpe? Thorpe won the most medals by an any Australian in an Olympic game and later came out as gay and has yet to receive his Out Magazine cover spread.
Not only does the attention on Gus Kenworthy represent the detrimental implications of the media highlighting one’s sexuality, but also exemplifies how being white and heteronormative has its advantages in the gay community. The gay community, because of its long history of oppression in society, is still obsessed with this standard of being “attractive”. People became Kenworthy die-hard fans only because of his looks and "masculine" personality which creates a superficial following. To people outside of the LGBTQ+ community, Kenworthy is deemed “valuable” because he abides by a heteronormative standard. Kenworthy has the advantage in both worlds which adds on to how easily he was able to capitalize on his sexuality without having to win a medal at the Olympic Games.
Athletes train extremely hard to attend the Olympic Games and to compete well. Competitors compete at their best to bring honor as an Olympic Athlete. Kenworthy becoming famous without winning a medal at the Olympic Games but being gay arguably dismisses the work of other athletes as they may not have received the same amount of media attention.
As a gay man, it is important to me that my sexuality never defines who I am as a person. Growing up and hearing, “Oh, yeah, Isiah, the gay guy” was never something that I wanted to follow me through the rest of my life because it made me feel limited. If the LGBTQ+ community truly wants to move in the direction of equality within society, then it must stop feeding into the media’s narrative that coming out as “gay” is groundbreaking news. The LGBTQ+ community must understand the implications of only supporting and glamorizing a certain standard of what is seen as “acceptable”.
Until then, the dry headlines reading “50 celebrities that came out as gay this year” will continue on and the LGBTQ+ community will remain stagnant in efforts to be normalized within society.
Article by: Isiah S Magsino, EIC of SOUL