(Why) Does It Matter?: Raven Symoné’s Quiet Coming Out

raven

As a close-enough-to 80’s baby I knew Raven Symoné  as adorable Olivia on The Cosby Show.  She was like the new Rudy, a yellow skinned toddler beauty to share banter and cute humor with Cliff once his fictional offspring were too old to pull it off.  By the time Symoné emerged the star of her own show on Disney Channel, I was too old to pay attention and too distracted to be a fan.  Truth be told Raven Symoné has not been on my radar for years, despite her occasional appearance in media for critiques on everything from her weight (gain & loss) to her eye brows.

It is no surprise, then, that when asked if I heard the news about Raven Symoné I had absolutely no context or clue what the news was.

“What news?”

“She’s gay.”

The information was shared matter-of-factly and I responded in kind.

“O,” I stated genuinely surprised but indifferent, “I hadn’t heard.”

It didn’t occur to me all at once that it felt particularly peculiar that I hadn’t heard.  But how/why would I?  Like I said I hadn’t thought about Raven Symoné in a month of Sundays, but for some reason I felt like if she were a lesbian I would/should have heard.  When famous black folk come out people talk–but my newsfeed had been silent about this, my mama (who watches the news nightly) hadn’t told me, my friends  hadn’t asked me about it, and my students (from diversity classes) hadn’t sent me links to it.

I thought, for a moment, that perhaps it was just a rumor, like when it was going around that Sinbad died, Michelle Obama was pregnant in the White House, Kimye  named the baby Kadence, and Beyoncé was expecting again.  Black celebrity news spreads faster than an earthquake, especially when it’s not true.  But this was a slow story, which made me think it was a true story.

A quick google search confirmed the information.  I smiled and felt almost relieved that it was true.   Good for her, I thought.  But why hadn’t I heard?

She came out quietly, subtly, and without fanfare.  She didn’t call a press conference, book a talk show appearance, or make some apologetic or grand gesture or announcement.  In a public tweet in response to same sex marriage legislation she wrote,  “I can finally get married! Yay government! So proud of you.”

*

In a skype conversation with a former student we discussed the politics of coming out and whether or not we should celebrate or question the non-issue of Symoné’s disclosure.  On one hand I think it is heartening that someone who is somewhat iconic in the black community can self-identify as nonheterosexual and it not be a big deal.  On the other hand I wonder if there are not everyday blackgirls who are questioning or struggling with coming to terms with who they are that might not be empowered by the revelation and encouraged by the publicity.

And then I wonder if the quiet around it is really about privacy… is it really about newsworthiness?  Or is it the silencing of a black woman’s voice?  Is it about community accountability, shame and wishing she would have kept that secret in the closet?  Is it about denying her the space or room to tell her story (from a PR perspective) or not really wanting to hear it (as fans/community)?  If she were white, or a man, would it be a big/ger story?  Should it be?  Or is it (as I wish it was) simply a non-issue and none of our damn business?  Further is it fair to put the burden or responsibility of representing black lesbianism on one woman, who is only one of precious few ‘out’ black actresses (can you name an openly gay black actress in Hollywood–other than Wanda Sykes)?

I want to think that it doesn’t matter (how or if she chose to disclose her identity) but the truth of the matter is homophobia is as real as racism in the black community and we oftentimes intentionally keep quiet about the nonheterosexuality of our best and brightest.  That silence rings loud and creates a hostile and dangerous environment for folk who don’t fit the mythical norm to be their authentic and full selves.

In a perfect world, with all things equal, difference would be valued instead of evaluated.  Truth is when folk announce or identify themselves as themselves there should not be a parade.  It should not be newsworthy.   But we don’t live in a perfect world.  What we do live in is a heteronormative society that requires people to have to come out (or be labeled heterosexual).  We assume that folk are heterosexual unless and until they tell us otherwise.  This means, essentially, that sexuality always matters because people make assumptions and claims about who/what you are… and in order to quiet the assumptions you have to come out… and because assumptions of heterosexuality are so inherent and deeply ingrained folk have to keep coming out (ongoing process)…  I imagine it is exhausting and anti-climactic.

Still I am conflicted on how I feel about Symoné’s silence.  She has neither formally  or publicly confirmed or denied her sexual orientation which leaves room for speculation.  Some folk believe her tweet may not be about being a lesbian but rather an ally (who would not be willing to marry unless all people can legally marry).  Some folk read her silence as embarrassment, shame or regret.

Last year, in response to rumors about her sexuality and reported relationship with another woman Symoné reiterated her right to privacy, stating: “… that is my right as a human being whether straight or gay.  To tell or not to tell.  As long as I’m not harming anyone…my career is the only thing I would like to put on display, not my personal life.”

The fact remains that there are risks and consequences to being black, a woman, and at the mercy of public approval.  As an entertainer her livelihood is very much at the whim of an audience that (thanks to the culture of reality TV and TMZ) expects to have access to her thoughts, intentions and bedroom.

Two weeks out from the tweet read around the world and the streets are still not really talking.  Part of me (the part that appreciates privacy and agency) celebrates the ambiguity and quiet around the “announcement,” but part of me (the part that feels there is strength in numbers and witnessing and situating standpoints) is waiting for Raven to fill in the blanks.  But I am not sure she should have to.

What are your thoughts on Raven Symoné’s quiet announcement?

rboylorn

10 thoughts on “(Why) Does It Matter?: Raven Symoné’s Quiet Coming Out

  1. For me, it’s no longer a big deal when a celebrity comes out. I think the lack of a big uproar speaks to the progress that has been made. There’s still a lot of work to do on LGBT issues, ESPECIALLY trans* issues, but to me, the lack of a “big deal” being made means that announcements like this aren’t as newsworthy as they used to be.

  2. I get what you’re saying because when I heard the news (gotta love Twitter trends), I was proud of her but then as the days went by I started thinking more about it. Raven has never denied her sexuality but also has never outright said it (she still hasn’t). It gives me mixed feelings. Her sexuality is hers no doubt, but as a lesbian of color its always nice to see a little spot of black or brown in the white sea of LGBTQ media representation. However, I can’t necessarily fault her for keeping it “quiet”. I don’t run around waving a pride flag. I keep my sexuality close to the chest also which is sort of a defense mechanism. I feel vulnerable when I’m put into a situation where I have to talk about it. Is it shame? Maybe, I’ve never put a word to it. Scared to define it. When it comes the public’s reaction to Raven coming out, I think its a combination of her not being in the spotlight and the fact that this rumor has been going around so long most folks thought it was true already. If she came out during her Disney years that would be way different but she has kind of been chilling since her last movie. I think if Queen Latifah ever came out, people’s reaction would be the same. It would trend on twitter, couple of articles online then that would be that.

  3. I saw a little bit in my newsfeed when it happened, but it could be that she’s not currently relevant to black entertainment right now. Perhaps she’s bisexual or in a relationship with a woman and isn’t willing to carry that banner, as bisexuality in its many forms is still not well understood by many.

    • I agree: people who consider themselves (or people we may consider) as bi tend to get the side eye even within the LGBTQ community. It’s not about “being greedy” or “being confused” or “having the best of both worlds”. I don’t understood all the hateration, holleration in this danceree.

  4. Why must people who are lesbian, gay, transgendered, bi-sexual, queer “come out”! Why must we assume anything about one’s sexuality?! Why can’t people be who they are, without being obligated to tell anyone what goes on in the privacy of their homes or in the public arena of the dance floor? Isn’t it possible that our sexuality is much more fluid than we suppose? Isn’t it possible that we could love another person and not be pigeon-holed into one particular category? Isn’t it about time we grew up and matured beyond junior high fascinations with other people’s sex lives and sexuality?

  5. I remember seeing her tweet and saying out loud, “Awww! Good for her. You go, Lil Raven!”. As a woman in the life who struggled with my sexuality during adolescence, I can understand why seeing her name and likeness attached to LGBTQ headlines would be a sort of comfort or relief: you realize you’re not the only 1 after all.
    But as an adult who is secure with myself and with other things happening in my life besides being gay (and single), I can see why this may not be a big deal (at least right now) to Raven and/or others: You’re gay? Ok, good for you! But you know you still have to file your taxes or they’ll put you under the jail, right?
    I tried to imagine what it would be like for me to be considered a celebrity with everything I say, do and wear becoming the talk of the town everywhere I went. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not about that life. The little things we take for granted like walking to the store, parking your car or hanging out with your friends in the club become scrutinized for what you wear walking to the store, why you’re parking your own car instead of having a personal driver and who is the person you’re sitting so close to or dancing with in the club. I’ve already seen the headlines on blogs and online papers along with the pictures that claim she’s dating this or that woman, complete with the bios of these “special friends”. She was bothered by all the misinformation and, frankly, I would be, too. What good does it do for her and her family/friends/business associates to come out and then have everyone questioning the nature of the relationships of the people she’s been associated with for years?
    We want to and should be proud of the people who come out. Sometimes, we bash the people who are in the spotlight and don’t come out; referring to them as traitors of the cause when they didn’t ask to carry the flag for all of us in the first place.
    We should leave her be and not expect more from her. She contributed to our history in her own way and I accept it. The quiet ones always make the most noise and we heard her loud and clear.

  6. i write in solidarity of her silence. it is none of my business, and either which way it be someone outside of that will see it negatively, for me she’s still that lil spoil intelligent brat from the cosby show (behind the scenes), lmao. her private life is certainly hers….yet most importantly She is my Sistah and I support whatever choice she is making, as long as no one is hurt in any way along the way.

    *peace*

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