NOW THREE YEARS OLD, Douglas Carter Beane’s Tony-winning comedy The Little Dog Laughed seems more germane than ever. It’s the story of Diane, a Machiavellian Hollywood agent, and her client, Mitchell, who suffers from what she calls a “slight recurring case of homosexuality,” which Diane struggles to cure through secrets and lies. Seeing the play staged by a local community theatre, and hearing the predominately heterosexual (and humorless) audience squirm in their seats, I was struck by Diane’s narration of Mitchell’s phony acceptance speech: after he singles her out as his girlfriend, she describes what ensues as “the silence, the vacuum of doubt, the utter disbelief that pansy actually went there.”
A trio of high-profile closet cases, meanwhile, “went there” this past spring. Singer Ricky Martin announced on his website in March that he’s gay and “blessed to be who I am.” That same month, Emmy-winning actor Sean Hayes confirmed what fans of Will & Grace had long suspected. And soon thereafter Chely Wright came out as country music’s first openly lesbian artist. Cozying up to Oprah Winfrey in May, Wright described a lifetime in the closet as “labor-intensive,” adding: “Now I feel like I’m about two weeks old.”
Newcomer Adam Lambert, meanwhile, needn’t worry that the vacuum of doubt will sap his career of any strength. At 27, he raked in nearly 100 million votes as the runner-up on the eighth season of American Idol, and this was after photos of Lambert kissing an ex-boyfriend came to light. He acknowledged the pictures as authentic at the time, but waited until after the show’s finale to confirm the rumors. “I didn’t want to acknowledge it as a mistake or something I was ashamed of—I’m not,” the singer later told Out magazine (Dec. 2009). “It’s part of who I am, but because our nation is the way it is, it’s an announcement.” Controversy soon followed at the American Music Awards when Lambert kissed his male keyboardist during a performance of his debut single, “For Your Entertainment.” Viewers swamped ABC’s phone lines with complaints, leading the network to cancel three of Lambert’s scheduled live appearances and activist Michelangelo Signorile, in the pages of The Advocate, to denounce both ABC and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation as feebly out of touch.
Still, the rebellious runner-up doesn’t see himself as anything less than a winner. “I’m a heat seeker and I’m full of desire,” he boasts in “Sure Fire Winners.” “I was born with glitter on my face/ My baby clothes were made of leather and lace.” Since Lambert’s “announcement,” leather pants and black nail polish have seldom been out of reach, earning him the sobriquet “Glambert.” He attributes his own love of glam-rock to David Bowie and the hair bands of the 1980’s. Posing for People magazine as one of the World’s Most Beautiful, he and a cockatiel showed off their matching mohawks. But given America’s uneasy embrace of this idol, Lambert’s second single, a cri de coeur called “Whataya Want From Me,” was extraordinarily well-timed. It also works as a liberationist anthem aimed at its queer listeners: “There’s nothing wrong with you/ It’s me/ I’m a freak, but thanks for loving me.”
While Lambert owes something of his glam getup to Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, that voice of his—its range and timbre—is a wonder in its own right. Lambert is as in control of his instrument on “Soaked,” with its operatic echoes of Freddie Mercury, as he is on “A Loaded Smile,” a more stripped-down affair that should serve as a template for his second album when so much here feels fussy and over-produced. Still no one doubts that Glambert is the raw material of America’s first out gay rock star, and he’s only just begun. Beginnings, as Diane remarks in The Little Dog Laughed, “are always beautiful … the unmistakable moment when the outcast is invited indoors.”
Colin Carman, PhD, teaches English literature at Colorado Mountain College and manages a website of literary criticism at colincarman.net.