When a contract publicist approached the Star Observer earlier this year to discuss a client, Darren Hayes, the editorial team debated whether it was worth giving him another opportunity to avoid questions about his sexuality.
Dancing around the subject of his sexuality had become his schtick, and it was getting boring to write and boring to read. The Star‘s staff knew he was gay. We knew about his boyfriend, and we’d heard about his wedding.
But as the large gay turnouts at his concerts later proved, Hayes remained an intriguing figure to the Star‘s readers. Despite his reticence about his personal life, through the strength of his music and the strength of his flamboyance, he had become a person of great interest to the gay community.
With this in mind, an editorial decision was made. One of our writers would interview him, on the condition this question was asked, in these words: Are you gay?
The Star is not in the outing business. In our long history, we have followed a basic, unwritten rule. If someone is quietly gay and we know it -“ and there are plenty of examples I could give of this, but won’t -“ we don’t report it.
We believe people have a right to keep quiet about their sexuality, even people who are doing the publicity circuit; even people actively courting the gay market.
But when we interview someone who we know is gay, we give him or her a chance to come out.
And so it was with Hayes. He was a fun, casual and happy interview subject, and his response to that question was interesting -“ as well as saying he’d never been asked that question directly before, he came within a whisper of a full, frank admission.
When was the last time you saw me on the red carpet with a fake girlfriend? he asked. Some people do that, and I have always chosen to take a higher road than that as I want to be an artist and an expressive person.
He added, There are so many levels of coming out, and where and how and who you choose to reveal all that kind of information to, I think, is such a personal thing.
It was clear he was a man on the verge.
His frankness was compelling enough to get him on the Star‘s cover. The original headline read Darren, are you gay? with a caption stating Hayes had finally answered the one question no-one had dared or bothered to ask before.
This was downgraded to the safer Straight Answers. The interview included everything he said about the subject of his sexuality.
It received a mixed response. Regular SSO readers generally applauded his frank and honest answers. But there was no shortage of fury.
Not only from his straight fans, who had moved on from arguing he wasn’t gay (and urging us to stop pretending he was), to arguing we should have left him alone, and written a story more focused on his music.
We also copped it from Christine Sams at the Sun Herald‘s S section, who wrote an article called Hayes tells it straight, suggesting it was somewhat ironic that the Star was putting the pressure on Hayes to reveal himself as some sort of community icon.
The mainstream press, including S, asked those questions about the Savage Garden frontman years ago -“ then promptly moved on, Sams wrote.
Surely most music listeners couldn’t care less whether Hayes is straight, gay or somewhere in between. Either way, his pop music is world famous and he’s an insightful and intelligent artist. That’s all we need to know.
Hayes officially came out soon after his recent Australian shows. In a short statement on his official website, he spoke of his wedding, and his love for his husband, and his support for the UK’s civil union scheme.
This story was picked up by news outlets around the world and dealt with fairly.
Still, the accusation that the Star Observer had obsessed over his love life continued. Kathy McCabe wrote in The Daily Telegraph that both straight and gay press had pestered -“ and I mean pestered Hayes about his sexuality for years.
She wrote when he told me almost a year ago that he was madly in love and had found his soul mate, I congratulated him, wished him the best of luck and moved on to the next question about the Savage Garden best-of compilation that was about to be released.
McCabe added she didn’t press the issue because of privacy, and because she didn’t think Hayes’s artistic contribution should be examined through the prism of his sexuality.
But this response raises other questions. Would she have considered it pressing the issue if her interview subject was straight? If Delta Goodrem had said she was madly in love and had found her soul mate, would McCabe have thought it too irrelevant to ask who it was?
After all, Australia’s mainstream press obsesses about celebrity love lives every single day.
And the idea that the gay community looks to make everyone who comes out a gay role model is so tired. Those musicians who have come out -“ like George Michael, Boy George, kd lang, Melissa Etheridge -“ are hardly suffering the burden of community expectation.
Pressure on gay celebrities is at an all-time low. Sure, George Michael might have become tabloid fodder but it could be argued he’s brought that on himself.
Such is the current acceptance of openly gay celebrities that some are bypassing the closet altogether. And they’re not running out of support.
The audience for the Scissor Sisters show at Splendour in the Grass was mostly heterosexual, at least on first glance. And it was going off. The DJ’s choice of warm-up music (Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy) might have gone over some heads, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm.
Those straight fans who accused us of prurience and obsession with Hayes’s sexuality generally included a note about loving him regardless, so it’s up to them to follow through and keep buying his albums.
For the record, the Star staff wishes him and his husband all the best for their future together.