At some point, coming-out stories about faith-claiming celebrities, musicians, politicians — anyone in the public eye — will cease to be newsworthy.
Until then, we put up with the half-written attempts by news outlets and magazines to tell their stories. I say half-written because rarely do these pieces come close to a proper attempt at reconciling the subjects’ claims of sexual orientation with their faith backgrounds in any meaningful way. (For the record, that includes comment from someone representing the denomination with which the newly heralded LGBT identifies himself/herself.)
The latest example is Rolling Stone’s narrative on alternative rock group Neon Trees’ lead singer Tyler Glenn. Glenn, a lifelong member of the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, tells the magazine he is gay and has known since he was 6 that he was attracted to men. He also describes his first date with another man, indicating he will pursue that type of relationship in the future.
Glenn also says that he still considers himself a Mormon, although the church’s doctrinal position on homosexuality is clear: Sexual activity should only occur between a man and a woman who are married.
One might think that Rolling Stone would seek out a quote from a church representative, given the situation. Not in this story. No quote from anyone in the church, although we do hear from Glenn’s mother, also a Mormon, as well as others connected to the group — whose members all profess Mormon faith. And no word from Neon Trees fans, whom Glenn admits might be upset when they hear the news:
“I don’t know what the rumors are, but we’re not taught that ‘homos are going to hell’ on Sunday in church,” he says. “Mostly it’s just about Christ and his teachings.” Glenn lives about 15 minutes outside of town in a cookie-cutter three-bedroom rental, where he spends most of his time either cooking or watching TV. (He also doesn’t drive.) He has decorated the walls with eyeballs, skulls and a life-size cutout of a naked Morrissey (with a 45 record covering his arsenal).
Like Glenn, the other three members of Neon Trees were raised Mormon. And while the band has no overt religious affiliation, it credits the Church of Latter-day Saints’ strict ordinances against drinking and drugs — which the members have adopted as band rules — with helping its rise. The question is: Will Neon Trees’ hometown fans embrace songs like “Living in Another World,” off their upcoming album Pop Psychology, knowing that they are about Glenn’s struggles with his
sexuality? “I hope they don’t feel like we’re pulling the rug out from under them,” he says.
The story is heavy on Mormon details, providing the number of churches in Provo (61) and the percentage of its population that are adherents to the faith (88 percent). We’re told of Glenn’s two-year mission to Hastings, Neb., and how he baptized 17 people. No quotes from any of those converts, either.
So much detail, so little meaning.
If you’re not going to quote a church official, then at least ask relevant questions of your subject. I’m stymied by the disconnect, because it is so obvious to me that the question that screams asking to Tyler is, “How can you reconcile your announcement about being gay with your church’s stance on homosexuality?” We won’t even tread into Glenn’s revelation that he sneaked into closets to listen to his favorite bands, as the young missionaries were forbidden to listen to secular music.
And really, with hits written by Glenn such as “Sleeping With a Friend,” and “Living in Another World,” were his band mates and fans not even a little curious about his muse, much less an emerging agenda?
Now Glenn sees an opportunity to reshape the idea of a gay rock star. “I’ve gotten tired of kind-of gay or straight people being pop culture’s gay [spokespeople] – like Macklemore,” he says. “It makes me wonder, ‘Are we ready for an actual gay pop star and not just the safe straight guy saying it’s OK?’ I appreciate the fact that Michael Stipe was able to just be who he was, and it rarely overshadowed the music.”
The reality is that Glenn wants to embrace a faith and its community, but doesn’t want to be bound by its doctrine or reshaped by its rules for living. And Rolling Stone wants to write a story about a newly outed gay Mormon rocker but not ask how he can possibly call himself all three at once.