Of the five primary performers during the Grammys gay-marriage extravaganza last night, three—Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and Madonna—count as gay allies. (They're all more or less openly heterosexual.) One—Mary Lambert—is an actual, open homosexual. And the last—Queen Latifah—is... well, we all know what she is. She just won't say it.
Latifah's public profile exists somewhere between gay ally and actual gay. The rapper, singer, and talk show host officiated 33 marriages, gay and straight, during the awards ceremony, standing alongside Macklemore, Lewis, and Lambert (who performed their pro-equality anthem "Same Love" with Mary Lambert), and Madonna (who serenaded the just-married couples with her "Open Your Heart").
Latifah's public relationship with her sexuality is fascinating. She lives right on the precipice of coming out. When asked about her sexuality and her relationships, her syntax is specific and her statements carefully chosen. But her actions tell a different story: She played a butch lesbian in 1996's Set It Off. She has been photographed embracing presumed girlfriend Jeanette Jenkins (the obscured nature of their relationship is giggle fodder for Latifah's celebrity peers). She headlined the Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride Festival in 2012, where she reportedly told the crowd that she was proud to be "among her people" and that she had been "waiting to do this for a long time."
A few days later, she made explicit that her words did not signal a coming out. She told Entertainment Weekly, "I've never dealt with the question of my personal life in public. It's just not gonna happen."
Latifah speaks in that kind of code when discussing her sexuality, which there would be no issue with discussing were she straight. She is emphatically hiding something. This makes her, effectively, openly closeted. She tells us time and time again that she's not going to tell us anything about her "personal life."
"I don't feel the need to discuss my private life on this show or any other show," she told The Hollywood Reporter in advance of the premiere of her current talk show. "There's the part of my life that the public and I share together. And there's the part that's mine to keep for myself. And that's mine. For me."
"I don't have a problem discussing the topic of somebody being gay, but I do have a problem discussing my personal life," the The Advocate quoted her as telling the New York Times.
"I know what I'm comfortable with and what I'm not. It's what I feel is private to me and my family and my friends. It's what I share with the public. That's been something I decided a long time ago. It's not a new thing," she told USA Today.
In 2003, Wendy Williams filmed a short run of specials for VH1 called Wendy Williams is on Fire. Williams being Williams prodded Latifah on her sexuality to the point where Latifah said something along the lines of, "You're not going to get me to admit I'm gay on TV."
Which is to say that Latifah generally stays on the side of withholding the truth rather than misrepresenting it. (She did, though, on the first episode of her show, talk about how Willow Smith's "Summer Fling" reminded Latifah of a summer fling she had when she was 12 with a boy, which certainly counts as discussing her personal life.) In advance of the Grammys' equal marriage spectacular, many assumed that Latifah would take the opportunity to come out. She didn't. Again.
Is it her responsibility to do so? Probably—becoming a public figure (especially one as high profile as Latifah) means giving up a great degree of your privacy.
But would Latifah's coming out 1) help or 2) surprise anyone? Is there anyone who doesn't know that she's gay, who can't read between the lines that she regularly sets out? It's not easy being black, it's not easy being a woman, it's not easy being gay, and it's not easy being a celebrity. That's a lot of representation to consider, and from the earliest days of her hip-hop career, Latifah made clear that she is a smart, considerate human being. I empathize with Latifah, and I wonder, too, if stubbornness isn't keeping her closeted (the same sort of stubbornness that kept Whitney Houston with Bobby Brown for 14 years, each one of them plagued with speculation about them not being able to last).
Maybe one day Latifah will come out and we can all say, "Good for her," and go on with our lives, very much in the way she has been. Until then, we know the score. At least with gestures such as the one she made at the Grammys, she's helping the community, even at a remove.
[Image via Getty]