Should we out celebrities or not? Some feel that such a personal and pivotal transition should be left in the hands of individuals themselves — to out them is to put our own at risk of unforeseen homophobic reprisals. Others feel that media personalities trading on their public profile are fair game — that protecting the closet hurts us all.
Falling definitively in the latter category is Internet gossip blogger and celebrity hound Mario Lavandeira, better known to his on-line audience as Perez Hilton.
Lavandeira’s entertainment blog rocketted to notoriety last year after publishing the first photos of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as a couple. This was followed by the posting of Colin Farrell’s infamous sex video with Playmate Nicole Narain, resulting in legal threats and heaps of press. Since then Lavandeira’s website, Perezhilton.com, has rapidly become a daily must-read for 800,000 or so readers.
The site is unapologetic brain-candy, chock full of candid celebrity shots and prurient dishing on who’s sleeping with whom. Closetted celebrities are one of the web scribe’s pet topics, with much speculation on America’s Idols, variety show hosts and lesbian thespians.
Lavandeira’s latest target, former NSync boybander Lance Bass, was recently forced to come out after photos of the singer and his boyfriend Reichen Lehmkuhl began appearing on Lavandeira’s site. Although Bass professes to be happy with the ultimate outcome, Lavandeira’s actions do highlight the question of journalistic ethics.
“It’s still baffling to me that it’s such a big deal,” says Lavandeira. “All I was doing was reporting facts. Lance outed himself. He got a new boyfriend and began to do very public things. I mean, they went on vacation to Provincetown, Gay City USA!”
It’s a controversial stance on a thorny issue. People like Lavandeira often argue that closetted celebrities whose “private lives” have been carefully constructed by PR companies are using a heterocentric model built on deliberate deception. But what about the stars who keep their personal lives off-limits in the media, eschewing romantic disclosures of any sort? Do journalists have an obligation to honour the genuinely discreet closetcase or, conversely, go after the publicity hound trying to “cruise” by on a phony straight lifestyle?
Lavandeira believes so, and promises that no closet is safe when it comes to his site. He maintains that outing queer stars is a necessary step in achieving greater acceptance in mainstream America.
“In the UK you can be openly gay and successful,” he says. “Look at Elton, Rupert Everett and Ian McKellen. They’re able to do it and the media still loves them. I don’t know why America hasn’t quite caught up, yet. But it is changing and this is the only way to do it.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is society’s fascination with famous folks, an obsession shared by the starstruck gossip maven. He’s fostered friendships with chronic attention-seekers like Paris Hilton, an icon to Lavandeira and the inspiration for his site’s Mexicanized name. These cozy canoodlings have earned the scorn of on-line competitors like Gawker.com who accuse Lavandeira of giving his newfound friends a free pass.
For example, a photo of Hilton’s exposed hoo-hoo recently made the Internet rounds, but Lavandeira declined to publish it — one of the few gossip bloggers to fail to do so. “I’m not going to put up Paris’s vagina on the site,” he sniffs. “It’s not news.” Yet, he recently posted a peek-a-boo snap of Lindsay Lohan’s naked crotch, which either disputes his claim of labia-free news, or implies that celebrity — or befriending celebrities — is dulling Lavandeira’s killer instincts.
It may seem a glamorous life for a former office clerk, but things occasionally turn ugly. Nicole Richie reportedly chastised him a few months ago in response to assertions that the emaciated star is suffering from anorexia, while his on-line musings regarding the sexuality of a certain Desperate Housewives actor allegedly led to a half-serious death threat.
Despite such hiccups, Lavandeira relishes his burgeoning success, with nary a thought to offended starlets or nervous publicity agents.
“I don’t ever regret writing anything,” he says. “I’m a little bit of renegade doing my own thing, and nobody can control me. It’s the American dream!”