Visibility now! The Sexual Politics of Seeing
Chastity Bono, national media director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and daughter of pop singer-actress Cher and the late singer-songwriter turned Republican congressman Sonny Bono, is talking to a New York Times reporter in 1997 about her first lesbian love affair in the late 1980s. “No one was out then,” she says. “It was before k.d. lang and Melissa Etheridge. I was really afraid” (Witchel 1997). Appearing in the final paragraphs of a breezy profile, the suppositions implied by the historical benchmarks Bono mentions when recalling her personal distress could easily pass unnoticed. At the same time, her version of the past could be a show stopper. No one? And this was when? For a reader who came out in 1975, and perhaps for countless others whose acceptance or embrace of lesbian identification predates k.d.’s in 1992 or Melissa’s the following year, Bono’s version of history seems sadly misinformed. But maybe it’s not surprising for someone whose knowledge of lesbians seems to rely upon the mainstream media and for whom the possibility of describing herself as a lesbian-accepting the fact that it’s all right to say so-was itself constituted as a media event. Bono’s first coming out in 1990 was involuntary, insofar as it was engineered by the editors of the Star, a supermarket tabloid that capitalized on her parents’ fame by emblazoning her name and face, accompanied by eye-catching headlines that screamed “lesbian” and “gay,” on its cover and inside pages. Only five years after this exposé did she enact her “official” coming out by granting the gay and lesbian magazine the Advocate, an interview (Bono 1995).