During a recent podcast interview, Michael Angelakos—lead singer of Passion Pit—discussed his sexuality, stating that “I like girls, I like boys, everyone’s fantastic; but you know what? I’m gay. Finally.” The interview revolved around a number of other highly personal topics: His anxiety, bipolar disorder, history of suicide attempts, and his emotional breakdowns—all of which he has been very upfront about over the course of his career. Given his transparency with his mental health issues, Angelakos’ decision to finally and officially ‘come out’ speaks to something larger and more overarching: The sensationalized and socially constructed practice of ‘coming out’ itself.
After the interview was published, publications such as Complex, CBS, and Entertainment Weekly were quick to jump on this one particular snippet of the conversation, glorifying his sexuality as the sole topic that was discussed. Despite developments in social consciousness of identity issues, such as, but not limited to, sexuality, ‘being gay’ is still a headline-maker. Thus, both ‘coming out’ and one’s sexuality—if it’s not straight—is based on divergence from a socially determined norm. Put simply, he did not have to come out as straight; where heterosexuality is assumed, homosexuality is announced. Nevertheless, the ‘less-is-more’ approach he took with discussing his sexuality is a hopeful indication of future progress. “Being as honest and transparent as you can be is actually really really empowering. Because finally you are, you know, it shows that you have guts,” he said in his contribution to the Bring Change 2 Mind campaign.
The concept of ‘coming out’ is rooted in categories, labels, and division. In contrast, heterosexuality is linked to the social status quo: It’s easy and ordinary. Moreover, it is also often unintentionally perpetuated and presumed through heteronormative assumption. His sexual confusion was easier to ignore than face: “When you are teetering on the edge of heterosexuality and homosexuality or whatever, and you don’t know what’s going on, it’s so much more comfortable to just keep going back to what you know,” he said in the interview.
There have recently been many methods of coming out; for instance, actress Ellen Page made a public announcement on stage to a large audience, and Olympic diver Tom Daley published a YouTube video to announce that his partner is the same sex—both of which are important in their own way in making a statement. By casually bringing up his sexual desire for men as part of the larger conversation about his relationship with his ex-wife, the media, and his bipolar disorder, it is much more aligned with the more modern notion that sexuality doesn’t define, and thus shouldn’t be defining.
The media’s reaction to his disorder was also sensationalized: Pitchfork wrote an extended article entitled “Inside the Brilliant and Troubled Mind of Passion Pit”—which, while shedding light on his struggles, also inherently enforced and sensationalised his fight with his bipolar disorder. In his experience, recovery was contingent on a diagnosis. Despite improvements in destigmatizing previously taboo topics, such as mental health, acceptance of the implications of these topics on the individual remains in short supply. When the band cancelled its shows in 2012 in order for Angelakos to receive treatment, they received huge backlash from fans and critics. The negative response from his fans when he went ‘public’ about his bipolar disorder was a factor in why he remained silent about his sexuality for longer.
While the understanding of sexuality has transformed over time from stigma to the intersection of sexuality with other aspects of identity, such as race, gender, and class issues, this transformation remains incomplete. There is an inherent irony to the process of coming out: even though the topic was broached subtly in this case, it was quickly sensationalized by the media.
There is the argument that coming out is necessary to raise awareness and shed light on the normality of ‘being gay.’ But there is also the flipside: That coming out is an inherently socially-constructed convention. Angelakos’ experience, while not representative, is a reminder of the media’s participation in the perpetuation of heteronormative social constructs.