Out 100: Ricky Martin
By Aaron Hicklin
On March 29th of this year, Ricky Martin made a decision that would change everything. He posted a letter on his website and linked to it from Twitter. The letter outlined the process of writing his upcoming memoir, during which Martin came to realize that he needed to free himself of a particular burden. Writing about it, he added, was 'a solid step toward my inner peace and vital part of my evolution.' He closed the letter, with a beautiful, eloquent, and simple declaration: 'I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am.'
It is a warm October afternoon in Miami Beach, and the fortunate homosexual man is tearing up. We've just started talking, but Martin can barely contain his elation. It is sweet and touching and genuine. When I suggest that few of his fans could have imagined in January that he would be on the cover of this year's Out100, he has to steady himself, sucking in the air and releasing it in a low, long exhalation. The hum of jet skis and motorboats on Biscayne Bay fills the silence. A breeze shifts the long, white drapes that separate the living room from Martin's waterfront garden. 'I get emotional,' he says, finally, fanning the air gently with his hand. 'What a beautiful way to start.'
He's right. There is something beautiful in witnessing a major celebrity in the throes of profound and real transformation. A week before we meet, Martin had made a surprise appearance at the annual Human Rights Campaign national dinner to pledge his support. 'Something as simple as standing at that dinner and saying, 'I'm gay,' creates so may emotions I've never felt before,' he admits. 'I didn't do it earlier because of fear, and, bottom line, it was all in my head. I was seduced by fear, and I was sabotaging most of my life -- my music, my relationships with my friends, with my family, with everybody. That's something I need to share because I know that a lot of people are going through what I went through, no matter what their age, and fear cannot control us.'
Martin is about to share big time -- with his new memoir, Me, a remarkably heartfelt account of his journey from teen group Menudo to fatherhood, delivered in a frank, conversational style that doesn't economize on the truth. It includes accounts of his first passionate affairs -- with men and with women -- as well as his struggle to reconcile his conflicted yearnings with his rapid ascent in America. The pivotal year is 1999, at which Martin performed his World Cup anthem, 'La Copa de la Vida,' at the Grammys. Largely unknown in the United States beyond Hispanic audiences, he left the stage as a breathless Rosie O'Donnell (the evening's host) exclaimed, 'Who was that cutie patootie?' Between that quip and the well-intended advice of Madonna to 'stop doing interviews -- everyone knows who you are' were a few short hops separated by 17 million album sales for his first English-language album, Ricky Martin, covers on Time and People, and a 25-date U.S. tour that sold out in eight minutes.
Contrary to Madonna's comment, it's arguable whether Martin even knew himself. In Me, he presents much of his life as a subconscious effort to avoid confronting unpalatable truths. It's one explanation for his nonstop work ethic. He was always, he says, a performer who didn't know how to say no -- 'perhaps because if I stopped I would start to think.' A growing interest in India -- a giant Buddha stares passively from his hallway -- would eventually help him resolve those tensions and lead to the introspection that animates his memoir. 'In this book, I am sharing the moments that triggered intensity, like passion and love, and that brought me to a place of understanding or a place where I really started asking a lot of questions, connecting the dots,' he says.