When Kevin Clash, the man behind the much-loved Sesame Street character Elmo was first exposed by what was said to be a former under-aged love interest — the victim was alleged to be16-years old when the age of consent at the time in New York State was 17 years old — it was immediately revealed that the accuser was a “male model with a criminal history.”
“Uh-oh,” I thought. “Elmo likes rough trade.” So I posted the story on Facebook because outside of going undercover at a furry convention, I figured this was as interesting as the sexual like of a Muppet was likely to get.
Immediately I heard criticisms that fell into two categories: 1) giving the story legs by posting it on Facebook makes all gay men look bad; 2) we did not know if the charges were true, at least on the day the news broke about the accusations and I decided to make fun of it on Facebook.
It will surprise few that these are the same arguments that came up when, as editor of the publication you are reading, I was making decisions about whether to run stories about all manner of wrong-doing by gay men, lesbians and the others in our community alphabet. (Mostly it was gay men, because men are more likely to be caught up in sexual scandals because we are so easily led around by our gonads.)
The former criticism about not knowing if the charges are true was the most difficult with which to wrestle as an editor, especially back when merely being accused publicly of being gay could cause problems even in Massachusetts for teachers, first responders, and beloved children’s characters. But times are different and I would now have few qualms about running with the Clash/Elmo story.
The deciding factor often has to be how famous the person is, and how much that person had sought out and encouraged their public persona. In Clash’s case, he has a job that brings him wide renown, and a reportedly comfortable income. He has encouraged his fame by taking part in a widely hailed 2011 documentary about his job, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey.
So it’s easy on question number one: he’s famous, he encourages his fame, and he’s accused of a crime. When you encourage fame, you don't get to pick and choose when the fame monster makes you wealthy and recognizable, and when it decides you deserve attention for something more sordid. I wouldn’t feel at all guilty for giving the story legs, even if it started to look early on as if the story was perhaps premature in that the would-be love interest/model/criminal Sheldon Stevens had recanted his accusations.
Of course, the recanting was done through a law firm, so one immediately suspected something was amiss.
When someone recants through the police or district attorney’s office about being the victim of a possible crime, it often mean the person doing the accusing was tripped up through repeated questioning and exposed as a pathological liar and attention seeker. This is what happens when a gay Republican insists they were attacked and kidnapped by GOP-hating leftist gay activists and the word “traitor” was written backwards into their face — as if written by someone too stupid to understand that everything is reversed in a mirror.
The GOProud member’s biggest mistake is reporting the crime to the police, whereupon the fine detectives of the Douche-y Tool Investigative Unit gently remind the GOProud member of the inconsistencies in their story, and are they absolutely sure they want to repeat their charges under oath?
When the alleged perpetrator is famous, however, and victim’s recanting is done through a law firm — well, you can almost bet that money has exchanged hands somewhere. And this appears to be what happened with Messrs. Clash and Stevens, at least if we are to believe Mr. Rough Trade Actor-Model-Criminal who insists he was coerced into making the recantation and allegedly taking $125,000 for his silence.
In addition, another man with an equally sketchy background has now come forward to say he was also Clash’s under-aged love toy. On Nov. 20, Sesame Street and Clash decided to “mutually” part ways. Elmo will have to live on with a different person’s hand up his butt.
It is sad that a gifted performer has been cut short. Children are said to have meeting Elmo be their dying wish — wishes that Clash has graciously fulfilled over and over again. He is, by all accounts, a decent person.
But it is almost never a fully out gay man who makes choices such as these. Clash insists that he has never been in the closet despite never having mentioned being gay over an entire career of interviews. That is not being out. It is hiding. As with many men like him, it was a life that had him living in the shadows and making poor choices about his romantic life and career. At the very least it appears to lead toward terrible taste in men.
He represents one sad subset of gay men, not all of us. I think the public is smart enough by now to realize that.