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Travolta: Outed? Or are we just obsessed with outing?

What is John Travolta doing?

It's like he wants to get caught.

The trash press has ensnared him in yet another "gay scandal," one being widely reported by queer/gossip sites with a palpable sense of exhausted incredulity.

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The National Enquirer, desperate during the March break for hot entertainment news (TV shows are on sabbatical, the post-Oscars films are weak, the major awards are all out) broke the "Prostitution Scandal!" about the married-with-children (to actress Kelly Preston) actor.

The Enquirer cover features that large, yellow indictment and a quotation, "John paid me to have sex," pulled from a "shocking tell-all" interview with a huffy massage therapist.

The unnamed masseur, who reportedly passed a polygraph, says he was summoned to the 58-year-old actor's bungalow suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel, then victimized by a series of increasingly wretched come-ons.

These seductions allegedly went from an outright proposal to the very sad request that the masseur "touch his shoulder and say something nice to him." Why the masseur didn't just oblige and say, "You've still got it!" one will never know.

Happily, Travolta, seen on the Enquirer cover looking handsome-yet-puffy in a red cap and what appears to be a Caesar wiglet, put the little gossip in his place, according to the tabloid's story. "The next time you see me," he is said to have barked, "at the movies or some awards, think about all the millions I'm going to make. And you're just a guy with a bottle of oil and a massage table who's only going to make a few hundred dollars. Then think about what you could have had!"

Why can't Travolta, who was recently announced as the lead of the biopic about mob boss John Gotti, make movies with this kind of dialogue? He was such a dumpy drag queen in Hairspray. In Massage-o-Mania! he could scream lines like this while walking around in a stylish terry robe and perfect makeup. But Travolta, it seems, is not ready to explore complex sexuality.

Or is he? This masseur was hired from Craigslist, a risky manoeuvre. If the masseur's version is true, Travolta must have known the story was too juicy to pass up. So, is the star finally imploding? Or are we, in trying to out him so relentlessly, revisiting another March, 21 years ago, when OutPost, a queer activist group, strafed the streets of New York with posters exclaiming "absolutely queer" under the photographs of 16 allegedly closeted stars, some surprising (Sherman Hemsley), some not so much (Boy George).

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Gay activism was so charged in the 1990s; its contentious finger-pointing was an aggressive means of exploding, as Village Voice columnist Michael Musto noted at the time, "the last unspoken taboo."

And while gay activism is still powerful (consider sex columnist Dan Savage's It Gets Better campaign), not much has changed for the closeted male or female entertainer.

But must stars share every aspect of their lives? Yes, several have come out, and their careers were not harmed: Neil Patrick Harris, for example, is sexy because he is erotically confusing (and therefore tantalizing) as a gay man playing a straight power player.

Then again, he's a lowly TV star. Would it matter if Travolta were gay? It seems deeply improbable. But what about Will Smith, labelled last week on the cover of the Star as having an actor-boyfriend?

Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith promptly appeared with their children at a 76ers game last week and kissed for the Jumbotron.

Perhaps it's more important to question, not the possible fallout of Smith being gay, but our endless, raging fascination with the subject.

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