With a client list that boasts powerhouses like Ariana Grande, Jennifer Lopez and Justin Bieber, music attorney Aaron Rosenberg is busy. He is also gay. As in rode-down-the-aisle-of-his-wedding-on-a-unicorn gay. As part of our 30 Days of Pride initiative, we spoke to the out-and-proud lawyer about his coming out story, his over-the-top wedding and three of his high-profile LGBTQ clients, Troye Sivan, Justin Tranter and RuPaul: "I feel like he’s the gay buddha."
So when did you know you were gay?
[Sighs] I think that most members of the LGBTQ community know at some point, very very early on, in their childhood. I think they just felt different, but they don’t necessarily know what that means. Growing up in Kansas City, I wasn’t really exposed to gay people, gay anything. I didn’t know what “gay” was. But I did know I was different, and at an early age, though I can’t necessarily pinpoint what age that was. That would be my answer. I can’t necessarily pinpoint the age, but I knew that I was different, I didn’t necessarily know that that meant that I was gay.
And then, over time, as I left the cocoon of the breadbasket of America, middle America, and went away to college on the East Coast, and met all sorts of different people, and learned more not only about other people, but really more about myself, is really kind of when I fully became self-aware, I would say.
What was coming out like for you?
It was really hard. It was really hard growing up as the son of an immigrant, coming from Israel, who worked so hard to provide for his family. I don’t know. I’m not sure it’s possible to answer in a few sound bites.
But I do want to also provide a different perspective. I think that I came out, and my parents, like me, didn’t know what that meant. So for most people, if you don’t understand something, you fear it. You’re worried. My parents were very worried that this meant that I was going to have a lifetime of hardship, and has resulted in that we still don’t know how to handle it. To be honest, also in their defense, I kind of dropped a bomb on them. It took me years and years to come to the conclusion, and rather than slowly help them to understand it, I was just kind of like, “Hey guys, I’m gay.” And they were kind of like, “Well wait, what happened to the girlfriends in high school and early on in college?” So confused.
I only understand it now as a parent myself. That you want the world for your child, and you want them to go through life experiencing as little hardship as possible. But at the same time, you also want them to lead as happy a life and as fulfilled a life as possible. And sometimes it takes parents a while to get around to that, and for my parents, it took several years, to be honest. But they finally came around, and now I’m married with two kids, and they’re grandparents, and they’re the most amazing grandparents anybody could ever hope for.
Have you ever experienced homophobia in the music industry?
I have. I wouldn’t say I’ve experienced overt homophobia. You never really know why, if potential clients don’t hire you, or if you don’t get the meeting. And you may never know. I can tell you that when I started to come out professionally, which I would say was just really a couple years after I started practice. And when I started to come out slowly to some friends in the industry, and then to clients, I was actually amazed by how accepting some of those clients were.
Even those clients that you might not expect, that stereotypically would be homophobic -- and I’m speaking specifically about clients in the hip-hop, rap genres. Some of the clients that were the most accepting or the most supportive were actually my clients who were rapper clients. And I don’t want that to come off and read as some sort of stereotypical thing. But I think that when you’re insecure, and you’re coming out as a member of the LGBT community, you just expect that, okay maybe the hyper-masculine white guy or the hyper-masculine high-profile rapper wouldn’t be supportive. But actually, my experience was different.
I think that it’s important for me to say that, to help dispel those stereotypes. And dispel those myths. It’s important to be out because you never really know how folks are going to react, and you’re never going to know how they’re going to react unless you’re out. And by the way, you’re never going to even be able to help change the ones that do fulfill those stereotypes unless and until you’re out and they realize that, "Wow, this is my amazing lawyer, this is my amazing publisher, manager, and the fact that they’re gay does not in any way impact their ability to do an amazing job for me." And in many respects, actually may be better, because they may actually understand what it’s like to come from a position of feeling like an outsider, like most artists feel.
Well you kind of answered my next question: Why is it important to be out and proud in this industry? Is there anything you want to elaborate on that?
I think it’s important to be out and proud, period. Not just in this industry. In any industry. I think that it’s important, especially for the music business, because I would say that we are talking about culture, and you’re talking about cultural influences, some of the biggest influences come from the world of music, art, fashion, setting not just artistic trends but cultural trends and trends of worldview. If you are able, as an industry professional, to expose the artists that you work with to an extra color of the rainbow, as it were, and how that should be celebrated, and how we’re all kind of working together as a team to make it through this industry or this world, I think that’s critical.
I think that that’s why I actually would say it’s critical for music in particular, because music is one of the few languages that actually closes cultural boundaries. How are you able to effect change not just here in America, but with what’s happening in Chechnya? Or what’s happening in many other former Soviet republics, or predominantly radial Islamic countries? The only way you’re really going to be able to speak to people of vastly different cultural backgrounds is through some sort of common language, and that’s music.
Would you say being gay has benefited your career at all?
I don’t think it’s had any impact. I think that being gay has certainly impacted who I am as a person, but I don’t think my success professionally is because I’m gay. When you are an artist advocate, it’s not required to be able to understand what it feels like to be an outsider, but if you do have experience with that perspective, it helps your ability to communicate with clients and to understand the perspective of the artist -- who oftentimes feels like the underdog, who feels like the outsider, who feels the need to be able to express themselves in a way that isn’t constrained or constricted by the norms of society.
LGBT representation in the media has increased a lot. What would an adolescent version of yourself think about that? Like, if you were growing up today.
It’s so important. Because if you aren’t exposed to it, then that fear, that homophobia, that fear of “other” -- it’s not just homophobia, it’s fear of everything that’s different, right? The struggle of the LGBTQ community, it’s a struggle of all communities who are largely underrepresented, misunderstood. And so any sort of representations of us within media should help to at least begin the process of education. I’m not saying that all the representations are great, but at the very least, making sure that we are in the view of the public, it’s critical.
If you got to say something to a younger version of yourself, what would it be?
I think I would say that -- it’s a cliche, but -- it does get better. No matter how insecure you feel, no matter how different you think you are, no matter how much you’re bullied, no matter how much you’re teased, know that those things that make you different are actually what makes you special and amazing. Keep your chin up, and keep on keepin’ on. It is cliche, but that’s it. Especially now, as a parent, it hits home so hard. That’s what I’m saying. It’s about teaching young kids self-worth, and knowing that it’s not about what other people think about you. It’s about what you think.
We have a client, RuPaul, who has so many morsels of wisdom. I feel like he’s the gay buddha. [Laughs] And one of the things that he always preaches is that it all starts with loving yourself. With celebrating yourself. Beginning and ending with answering to yourself, and knowing that you choose happiness. If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love somebody else? It’s so true.
The fact that he is everywhere in primetime, winning an Emmy of all things, shows how far we’ve come. And more importantly, to have somebody like that, who infuses in his art the messaging that is critical for not only Americans but for the world, is more of what we’ve been doing. And even with Justin Tranter, who won BMI’s songwriter of the year, and he used his acceptance speech to continue to kind of push out the need for our business to focus on increasing representation of not only LGBTQ members, but also young women. Same thing with Troye Sivan, when he won the GLAAD award, who is also a client of ours.
Speaking of it getting better, you’re married and you had a really fabulous wedding. Can you talk about that a little bit?
What I would say is that our wedding was certainly not an understated affair, and it certainly wasn’t an intimate affair. I reached the point in my life where I wanted to celebrate our love, wanted to celebrate not just my husband and myself but really the love that we felt from our community of friends and family. We were really celebrating our family, which is not just our family by relation, but really that kind of quilt of friends and colleagues that made up our larger family in the gay community. Family for us has always been not necessarily what you’re born into, but what you make.
And that’s really what it was. It was a big old celebration of life and of love, and I think the younger generation, it’s like -- there’s a party like that for you, if you want it. That just because you’re different doesn’t mean that you can’t have the most fabulous, over-the-top wedding. And the thing about that wedding in particular is that for most of the people that were in attendance, it was their first same-sex wedding. I come from the world of music, Danny [Rose], my husband, comes from the world of sitcoms. So it ended up being, like, the most musically hilarious night of our lives.
To be honest with you, that tone, that feeling of -- I don’t know what we would call it -- it’s happiness, it’s levity, but it’s also kind of like, a deeply serious tone of love. That’s always kind of been our mantra throughout our lives, and that’s kind of what the wedding was about.
That’s awesome. I’m going to need you to talk about the unicorns, though.
I thought about, "So, how do you start a gay wedding?" I was like, "I want to start off, to have the gayest thing ever." Danny originally wanted to descend from the rafters, you know, like, angel wings, in a harness, as part of his entrance. And I have a little bit of a fear of heights. I was like, “There’s no way you’re getting me up there in a harness. You can go in a harness, and I’ll come in on a unicorn.” [Laughs.]
Anyway, for a lot of engineering reasons, the harness wasn’t going to work. So we decided to both come in on the white unicorn to Madonna’s “Like A Virgin.” Because, what else do you do? And of course, out of respect for my parents, I had to make sure that the unicorn had a traditional Jewish prayer shawl. You don’t need to be a Jewish unicorn, god forbid.