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If a Basketball Player Can be Openly Gay, Why Can’t I?

May 4, 2013

Now, I could be wrong about this…but, I’m 90% sure Charlize Theron is not a serial killer. Sean Penn, to my knowledge, has never been assassinated. Phillip Seymour Hoffman doesn’t have a lisp. Hillary Swank has never been murdered and I don’t think Tom Hanks has HIV. I also believe all of these actors are heterosexual.  However, they all have won Oscars for playing homosexual or trans characters with these respective attributes (albeit Aileen Wuornos is not exactly a good example of the LGBT community but…still). At the same time, NOT A SINGLE openly homosexual actor or actress has EVER won an Oscar in a major acting category.  As actors, we strive to “live truthfully under imaginary circumstances” and the Oscars (in theory) are one of the highest forms of validation that we have done so.  So, is a straight actor, playing a gay cowboy, “truthful” and a gay actor, playing a straight character, “hard to believe”?

This might come as a surprise to many of you but, I happen to be gay. Please, pick your jaws up off the floor. I know it’s hard to take it all in but, just breathe deeply (insert “That’s what she said joke” here). Anyway, I am indeed gay.  I also happen to be right-handed. Both of these genetic predispositions have ZERO to do with my ability to play other people for a living. However, while I have never been reluctant to tell people which hand I write with, I did struggle for quite some time whether I should be open about who sleeps (or…doesn’t sleep…*cue sobbing*) in my bed. This isn’t because I have any personal hang ups about it (Don’t believe me?  Take me to a Celine Dion concert…then you will see what gay pride TRULY is…).  My reluctance to be open about my sexual orientation stems from the fact that, in the acting community…riddled with homos and people who put “equality” in the middle of their Facebook names…is a fear/prejudice that, regrettably, continues to this day.

When we are young, little boys call other little boys “gay” because they want to emasculate them…not because they necessarily think they sleep with men. I mean, maybe it’s because I was taught SEX-ED by a nun in a single 1 hour lecture, but I didn’t really know what “gay” sex or even sex-sex was until WAY after I had been called “gay”. However, as civilized adults, we HOPEFULLY know that a persons’ sexual orientation does not necessarily coincide with a lack of masculinity or femininity.  Why then, does the acting community adopt the same rudimentary understanding of homosexuality as middle school bullies?  I cannot tell you how many casting directors, directors, and even friends have commented on my “AMAZING and SHOCKING” ability to “play straight”. Well…. A) I’m from the South and got quite a lot of practice and B) I’m AN EFFING ACTOR!  It is quite literally my job to be other people.  So, I don’t hook up with women (sober). So what?  I also am not a cowboy or a Nazi sympathizer but, I’ve played both on stage (Did you see my headshot?  I mean, come on… I can’t help it.  I’m sorry.)  Anyway,  I’m quite sure no one told Colin Firth that he gives great homo in A Simple Man.  He simply gave a great performance.  Why then do we as a community perpetuate the notion that a homosexual’s ability to have sexual chemistry with the opposite sex is preposterous?

As late as January of 2013, in an interview with Huffington Post, openly gay British actor/ 90s heartthrob, Rupert Everett, cautioned young gay actors not to come out of the closet if they want to succeed in American mainstream cinema saying, “The mainstream actor has had to become straighter and straighter and straight”.  His own tale, while in the 90s, is a perfect example of that. Jodi Foster, a veritable Titan of the film industry, couldn’t even muster up the word “gay” because she was so terrified and essentially offered her “coming out” speech as a retirement from acting. I think the fear of what could happen to your career as an openly gay actor is very legitimate (unfortunately). In fact, as a guy who quite enjoys playing the romantic lead, I was extremely reticent to publish this blog. However, I DON’T think the solution is staying in the closet.

I’ve always been someone who finds my sexual orientation to be an extremely non-defining personal characteristic, in regards who I am as a person. If someone wants to define me in a single word…“actor” speaks to who I am FAR MORE than “gay.”  However, I don’t think we can be seen as actors first and foremost, if we aren’t seen at all. There has to be the “First Openly Gay Oscar Winner” before there is an “Oscar Winner” who happens to be gay. It is truly bizarre to me that in this day and age, particularly in our community, actors still refuse to be openly gay.  We make videos telling kids (MANY of whom find safety in drama programs all over this country), “Be True to Yourself…It Gets Better.” but the mantra we seem to follow is “Keep it quiet and it will get better”.   I’m not saying you should bring your heels to your  Curly audition. In fact, there is nothing that irritates me more than seeing a leading man, playing opposite a woman, who doesn’t have any sexual chemistry with his counterpart…much in the same way I hate seeing people play Southern characters with crappy Southern Accents (cough cough…Keanu Reeves in The Devil’s Advocate…cough cough…the ENTIRE cast of True Blood). 

The point is, we’re actors. Bad acting is bad acting. Do your job. Play the part truthfully. When you are auditioning, audition as the character.   If the role is a brunette, walk in the room as a brunette. If the character is straight, walk in the room as a straight person. We can’t change the fact that casting directors need to make a quick decision and, your audition starts when you walk in the room. That being said, don’t fear holding your partners’ hand outside of the audition room. (Now, I might judge you for that but that’s just because I find public affection, in general, somewhat nauseating…and am also mildly jealous…but…that’s neither here nor there.). We must have the courage to live as truthfully in our own lives as we do in the lives of the characters we play on stage and on-screen.  Otherwise, we are just feeding into the notion that who we love somehow affects what we do for a living.

As long as there has been puberty, there has been a war between the kids in jockstraps and the kids in dance belts, where the self-proclaimed “jocks” push the “drama geeks” against their lockers and call them “gay”. Those of us belonging to the latter faction, get through this time by telling ourselves that we’ve only lost the battle of high school.  Surely, we will triumph in the war of life, Oscar in hand, while the dumb jocks sit alone in their trailers.   This week, Jason Collins made history by becoming the first active male, professional athlete in a major American team sport to publicly come out as gay.  Looks to me like the jocks are still winning…

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Cara permalink
    May 4, 2013 10:42 am

    I did a gala performance about 7 years ago back in New Jersey, with a cast of about 10 people. The directors wanted a storyline to the revue-style evening, which involved numerous couples getting together and breaking up. In the end, they were going to have these two men realize their feelings for each other and end up together. But the two men wouldn’t do it. One of them that I spoke to said, “I don’t want my family to think I’m gay.” I basically scoffed at him and said anyone in their right mind would know he was just acting. But he wouldn’t do it. Pair after pair of same-sex actors were put up to the task, and pair after pair ended up being too uncomfortable. Finally, they asked me and this other girl, and I said “Sure, why not?” Two straight girls playing homosexual girls…it’s been done. But we rehearsed our song and the other girl couldn’t even look me in the eye. Lo and behold, I get a phone call a few days later that the storyline is cut because the other girl couldn’t handle it. I was LITERALLY the only one who was willing to do it. And this was NEW JERSEY, just over the bridge from NYC. That’s when I realized I’d overestimated the tolerance of where I come from. What’s funny is that none of these people had a problem with gay people, they just didn’t want people to think THEY were gay. I wanted to tell them exactly what you wrote….that no one thinks an actor who plays a murderer is ACTUALLY a murderer, and so on and so forth, so why should you be worried that anyone is going to think you’re actually gay, especially when they know there’s nothing wrong with being gay! I think I’ll remember that story forever and I’ll probably tell my grandchildren about it. Sorry to be long-winded….lol.

    • Cbt permalink
      May 6, 2013 3:46 pm

      Wow! That surprises me. I gladly played a lesbian in Falsettos and no one thought anything of it. The guys that played the homosexuals didn’t hesitate either and at least one of them was straight.

  2. May 4, 2013 1:13 pm

    I love this post. Love it love it love it. You so well articulated this, and I like the even balance you present between owning your sexual identity and offering what people are asking of you in the room. This is great.

    • The Bygone Baritone permalink
      May 4, 2013 3:42 pm

      thanks 🙂

      • May 6, 2013 7:11 am

        Also, have you seen ‘The Nance’ yet? It kind of riffs on the idea you’ve discussed here. It might be interesting for you to see. And Nathan Lane is, of course, his usual brilliance.

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