The Closet is a place where, perhaps with a few irrepressible exceptions, every gay man or woman begin their lives. To be a young gay person is a rather peculiar situation, as it’s a trait that is core to your being yet requires, on the whole, the necessity for you to actively proclaim it rather than it just explicitly ‘being’; as is the case with say, gender or skin colour.
It’s a sad state of affairs that even in the 21st century there is still so much hostility towards gay people across the world, whether it be the so-called corrective rape in South Africa or the executions in Iran, many places view gay people as a virus to be eradicated. Indeed Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has outright denied the very existence of gay people in his homeland:
“In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country… In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who’s told you that we have this” – Sept 2007 (Source)
I am certainly very grateful to have been born in England where we as a nation are very accepting of gay people. I do believe that part of this is down to our increasingly secularised society, indeed much of the remaining hostility that is aimed at the gay community comes from religious groups. Certainly over the past few decades much progress has been made in the normalisation of gay relationships and families in the wider society and world of work. Even in my relatively short life I have observed society evolve from a stance of so-called tolerance to that of acceptance.
Whenever I hear someone say how they “tolerate gay people” it always grates on me. I always interpreted it as a thinly veiled statement of disapproval that to me said “we’re still disgusted by you being gay, we just won’t throw you in jail or execute you for it”. Whenever someone uses this turn of phrase you can be sure that they will likely refer to being gay as a “lifestyle choice” and will probably, given half a chance, throw in some fire-and-brimstone reference for good measure, instructing you to “pray the gay away”.
Surprisingly, one of the worst industries to be out and proud in is stereotypically a mecca for gay men: the world of acting. While the theatre may be very welcoming to gay men, its offspring, television and film, are still fairly backward about moving forward on this issue. Even notable members and allies of the LGBT community such as Jane Lynch, Richard Chamberlain, Rupert Everett and most recently Joan Rivers (the statement that instigated this post) have made comments that don’t exactly help the situation. Basically they all suggest that actors who are out won’t be getting the lead roles if the character is straight, whether that is due to the believability factor for the general public (as Jane Lynch & Joan Rivers suggest), or because of Hollywood’s inherent discrimination against casting out, gay men as straight characters (as is Richard Chamberlain & Rupert Everett’s opinion).
I would suggest part of the problem lies in the fact that, because the world of acting is so strongly associated with the gay community, even an apparently happily married actor in a heterosexual relationship is not unbelievable as a secretly gay man, e.g. John Travolta, though thanks to Carrie Fisher perhaps the speculation isn’t so far off the mark?
Another reason why this is perhaps more believable is due to Hollywood’s history of bearding up their gay stars, leading to the situation where Hollywood relationships should be taken with a pinch of salt, especially when these relationships happen to miraculously coincide with the release of a project related to the stars concerned, such as a film. *cough, cough, Twilight, cough, cough*
It is not unusual these days for a straight actor to “go gay” for a film or television role, whereas the reverse is incredibly rare. A couple from the handful of high profile examples of this are Neil Patrick Harris as man-whore Barney Stinson on “How I Met Your Mother” and T.R. Knight as simpering Dr George O’Malley on “Grey’s Anatomy“. Clearly there is a chicken and egg situation here, where the pool of out, gay actors is held back by the assumed negative effects to their career; however, this negative impact would be less likely to happen if more actors came out…
One of the most excruciatingly irritating facets to this situation, in my opinion at least, is when these straight actors are fawned all over by certain sections of the press for being “so brave” in taking on such a role. Fortunately there are some straight actors who have repeatedly played gay but are very dismissive of these patronising comments, Ewan MacGregor and James Franco to name but two; if only these examples were more the rule rather than the exception.
Ultimately, as with many things, it comes down to money, whether it be from box office revenue or advertising from commercial breaks, if the production doesn’t make a buck by attracting an audience then it’s unlikely similar projects will be subsequently made. The world of film and television loves a sure thing, just look at all the vampire-related guff that’s been made in the wake of “Twilight“. Recent films such as “Brokeback Mountain“, while I personally think was overrated, show that their is a wider audience for gay-related movies that have a more intelligent storyline behind them and, unlike others, don’t just rely on the age-old stereotypes. Even though it was in many ways a ground-breaking movie, “Brokeback Mountain” backed up Rupert Everett’s comment by casting two apparently heterosexual actors in the lead homosexual roles. Additionally, at the time of production and release, rumours were rife about its two stars, Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger, being in a relationship, regardless of Heath’s relationship with co-star Michelle Williams which included them having a child together.
It would be nice to think that “Brokeback Mountain” has opened the door for smarter so-called gay movies to be made, that do more than cover the same well-trodden ground of someone coming out and the related hardships that this entails. This in turn should lead to a more accepting arena for actors to come out in and not be susceptible to certain career suicide if they do; at the very least there ought to be more gay roles for out gay actors to be cast in. However, judging from some of the comments made by people I have mentioned in this article, perhaps we will have longer to wait than we would like.