With all the pity (and scorn) that I feel toward female celebrities as I see them struggle with conforming to the oppressive beauty standards of their industry, I sometimes forget what the men have to deal with. More so than women, male actors frequently have to deal with invasive questions and speculation about their sexuality. You could probably name several actors off the top off your head that you’ve heard are gay. (I won’t list them all here, because to do so would be somewhat hypocritical, eh?)
It’s really a conundrum for male actors. If you’re “too good” at playing a gay character, you’re probably gay. If you don’t get married or have kids ““ or even if you do! ““ you’re probably gay. If you’re a good singer and dancer? Gay, especially if you got your start on Broadway. If you don’t address your sexuality, it’s either because you’re “guilty” or you’re betraying your fellow gays. If you do address it with any more nuance than YES I AM GAY, your words get picked apart.
It’s oppressive, it’s irrelevant, and it’s unfair to the actors and to all gay men. Although no one in the entertainment press-or-blog industry actually says that it’s bad to be gay, the twisted glee with which they conduct gay-actor witch hunts is alarming to watch. What does any entertainer’s sexuality, male or female, have to do with their ability to perform their job? Particularly for people whose entire profession is based on pretending to be something or someone else.
One actor (who, full disclosure, is one of my biggest celebrity crushes) I’ve already admired for his handling of this issue is Hugh Jackman. Thanks to his Broadway credentials, his ability to “play gay,” and the fact that he has an older wife that people deem below him looks-wise, there have been whispers about him pretty much as long as he’s been famous. In an interview with Parade magazine a few years ago, Jackman said: “I’d be happy to go and deny it, because I’m not. But by denying it, I’m saying there is something shameful about it, and there isn’t anything shameful.”
Most recently, in a shocking turn of events, Entertainment Weekly, of all publications, has drawn out some amazing thoughts from James Franco about public speculation about his sexuality. I wasn’t even aware that Franco was on the witch-hunt list; I have kept busy reading about the many, many projects he’s working on at a given time, and generally enjoying the zeal with which he tackles his career and his fame.
But! Of course he’s played a gay character one too many times, so he’s been the target of speculation as well. And in an interview with the appropriately-acronymed “EW“ he discusses this issue with such intelligence, humor and grace that I kind of just want to hug him. It is absolutely worth clicking through to the full text, but here’s my favorite quote from Franco: “It’s all cut-and-dry identity politics. “˜Is he straight or is he gay?’ Or, “˜This is your third gay movie – come out already!’ And all based on, gay or straight, based on the idea that your object of affection decides your sexuality.”
I’m enjoying the mental picture of an entertainment reporter used to hearing publicist-approved meaningless sound bites from celebs struggling to comprehend what they’ve just heard. He’s right of course. Not only is it restrictive to the actors themselves to demand that they come out; it’s reductive to the reality of sexuality in general to try and enforce a gay/straight binary. It’s an incredibly insightful thing to say, even outside the context of “Gay Hollywood,” and it’s so refreshing to hear thoughtful honesty out of the mouth of an A-list actor. Thank you, James Franco, for being you, whoever you are.