Before the world knew that Neil Patrick Harris was gay, we graciously accepted his heterosexual role as Doogie Hauser and his brilliantly hyper-masculine performance in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. However, according to a recent Newsweek article, gays just can’t play the role of straight people and pull it off.
The Newsweek article, written by a gay man, Ramin Setoodeh, claims:
…the truth is, openly gay actors still have reason to be scared. While it’s OK for straight actors to play gay (as Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger did in Brokeback Mountain), it’s rare for someone to pull off the trick in reverse.
In a recent letter to Newsweek, Glee creator, Ryan Murphy, called for a boycott of the magazine and demanding an apology stating:
This article is as misguided as it is shocking and hurtful. It shocks me because Mr. Setoodeh is himself gay. But what is the most shocking of all is that Newsweek went ahead and published such a blatantly homophobic article in the first place…and has remained silent in the face of ongoing (and justified) criticism. Would the magazine have published an article where the author makes a thesis statement that minority actors should only be allowed and encouraged to play domestics? I think not.
In response to the call for a boycott, one misguided commenter had this to say:
No matter what the gay will always bring that fact in front. They have all this media dedicated to them, awards that they only award to them and many other things. So when a gay dude do something he is no longer doing the part, he is also promoting homosexuality, all the gays appreciate him. [sic throughout]
The seeds of homophobia were planted eons ago and ring clear in this commenter’s remarks. To the heterosexists, every action a gay person takes is simply to promote being gay. In last night’s Glee, Kurt summed this up nicely, “I am not a box. There are more than four sides to me.” This complexity of the human condition has been summarized over and over again, including in my favorite quote of Walt Whitman that I invoke far too often:
Do I contradict myself, very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.
But to the heterosexist, gays are nothing more than gays. We are not complex humans, but merely sexually deprived persons seeking to push our agenda on the rest of the world. If we were to sit quietly reading a newspaper in the park, heterosexists would run a T.V. special on “Perverts in the Park” – a show which was handled by KENS-TV Channel 11, San Antonio, in 1996. In fact, shortly after the airing of the “Perverts in the Park” segment, a male friend and I decided to spend the afternoon at the park walking the hiking trials. As we entered the park by car, a group of people took note of two men, came running toward the car screaming “perverts,” and wielded signs with further derogatory comments. Our day of hiking was spoiled because we were no more than one-side of a box – the homosexual side.
What we seem to be complaining about with the Newsweek article is that it perpetuates this idea that gays have no depth outside of our sexual orientation. We are simply faggots, queers, perverts and sinners – a class of person which deserves no respect. The article’s point, simply put, is that an out gay actor cannot be accepted in a straight role. In that respect, it is true. The majority cannot perceive “gay” people as much more than just “gay” people (just look to votes on same-sex marriage rights, the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell if you won’t take my word for it).
While an out gay actor may have the range and ability to play it straight, heterosexists cannot see past sexual orientation. This is not the fault of the character playing gay, it’s the fault of the social stigma associated with being gay. Once a person is out, they are all too often exclusively defined by their sexual orientation.
In fact, sexual orientation is such a defining matter when it is anything but “heterosexual” that there is no need for confirmation from the queerly-accused before society starts scoffing. Take Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan, as an example. While we’ve heard a bit about her judicial experience, pro-international law viewpoint and go-go executive branch policies, we’ve mostly heard accusations or denials about her sexual orientation. Even the White House has intervened, stating that Kagan is not gay. So, why the big uproar? Because, as politicians know too well, if Kagan is gay, she is nothing more to the majority of Americans. Her talents, education and abilities cease to matter and her sexual orientation is the only defining factor needed to deny her a position on the highest court of the United States.