Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wherefore Art Thou Homosexual Actors?

So that's where all the gay leading men are.

Mark Caro of the Chicago Tribune wonders why there are no openly gay leading men in Hollywood. (For my part, I wondered why Mark Caro was asking such a silly question until I saw the accompanying promotional still from Milk.) There aren't any openly gay leading ladies in Hollywood, either, but never mind that; the answer to Caro's question is simple -- the entertainment industry is full of cowards, the media is full of cowards, and the public is full of idiots.

With that out of the way, I have to take issue with Caro raising the tired suggestion that it might be easier for women to come out (or kinda come out) in Hollywood and retain their careers than men. After noting that straight actors like Tom Hanks "have no problems being believed as gay men—or murderers or mentally challenged characters—yet there's much doubt that an openly gay actor could be convincing carrying a romance with the opposite sex," he writes:
There also may be different standards for women and men. Although Jodie Foster does not discuss her personal life, while accepting an award late last year she thanked "my beautiful Cydney" in reference to the woman widely acknowledged to be her partner. Cynthia Nixon's revelation that she is a lesbian had no effect on her participation in this year's smash "Sex and the City" movie, and if anything, Lindsay Lohan has received more sympathetic press since she began dating DJ Samantha Ronson (and stopped acting so erratically).
Isn't that all a bit flimsy? As Caro admits, Jodie Foster doesn't discuss her personal life. While everyone knows that she's gay (or almost everyone, as surely there must be someone in Kansas...), and while she knows that we know she's gay, she has never confirmed to the media that what we know, and she knows that we know, is in fact true.

(This is the part of the post where Fielding Mellish interrupts the proceedings with a passionate: "I object, your honor! This trial is a travesty. It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham. I move for a mistrial! Do you realize there's not a single homosexual on that jury?")

You'll remember that Foster's "beautiful Cydney" comment, which prompted major news outlets to declare her officially out of the closet, was never followed up by anything from Foster herself. If the media wants to consider her "out," that's their prerogative, but she hasn't said a word on the subject. Until she takes that step, she cannot be lumped in with celebrities who have put their careers on the line by saying in no uncertain terms that they're gay. She hasn't earned a place at their table.

And let's not pretend that she's known for pulling off convincing onscreen romances with members of the opposite sex. Have we already forgotten about the flop that was Anna and the King? Her abject failure to generate chemistry with Matthew McConaughey in Contact? Foster hasn't, which is why she spends more time outwitting and overpowering men than seducing them in her most commercially successful films.

Then there's the case of Cynthia Nixon. Of course her coming out didn't effect her participation in the Sex and the City movie; she was 1/4th of the show. And it is the show, not the movie, that's key here, because Nixon was in a heterosexual relationship for most of Sex and the City's run on HBO; her coming out didn't happen until seven or eight months after the series wrapped. Would she have been cast as Miranda Hobbes if she'd been out 10 years ago? Would T.R. Knight have been cast on Grey's Anatomy if the public already knew him as a gay man? Good luck getting a straight answer now, so to speak, on either count.

That leaves us with Lindsay Lohan, whose career is in tatters. Lohan says she isn't gay and is apparently reluctant to call herself bisexual. How do any of these things point to women possibly having it easier than men? Particularly when, as Caro points out, it is "unclear" whether audiences would accept some openly lesbian performers, such as Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O'Donnell, as anything other than lesbians. (Perhaps that wasn't what Caro was getting at, but "different" usually boils down to "easier" in these debates.) If Hollywood actresses have reason to believe they can come out without harming their careers, why are so many of them still in the closet?

Caro's article mentions seven openly gay male celebrities: Clay Aiken, Lance Bass, Elton John, Ian McKellen, Rupert Everett, Neil Patrick Harris, and T.R. Knight. On the women's side, he counts the newly out Wanda Sykes and the not-so-newly-out Ellen DeGeneres, the "seems like it's been a lifetime but it was only in 2002" Rosie O'Donnell, the presumably bisexual Nixon and possibly bisexual Lohan, and Foster. Who won't comment on her sexuality. (I'd call her a Beautiful Cydneybian, but even that has been thrown into doubt.) Additionally, Caro name-checks Richard Chamberlain and Rock Hudson as actors who came out later in life, and while I'm not sure that's technically true of Hudson, it's certainly true of other actors -- Farley Granger, Tab Hunter and George Takei come to mind. If these men have any lesbian counterparts in the United States, their names have slipped my mind. Maybe there are different standards for women and men after all...

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