Film: Queers on Film: The Glass Closet and Gays Playing It Straight
Crossposted with permission from Canonball Blog’s James Worsdale
A little over a week ago, Gawker’s Bryan Moylan put up a post calling out Luke Evans and his PR team for straight-washing him when he had publicly identified as a big ‘ole mo in promotion of projects past. Evans had identified as a gay man to the Advocate, has discussed his substantial gay porn collection with GayDarNation, among having made other honest proclamations of his homosexuality. Recently, however, now that Evans is set to appear in several upcoming high-budget action flicks, his Wikipedia page has undergone a little…rearticulation. At the moment it reads under the personal life column:
During his early career Evans openly identified as gay. In a 2002 interview he said “[E]verybody knew me as a gay man, and in my life in London I never tried to hide it” and that by being open he wouldn’t have “that skeleton in the closet they can rattle out”. In 2004 he said that his acting career had not suffered by being out…In September 2010, Evans was romantically linked with a woman.
Hmmm. Is he, as Moylan suggests, taking a cue from Anderson Cooper (not to mention the other probably closeted Cooper)?:
Now, who knows, Evans may be bisexual or pansexual and he may have learned his lesson about opening up to crazy websites about his porn collection, but one thing is for sure: This guy is not straight. So, what’s the big fucking deal? There’s an ever-expanding list of actors who have been openly gay throughout their careers with a good deal of success, why not add Evans to that? While his orientation may turn off some audience members, we’re sure even more will be turned off by being lied to.
This last point of his, I’m not entirely convinced of. The question of Luke Evans reminded me of the infamous Ramin Setoodeh Newsweek piece, “Straight Jacket,” where Setoodeh claimed, citing Sean Hayes in the play Promises Promises as an example, that gay actors are inherently unconvincing as straight characters, particularly as love interests for straight characters.
What is with this repeated preoccupation with a performer’s sexuality when it is anything other than heterosexual? And in addition to this, why is the institution of the glass closet still one so evidently prevalent in a post-Ellen world? WHEN WILL JOHN TRAVOLTA LISTEN TO CARRIE FISHER?!
Having moved to North Carolina after college, I’ve had to forge my own way in a place very different from where I came and where I didn’t know anybody. I make friends pretty easily so it wasn’t catastrophically difficult in that sense, but I ended up befriending a lot of bros, as I have some weird tendency to do. Maybe it’s from having a dad who was a Marine and then a cop, I don’t know! But befriending bros gives me a unique insight into the way this subset of the American population interprets and then – from years of reinforced patriarchal values and thinking – comes to define what is thought to be American values and interpretations.
They all love and respect me, don’t get me wrong, and I like to think my presence in their lives has changed their thinking in some ways, but they’re bros nonetheless. I remember once having a conversation with a group of them where we were somehow on the topic of Neil Patrick Harris (I mean, why not?). Some didn’t realize he was gay. One particularly frat-tastic friend of mine made the comment that when he learned this he was disappointed because he used to look up to him before knowing that.
Come again? Do you mean you admired his performances in Doogie Howser and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and somehow those were tainted when you learned he liked dick? Barney Stinson will never be the same to you knowing that he is not, in fact, a vain womanizer with a semblance of a soft side ultimately overcome by the drive of his phallus? Maybe you can only admire characters whose decadence is matched and superseded by the actors that play them. I mean, Charlie Sheen’s a real role model!
I think that this exchange highlights a core problem in the case of Luke Evans. The action movie genre is one loaded with phallogocentrism and whose audiences are largely composed of men and the women they (generally) drag there. Of course there are vibrant exceptions within this genre but, for the most part, it is a boy’s club. And boys, evidently, are uncomfortable in the position of worship and admiration of a gay man, sentiments integral to the success of action movies. They’re also apparently uncomfortable in the position of worship and admiration of old ladies but not old men.
Does this posit comedy as a safe haven for queers on film? Sometimes! The pink fairy stereotype of FANTABULOUS gay men who love makeovers and are super fierce and LOVE Madonna (okay I’ve gone too far), has in some ways made more options available for gay representations on screen, just it’s usually limited to self-mockery and tokenization. And Portia DeRossi’s Lindsay Bluth is a convincing vixen, though I think it important to note that gay male actors’ lesbian counterparts face a very different set of issues (exoticization, straight male gaze) when manifesting their sexuality or heterosexuality on screen.
But I think that for too long Hollywood executives and PR agents have pushed for a maintenance of the status quo, and I think that the public has been too pathetically naïve about the Tom Cruises, Ryan Seacrests, Queen Latifahs, Kevin Spaceys and now Luke Evans(es) of the world, letting themselves be lied to, so as to not confront their prejudices about how they interpret representations and skew them when the reality is oftentimes that a queer person is playing a straight person on screen. This is in no small part because of straight men, in particular, feeling threatened by the idea of identifying with the queer experience, indulging in their gay male panic over queer men or manifesting their male gaze over queer women.
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