Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Is It Really So Courageous When Straight Actors Play Gay Characters?

By now we know the drill.

Hollywood makes a gay-themed movie, and (1) the publicity makes much of the fact that the film's stars are really straight and (2) reviewers and audiences applaud the actors' courage in taking on the roles in the first place. (3) Gay lifestyle magazines then proceed to drool over the stars and, if granted actual interviews, quiz them about who they might "go gay" for and what they think of their "big gay following." (4) Nominations and awards often come tumbling after.

But in this day and age is it really so courageous to play gay? And why must we be told again and again that the actors are really not gay at all ... and, if necessary, they have the papers to prove it?

Just this morning, a good third of NPR's coverage of Heath Ledger's death consisted of replaying an old interview in which the talented young actor describes how he had to confront and use his own "fears" when he appeared in Brokeback Mountain and then of numbering the female companions he's had over the years ... for a second I was worried the list was going to trail all the way back to his high-school prom.

I had hoped the days of actors being typecast for playing gay or effeminate were behind us.

But sadly we live in a world where fans of Clay Aiken threaten to sue and destroy his livelihood if the shudderingly innocuous entertainer is ever proved to be homosexual.

With "fans" like that, who needs bashers?

Surely nothing recent actors have ventured in taking on gay roles even remotely compares to the courage it took in 1961 for British actor and matinee idol Dirk Bogarde to play gay in the groundbreaking film Victim ... considerably more risky because Bogarde was unmarried and not romantically attached to women, despite his denial at the time that he was gay, and because at the time homosexuality was still a punishable crime in the UK.

But has anyone bothered to give gay actors a word of praise for playing straight characters? What about those two Darrens on the old Bewitched TV show? Or the dad on The Brady Bunch? Where's the love there? and where were the Emmys?

Has anyone offered any evidence that Anthony Hopkins is not in fact a cannibal? What about those rumors that Gerard Butler died in Thermopylae?

Are actors "courageous" when they play characters otherwise different from themselves, say, in ethnicity or age?

Doesn't all the unwarranted praise amount to a tacit admission that if established actors are at risk for just being thought to be gay that a lot of mean-natured loonies are still running loose in the world ... who probably constitute an even greater risk to those of us who are actually cards-on-the-table gay?

And if it's so "risky" just to pretend to be gay in movies or on TV, why all the hesitation about passing and enforcing laws to protect openly gay men and women from the more likely risk of attacks and reprisals against them?

In truth, good money is made by the straight actors who play gay characters in the entertainment media ... and, given their supposed courage, they even enhance their credibility and chances of winning prestigious awards.

Hell, it's a slap in the face of all the gay guys who don't get paid a penny for craving cock and get hardly a pat on the back, much less the stunned admiration of award-presenters.

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