I don’t know or care a lot about whether this actor from “Empire” is gay or not. His non-reaction to a general sense that he is gay seems like a replay of what we went through with Sean Hayes back in the day.
But I have to say I think I can understand the reluctance of some young actors to be publicly and irrevocably identified as homosexual.
It’s not because of the closet — at least not these days. Whether or not we’ve reached critical mass on gay acceptance, it is clear to most people in Hollywood that it is not only possible to be openly homosexual and have a successful career, it can even get you some favorable press. In any event, we are long past the days of Rock Hudson.
The bigger challenge for a gay celebrity these days in coming out is the fear of being commandeered by the gay political establishment as the Latest Model.
For the last half century or so, lesbians and gay men have had to live in an artificially politicized world for the simple reason that the laws that were so harmful to us needed to be challenged by someone, and it pretty much had to be us. Very few heterosexuals worried about having sodomy laws used to blackmail them, and it took a generation of constant effort to get people to see that the lack of legal recognition for our relationships was, in fact, a problem for us. Those efforts have paid off in record time.
But here’s a fact that a lot of politically active people don’t always understand. Many people didn’t want to be political, or didn’t have the inclination in that direction. All those years of yelling, “Out of the bars and into the streets!” were a recognition of that fact. At lot of people did get out of the bars and into the streets, but it was only because they were persuaded how vitally important that was.
Once established, political activism can become just another bureaucracy fighting for its own continued existence. That’s perfectly fine for those who live for controversy and grievance.
But what if that’s not your thing? In a world where sexual orientation is far better understood (though there are notable exceptions), lawyers and postal workers and bakers and nurses have the luxury of leading lives as private as they choose. For actors or others in the orbit of celebrityhood, though, a certain amount of publicity is their oxygen. It’s also the oxygen of the activists, who tend to resent the closet because they have to respect it. Outing has always been controversial because it violated that necessary respect in a context where being openly gay would have the most value.
But we have a more than adequate supply of good, great and even superlative role models who are openly homosexual now. The almost unbelievable progress we have made in both improving the law and opening the culture has broken through the silence that equalled death and a multitude of other gruesome, painful and noxious consequences.
Which is why I’m willing to give celebrities who want to avoid being coopted by the gay political establishment a break. There are actual gay politicians now, the professionals in this sport. And there are enough high-profile homosexual celebrities that we don’t need every actor out there to publicly declare and risk conscription.