About a month ago, Newsweek ran an article by Ramin Setoodeh with the tagline, “Heterosexual actors play gay all the time. Why doesn’t it work in reverse?” This could have been an article about why there is an acceptance of straight actors playing gay, yet it is relatively rare for gay actors to play straight. Instead, it contained things like this:
But frankly, it’s weird seeing [Sean] Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, like he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is. Even the play’s most hilarious scene, when Chuck tries to pick up a drunk woman at a bar, devolves into unintentional camp. Is it funny because of all the ’60s-era one-liners, or because the woman is so drunk (and clueless) that she agrees to go home with a guy we all know is gay?
Sean Hayes’ co-star Kristen Chenoweth fired back at Newsweek with a letter that accuses both the writer and the magazine of being homophobic. Then Setoodeh responded himself, saying that he was openly gay and not terribly homophobic. He writes:
But what all this scrutiny seemed to miss was my essay’s point: if an actor of the stature of George Clooney came out of the closet today, would we still accept him as a heterosexual leading man? It’s hard to say, because no actor like that exists. I meant to open a debate—why is that? And what does it say about our notions about sexuality? For all the talk about progress in the gay community in Hollywood, has enough really changed? The answer seems obvious to me: no, it has not.
I think this debate is a valid one, but aimed at the wrong prejudices in our society. I think what it comes down to is that we have not had public gay relationships, or the freedom to be open, long enough for a masculine identity that is separate from sexual orientation. The prevailing view in our society is that gay attraction is a “feminine” attribute, that the simple fact of orientation prevents gay men from being “real men.” That is not true. Most people can tell you that there is a range of masculinity and femininity in gay men, but there’s also a range in straight men. There are straight actors that no one would accept as a leading man because they don’t project the same kind of masculinity, and the same is true for gays.
By the way, the photo is of Marlon Brando, a bisexual (NSFW) man that oozed masculinity. Nobody told him gay couldn’t play straight.