I have been genuinely surprised by the attention my “coming out” has received. What, at the time, felt like a casual mention of my sexual preference in an interview about my latest stint on Broadway in OUT Magazine, quickly grew into a multitude of blog and internet reports on my official status. Funny thing is, I had assumed that it was common knowledge, and that no one would care in the first place. It doesn’t get much gayer than Broadway, and the general rule around these parts is that you’re gay until proven otherwise….
The closet I came out of, over 13 years ago, is a distant memory. If you know me, you are quite adjusted to the news that I am gay. You’ve probably met my amazing and supportive parents. You’re likely friends with my boyfriend and have noted how easily affectionate we are with one another. You’ve maybe heard my actual coming out story, which took place, typically, during the seismic shift of college life.
Truthfully, before this week, I didn’t consciously consider my sexuality to be a significant factor in my work as an actor. I viewed life and work as a separation of two entirely different entities and felt quite justified in talking exclusively about my work in any interview I’ve been fortunate enough to give.
I also heeded the advice of well-meaning advisors in the business, who didn’t want my opportunities to be limited by any stigma. An actor’s ambiguity can often be his power. So, I decided to keep my private life, by omission, private. I even turned down an opportunity to be one of OUT Magazine’s “Out 100” a few years back, scared of what it may do to my still developing career.
I have played a range of characters - gay, straight, and indifferent; and I have never failed to find my way into a heterosexual character’s head or heart, or groin, for that matter. My job, after all, is to relate to the other.
But, that’s not the point…
The realization I’ve suddenly come to, as obvious as it now seems, is that being gay is the core to my success in the first place.
Generally, the cliche assumption is that gay actors are “limited” in range, but further examination will reveal a particularly helpful dichotomy in the gay experience. You are forced into a deeper self examination by virtue of your otherness, but equally necessary is a keen observation of the world around you. Being born into a society that has unspoken rules you instinctively fear you won’t be able to follow, you must meticulously observe, question, imitate in hopes of survival, struggle through the endlessly troubling prospect of being different. It mimics the exact contradiction at the center of the actor’s art - you must dive deeply into the self while simultaneously becoming someone entirely different.
I have made a career out of investigating people very much like myself - outsiders who have struggled with finding their place in the world. I have always been attracted to characters who are in search of some kind of truth, because truth is something that anyone born outside of a norm must define for himself.
I must also admit that holding on to the residual shame of being gay, by not living with total openness and self acceptance, I have felt even more effective in my work. It has been a chance to expose my own personal struggle under the relative safety of a public mask. I have told myself that my quiet struggle was worth it, a kind of subversive civic duty of sorts, if it kept resulting in a validation that I deemed sufficient enough to replace the self doubt and sadness that I have always carried with me. I was convinced that this turmoil was the gas which powered my artistic motor, and always wondered what I would be without it.
I have done myself a disservice by failing to reconcile who I am with whom I project to the world. I have often felt like two very different people as a result of my engaging in a job that is so entirely personal, while denying the personal source of my experience. I was cowardly, I now believe, to think that my shame was the only thing that made me interesting.
It is with a sense of brand new transparency that I write this. There is a genuine freedom in this honesty, because I now realize that my only chance at happiness, actor or not, is to fully embrace the wonderful gifts that being gay has afforded my experience in this life, and to look forward to the many opportunities that have nothing to do with being gay.
Our brains have a magic way of alerting us to stimuli, but only until they become so commonplace that we are no longer aware of them. I am ready for my homosexuality to be the noise in my head that is so normal, so typical, that I can start hearing all the various sounds that join it in the cacophony of life.
The ultimate benefit of coming out, then, if your job happens to be a public one like mine, is not the attention, the heroism, or the props. It’s simpler and much more important. It’s the final step in integrating the person I actually am with the person that walks onto the stage every night, and in trusting that this new authenticity will free me to concentrate on the multitude of new stories I hope to tell.
And as for the practical “fall-out” of an actor’s decision to live transparently, I would argue that if people don’t want to hire you because of their altered perception of your sexuality, they’re probably not the people you want to be working with in the first place. They lack imagination. And isn’t imagination the point of it all?
I forgot that happiness is entirely contingent on our ability to walk through life with pride and integrity. Perhaps I willfully ignored it in my quest for “success.” Yes, you could argue that I was already out, that the people who actually count have always known, that random strangers don’t matter one way or another; but I know deep down that they do, and that hiding in any way, large or small, has resulted in an insidious shame that persisted ever so quietly in the shadows.
It is the desire for authentic happiness that resulted in these thoughts, in the impetus to share them. I hope that it might inspire other artists to consider, not only the potential power of transparency, but the personal possibilities in a free and unencumbered heart.