Out in Hollywood: To be or not to be gay?
After a decade of notable gains by gays and lesbians in Hollywood, there was quite a concentrated pre-Christmas flurry of attention given to being out in Hollywood.
First, Rupert Everett lamented his career after having coming out, and advised young stars to stay in the closet if they hoped to have a successful career. Colin Firth, who is straight but plays a gay character in A Single Man, then chimed in, confirming that he has observed it's still difficult to be openly gay in Hollywood.
Meanwhile, Meredith Baxter, who played '80s TV sitcom mother Elyse Keaton on Family Ties, finally came out at age 62.
(And all of this happened in the wake of Adam Lambert's much-criticized man-on-man kiss and homosensual performance on the American Music Awards.)
More recently, gay observers have criticized the trailer for Valentine's Day for excluding the gay storyline (between characters portrayed by Bradley Cooper and Eric Dane) in spite of showing scenes suggestive of sex (by heterosexuals, of course).
Selling homosexual content to the mass market may continue to be a challenge for studios and corporations (and, of course, the reason why there aren't any openly gay A-list actors).
Yet although Everett may be bitter and dissatisfied with his career trajectory, what he did achieve as an out gay actor shouldn't be ignored.
He is one of Hollywood's few gay pioneers who dared to venture into uncharted territory. Hardly any openly gay actors can boast being billed as a leading man, and Everett did have a few lead or prominent credits in mainstream fare such as An Ideal Husband, The Next Best Thing, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. While his career high and marketability as an out gay actor may have been short-lived, it's still progress. He may have ended up unwittingly as a test case, but it's certainly laid the groundwork for others to build upon in the future.
In fact, the number of male gay actors coming out (particularly those working on TV) has been steadily growing in numbers.
In addition to Everett, there's Ian McKellen (X-Men), Alan Cumming (X-Men 2), Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser, M.D.), Chad Allen (Donald Strachey mysteries), T.R. Knight (Grey's Anatomy), Luke Macfarlane (Brothers & Sisters), David Hyde Pierce (Frasier), George Takei (Star Trek), John Barrowman (Torchwood lead), Darryl Stephens (Noah's Arc lead), and B.D. Wong (Oz). That's in addition to female stars such as Ellen DeGeneres, Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City), Sandra Bernhard, Lily Tomlin, Michelle Bonilla (ER), and many more.
The truth is that Everett, or any other openly gay actors, can't necessarily expect to have the same career path that straight (or even closeted gay) actors have had. The same is true of any member of a minority group that hasn't had any precursors before them: breaking new ground is always unpredictable.
Disappointments and heartbreakers are par for the course.
While there are those that hit stumbling blocks, sometimes the results can be quite spectacular. Lucy Liu and Sandra Oh have both made great strides for Asian (North) American female actors in Hollywood. (It should be noted, however, that they didn't face the same type of social taboos or discrimination that gay men do. On the other hand, it is notable that it has taken such a long time for female actors of Asian descent to reach their level.)
It's possible to be a trailblazer, but that often requires working even harder than usual, when it's tough enough to make it as it is. But more often than not, when you're busy leveling out the playing field, sometimes you don't necessarily get the chance to play. The hope is, however, that it'll help to pave the way for others in the future.