Back in 1933, a silent film star named William Haines refused to deny his homosexuality and had to turn his back on his career — if only he had been working in Hollywood today.
Eight decades later gay rumours still swirl through Tinseltown, but its stars are refusing to deny them, even if they’re false.
“I think it’s a really great trend right now that . . . a lot of celebrities just don’t see the big deal,” says Phil Villeneuve, arts editor at dailyxtra.com and Xtra!, Toronto’s gay and lesbian biweekly newspaper. “In the world of entertainment, it’s now almost become a joke that gay rumours exist.”
And the joke’s on the rumour mongers.
Last week, James Franco mocked the gossip websites that often speculate on his sexuality, posting a series of paparazzi-style snaps on his Instagram account. On each series of photos, the actor has tagged the name of a celebrity website (Perez Hilton or Just Jared, for instance) and scribbled colourful notes in the style of that publication. He captioned one of the images, in which he kisses an unidentified man, “#Jamesfrancotv in love?????? #gawker.com #gay.”
Franco recently announced that he would actually prefer to be gay. Though he told The Advocate magazine in 2010, “I’m not gay,” and was recently tied toGame of Thrones star Emilia Clarke, he tends not to discuss his dating life. This along with the fact that he has played several gay characters — in Howl, Milkand The Broken Tower — has resulted in rumours circulating that he is still in the closet. In 2011, he fanned the flames when he told Entertainment Weekly of his choice to play gay characters, “maybe I’m just gay.”
At Comedy Central’s Roast of Franco earlier this month, a number of his famous friends joked about the rumours — Buzzfeed counted a total of 26 gay jokes made at the actor’s expense — and were subsequently criticized for being homophobic. Seth Rogen, for instance, quipped, “He’s a tough guy to pin down although I’ve heard many guys have been able to do it.
- But Franco was not insulted. “I don’t even care if people think I’m gay, so it was like, ‘Awesome!’” he told the Daily Beast at the Toronto International Film Festival, adding, “I wish I was gay.” )
Though Jake Gyllenhaal has not expressed the same desire, he welcomes speculation about his sexuality.
Despite being seen romancing model Alyssa Miller earlier this month during the TIFF, the 32-year-old actor has been the subject of gay rumours since 2005. That was the year he starred in Brokeback Mountain as a cowboy in love with co-star Heath Ledger’s character. And in a recent interview with James Lipton for Inside the Actors Studio, he said he took the rumour as a “huge compliment.”
Who knew he and Miley Cyrus, 20, would ever have anything in common?
The “We Can’t Stop” singer used the same term when she was branded a lesbian after chopping off her hair earlier this summer. In an interview with the Toronto Sun in July, she said the word didn’t bother her in the least, quite the contrary.
“Everyone said I was a lesbian but I’m like, ‘Being a lesbian isn’t a bad thing.’ So if you think I look like I’m a lesbian, I’m not offended. You can call me much worse,” she said, adding “being a lesbian is a compliment.”
Community actor Joel McHale also considers being called “gay” a compliment. In an interview with The Advocate in April, the host of The Soup scolded those who do not find it “flattering” to have their sexuality questioned.
“I always find it really weird when guys flip out over someone thinking they might be gay,” he said. “If a guy gets offended by that, there’s something’s wrong with him. I take it as a compliment.”
Though some might argue that these stars are overcompensating, isolating the gay community in a different way, Villeneuve doesn’t.
“I think it’s very helpful,” he says of their responses. “It’s super positive.”
Other stars are simply refusing to respond to queries regarding their sexuality so as not to marginalize the gay community. In an interview for Out Magazine’s September cover, Joseph Gordon-Levitt revealed why he did not provide an answer when the paparazzi asked about his sexuality in his short 2006 documentary Pictures of Assholes.
“That would be really tacky — they would win if I had to clarify,” he said.
His response is reminiscent of George Clooney’s last year in The Advocate. Though theGravity star is famous for having a growing string of beautiful exes, rumour has it they are just a front for his homosexual escapades. And in the February 2012 issue of the magazine, Clooney refused to deny this.
“I think it’s funny, but the last thing you’ll ever see me do is jump up and down, saying, ‘These are lies!’ ” he said. “That would be unfair and unkind to my good friends in the gay community. I’m not going to let anyone make it seem like being gay is a bad thing.”
While these celebrities are perfectly happy being associated with the gay community, Villeneuve accedes that some of the “old guard” will “never come out.”
Though Margaret Cho and Carrie Fisher have reportedly outed John Travolta, for instance, the Pulp Fiction star continues to deny he is gay as do a number of other older stars, all stuck in a time, before Ellen DeGeneres and Neil Patrick Harris, when admitting you were gay was a career death sentence.