actors, playing gay, and the perils of Twitter

Lots of things about being an actor can be less than fun. Anyone who does this sort of work will tell you that there are some parts of the job that just suck: weird working hours, unsteady pay checks, unpredictably long days, filming summer scenes in the dead of winter (how to know if you can really act: can you look happy about wearing a tank top and a mini skirt in 30 degree weather?). But few things inspire quite as much dread as love scenes.

As a performer I’ve largely been spared this, but not enough not to know that yeah, it sucks. It’s one of those things that falls somewhere between ludicrous and boring and embarrassing. Why it’s awful varies with the project and the people involved. Sometimes it’s worse when you’re genuinely attracted to the other performer; sometimes it’s worse when you can’t stand them; or when you’re buddies with their spouse. All of it’s pretty anxiety producing. For me, I get this running loop of terror in my head about how I need to give a good performance and look into it, but if I look too into it, will my partner in the scene mock me (this, for the record, has never happened, but it’s the neurosis I bring to the table — everyone has at least one).

One thing that can be, or can be assumed to be, tough for a lot of people, is doing love scenes with someone of a gender they’re not attracted to in their off-screen life. Because my tastes are wide-ranging, that’s not an experience I’ve had, but I can see how it would be super weird. And I don’t find it problematic that people find it weird. There can be a lot of social taboo going on there, no matter how progressive you are and no matter how much you get paid to pretend to be someone else.

Now, knowing, in fact, that it’s super weird for a lot of people, and that there are still way too many social stigmas out there about homosexuality (let’s face it, no one ever worried about whether a lesbian is comfortable making out with a man on screen), if you’re going to be playing gay on screen, especially in a love scene, casting will seriously, seriously ask you if you’re okay with that. Your agent will talk to you about the pros and cons of the choice. And sometimes, you’ll even have to sign something saying you won’t sue anyone if this playing gay thing leads to reputational damage (for the record: I’ve been questioned by casting more closely about my willingness to play gay, even after I’ve informed casting about my own orientation, than I have been about my willingness to have live insects placed on my body).

I’m not joking. I know we all wish I were.

So at the point that you are an actor and you’re booked to do a love scene with another actor of the same sex, and you’re straight and thinking “Oh shit, I hate filming love scenes and OH MY GOD, I’ve never kissed another dude before,” you’ve already had plenty of time not to sign up for this. I get that you’re stressed. I get that it’s weird for you. And I’m not asking you not to feel that way. Because filming love scenes SUCKS.

But in this age of constant interviews and the ill-considered opportunities for general crankiness Twitter provides, please think very carefully before you speak on the record about this experience. Because when your anxiety about this process reads as “playing gay is disgusting, and I’m worried about getting the gay cooties on me,” you look like a bit of an arse. At best. And it’s really hurtful to gay fans of a given property to hear that someone can’t stand playing a character that might be someone we can actually relate to.

This happens, unsurprisingly, all the time. It’s recently happened through some now deleted tweets in one of my fandoms of choice. And it’s happened before regarding other actors and properties that are important to me. Seriously, if you’re going to be in a film (no matter how terrible) about Alexander the Great, don’t make snide comments about the gay. Ditto for Torchwood. Double plus ditto for anything that is inherently and overwhelmingly a gay narrative.

So, “Hey, I have to do this thing that’s uncomfortable for actors in general and is new to me in this particular situation ’cause I’ve never kissed a dude before and I’m feeling a little strange about it; acting is so weird” — totally cool; it’s a weird job!

But, “Any hot chicks want to help me get the gay off?” Not cool, man, not cool.

19 thoughts on “actors, playing gay, and the perils of Twitter”

  1. When I was in high school I auditioned for several student written/directed plays (we auditioned for all of them at the same time) One of them was about teen pregnancy and date rape and they asked everyone, whether we were auditioning for that particular play or not, if we thought we’d be comfortable with doing a scene with implied sex/rape.

    There was another play in that same group where the main character was a 30 something closeted gay man who was dealing with his discomfort with being gay and his attraction to a younger gay man. The younger gay man ended up being played by a woman, and I don’t know if the director did this because they couldn’t find two guys who would kiss, or if it was just because they wanted the younger man to look younger and this was easier if he was played by a woman than if both men were teenage guys, but no one asked at auditions whether we’d have a problem portraying someone who was gay.

    1. Indeed, it is a Fail cocktail. Professionalism (or at least maturity) seems to be a dying art these days…

  2. The invisible “DOUCHE” sign on said actor’s forehead may be even harder to shake off than the alleged gay cooties…

  3. I heard about and saw the tweet and thought it was utterly disgusting at the time. Seeing the picture……well, I have no words as I am in full RAGE mode.

    What a thoroughly bigoted individual!

  4. I don’t often hope that an actor’s character dies in slow and horrible ways, but this guy? Couldn’t happen to a more deserving fellow. But then it might be more entertaining to avoid the “have gay sex and die” trope and make him keep playing the role. There’s a right way to express concern over playing gay love scenes with someone like John Barrowman – why halo thar James Marsters! – and there’s a wrong way.

  5. When I lived in LA, I knew a guy who was a video editor. At the time, the work that was *always* available to video editors, but which was also the work of last resort was editing porn. No one liked it & the pay was far less good than editing commercials or TV shows. However, despite generally wretched working conditions, nasty bosses and suchlike, the one thing they people hiring for this job would *never* require would be to ask a male video editor (which at the time was almost all of them) to edit gay male porn w/o both extra pay and many questions about whether they were really OK doing this. Editing scat, water-sports, and perhaps the occasional person+farm animal was an absolutely required part of the job, but two guys was considered just too much. Very screwed up and very sad.

  6. Twitter in general seems to be a place where a lot of people say really stupid things. Maybe it’s the short, off-the-cuff nature of it that somehow encourages people to not think before they type. I’m not saying people don’t say idiotic things elsewhere on the internet, but it seems a bit more prevalent on Twitter.

    1. I think it’s the perceived constant pressure to be clever. In the pursuit of being clever, it’s pretty standard to exaggerate, overshare, or even say things that are clearly lies. It takes some practice and awareness to realize when the subject of exaggeration or oversharing might still require sensitivity.

  7. Everyone says stupid things pretty much all the time. Twitter is no exception. I don’t agree with what he said but he is just a young guy saying stupid things. I know a lot of that type, I work with them. When stupid comments lead to public outrage I begin to wonder which is the worst of the two. After all seeing the pictures of JB and Dillon and how John seems to like him and he seems to like John, I’m hard press to read any more into this than it was a stupid comment, like his other ones that a naive young man made in a bad way.

    There is a place for outrage when negative comments are made by an individual but I don’t think this one fits that. It should be looked on in poor taste but not considered a hate crime.

    1. Your mileage varying, totally okay. Your description of that feels to me like words are being put in my mouth, however, and that’s not okay.

    2. WTF? Saying that someone’s “stupid comment” (your term) is not cool is somehow an overreaction? Pointing out that an actor making a tweet “in poor taste” (also your term) could put a potential fan off them before their scene even hits the screen, thus making said statement a Bad Idea, is equivalent to accusing them of a hate crime? Seriously, where do you get this stuff?

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