LVJ shines a light on the murky world of celebrity sexuality: is it really OK to be gay in Tinseltown?
With the news that Ricky Martin is gay finally hitting the headlines, and shocking absolutely nobody, I got thinking about being gay in Hollywood. Notoriously image-obsessed Tinseltown takes it very seriously when one of its hot, male heartthrobs decides to start dating other hot, male heartthrobs. More importantly, so do critics and fans.
Being a celebrity involves selling a brand. And, celebrity brands need to appeal to the widest possible fan base. All too often, these fan bases primarily consist of desperate, teenage girls who want to spend their maths lessons fantasising about celebrities as their own, special bloodsuckers. Imagine the drama that would undoubtedly ensue if Robert Pattinson were revealed to be gay! Sure, he’s an okay actor, but, quite frankly, he makes a career out of the fact that teenage girls want to sleep with him. So, believe it or not, did Ricky Martin. And, back in the nineties, a gay man just couldn’t live la vida loca.
Stephen Gately, one-fifth of Boyzone, was my childhood crush, and I went along to more than one concert with a handmade glittery ‘I HEART STEPHEN’ poster. Such was the intensity of this crush that I bought all of Boyzone’s CDs, read all his interviews and had his poster above my bed. Had I known, or even suspected, that the man I was going to marry would go on to marry another man, I would have been heartbroken. And, Boyzone would have lost a CD sale. Even Louis Walsh openly admitted that had he known Stephen was gay, he would have thought twice about picking him for the band.
So, it’s official: being gay is a bad career choice. Elton John knew this, and covered up his sexuality with a four-year sham marriage to a German music producer. Cary Grant also knew it, and despite five failed marriages, rumours of being bisexual dogging him for most of his career and living with a male ‘friend’ for twelve years, he never openly admitted to being homosexual.
Perhaps we can partially justify the Cary Grant situation by way of it being the 1950s and homosexuality not being as socially acceptable as it is nowadays. Ricky Martin and Stephen Gately, however, are victims of the here and now. We may like to think that we are a liberal generation, with ‘gay pride’ marches, LBGTQ societies and an abundance of ‘tasteful’gay storylines on our favourite teen dramas. Yet, the fact remains: leading men and women in Hollywood are still hiding their sexuality for fear of the effect coming out would have on their careers.
Thus far, I’ve focussed on gay men. This is largely because the number of openly lesbian women in Hollywood is shockingly low. The number of female celebs who have admitted to kissing another woman/being sexually attracted to another woman/being bisexual, however, is exponential in comparison. Albeit, these touching confessions are often revealed during FHM interviews where they’re pictured in La Perla’s finest, lolling on a beach with their legs spread wide. There’s no doubt about it: sex sells. What’s more, the PR people have clocked onto the fact that notoriety leads to column inches and that men love lesbians.
A few years ago, Angelina Jolie was the queen of bisexual publicity gathering. Being very sexual, very experimental and just a little bit mental was all part of the image. Who could forget her red carpet kiss with her own brother? Angelina, the blossoming movie star, was courting publicity, and when wearing vials of her husband’s blood around her neck seemed a bit passé, her relationship with model Jenny Shimizu definitely kept her making headlines. That isn’t to undermine her sexuality; bi or otherwise. The sole issue I have with her is her blatant use of her sexual experiences with women to gain notoriety and press coverage.
So, is it possible for a celebrity to be openly gay, and avoid unnecessary media attention? Maybe. When Cynthia Nixon left her husband for another woman, though the story undeniably made headlines, she avoided the notorious Lindsay Lohan circus. Sure, she came out after Sex and the City had finished on TV, so you could claim that she waited for her career to end before revealing her sexuality. Yet, she has played straight lawyer Miranda Hobbs in two SATC films after the television series ended.
Is Cynthia Nixon the exception to the rule? Or, are the celebs themselves encouraging the rumours because ‘any publicity is good publicity’?
Well, maybe a little bit of both. When celebrities present themselves as sex symbols, they have to live up to their public images regardless of their private lives. This might involve using their sexuality to enhance their image in a controversial, Angelina-esque, incest-is-cool way, or it might involve making their sexuality an essential part of their image a la Graham Norton and his beyond-a-stereotype character.
Maybe it all boils down to being perceived as a sex symbol. Sure, Cynthia Nixon was on a fairly sex-focused show, but, let’s face it, she was never going to appear in Playboy. Perhaps she avoided the drama because her sexuality wasn’t integral to her image, and so the press didn’t care whether she was gay, straight, bi or anything in between. However, it’s not so easy for everyone to avoid sex-symbol status. If you’re under 25 and even remotely fuckable, chances are you will be seen as a sex symbol. And, chances are that your manager will push this. And that’s how you end up in a Ricky Martin situation.
Celebrities project a fantasy that we all buy into. That’s all there is to it. That fantasy needs protecting, so regardless of the celeb’s sexual preference, their managers and agents need to keep us under the impression that their sexual orientation is the one the public want them to have. It’s a shame that the pressure to maintain this public persona affects peoples’ personal lives; and that we are so desperate to buy into the illusion that we cannot accept the reality.
But, then again, Hollywood has always been a world of smoke and mirrors.