Ma vie en rose: LGBT soap stars

Regular readers of this blog and of my contributions to the Marlena Delacriox blog might know that I’ve written about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community. 

I’m an out gay writer who wrote for regional LGBT publications on topics as diverse as LGBT youth homelessness and the diversity of the LGBT faith community.

And I’ve also written about gay men and lesbians on soaps, most notably about the As The World Turns story featuring Luke and Noah. That story is one of a handful of stories on soaps that feature gay characters. I’m encouraged that All My Children is bringing back Eden Riegel’s Bianca – with a new and very sexy girlfriend played by Tamara Braun.

But one thing I’ve never talked about about was LGBT actors on soaps – primarily, of course, because few performers (if any) have publicly come out of the closet.

Nelson Branco has posted an article on the TVGuide.ca website that asks an interesting question: Can the actors and actresses who play the characters we watch every day come out?

I think it’s a very compelling question, and one that I’m not sure I have a definitive answer for.

On the one hand, there are several performers in primetime who have come out in the last few years – among them Portia deRossi (now married to Ellen Degeneres), Neil Patrick Harris, David Hyde Pierce, Cynthia Nixon and “Grey’s Anatomy” actor TR Knight. I think all of these performers have done amazing work, and the knowledge of their real-life sexual orientation didn’t impact my belief in their characters when I watched them on screen.

(I didn’t buy Knight’s character George as the big stud of Seattle Grace when he slept with both Meredith and Izzie, but that had less to do with Knight’s sexuality and more to do with the fact that dopey, geeky George would be far liklier to land a girl like his current love interest, Lexie – versus former model Izzie.)

On the other hand, I think there’s something to be said for actors being “blank canvases” as far as the audience’s perception is concerned. I’m not talking about this specifically within the framework of sexual orientation – I think there are times when we know TOO much about an actor and it diminishes our belief in the character that they’re playing. 

I’m thinking here of actors like Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts. We know SO much about their lives, especially Cruise’s religious beliefs, that it becomes harder for him to slip into a disguise and become Someone Who Isn’t Tom Cruise.

I believe deeply that the healthiest thing for any of us is to fully be who we are, and be out and proud about one’s identity. But even with that belief, I can understand why an actor or actress would want to keep their personal identity low-key, if not completely under wraps.

That reluctance could come from concern that producers might be reluctant to hire LGBT performers. But most actors and actresses will tell you they want to play a range of roles, and in this scenario, staying low-key about one’s sexuality might be a conscious choice a performer makes to keep their options open and to allow them to be that “blank canvas” on which they can project new characters and new personas.

As Branco’s article suggests, the unknown factor is how the industry and the fans would react.

Broadway is, in many ways, an industry similar to soaps. But I don’t know that anyone in that community gives the sexual orientation of performers much thought. Certainly it’s understood by producers that many of the performers that they’d want to hire are gay. And it hasn’t led to typecasting there. Hyde Pierce just played the heterosexual lead in a musical. Raul Esparza was the lead character in the recent revival of “Company”, and I doubt Cherry Jones ever takes a vacation – she’s everywhere!

But would soap fans care? We’re in a time where the creative muse is absent from almost every show. And as a result, off-screen drama (a la the P&G firings and the Carolyn Hinsey dismissal) has created far greater discussion and interest than any storyline, performer or execution of a creative decision has.

We know that there are LGBT actors in contract roles on almost every show. The question is – would knowing your favorite leading lady prefers her own leading lady affect your belief in the true love of your favorite supercouple?

As a gay man, I don’t think it would affect MY perceptions. But I’m not sure how objective I can be on this particular subject. I’d love to hear from some of my readers about what YOU think.

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3 thoughts on “Ma vie en rose: LGBT soap stars

  1. Hey Patrick,

    Nice essay there.

    I’ve had this discussion with so many friends, either in person or on web sites over the years. And in this age of the internet, many of the soap actors who are gay is frequently discussed. It’s such an open secret these days, it doesn’t affect my perceptions of their characters on screen.

    Now, what does affect my perceptions is gay actors bearding up for publicity photos at events or working mentions of girlfriends into interviews or even marrying to quelch gay rumors. That leaves a bad taste in my mouth and unfortunately, it does make me think less of their performances.

    And it especially bothers me that journalists whose job it is to report the truth go along with the charade. But as a journalist, I also understand that the soap mags have to play the game (to a certain extent) to gain access to the talent.

    On the other hand, I have the utmost respect for an actor who was brave enough to bring his boyfriend to the Emmys a few years back when he was nominated. And they were even shown on screen seated together, their body language indicating they were clearly a couple! That was very brave and I found myself enjoying his performances even more afterwards.

    So, I guess these things do affect our perceptions. Both positively and negatively.

  2. As long as a actor comes and does their job, does it well, and isn’t doing anything to hurt themselves or others, they can be having sex with a sheep and I don’t care.

  3. It doesn’t bother me either way.

    I can see cases though where it would upset a person or situations that can turn someone against a performer.

    Finding out their sexual orientation could ruin the illusion, when it comes to a particular performer. This can happen with things that have nothing to do with sex as well. You find out an actor who plays a particular part isn’t the race their character is, which was more common in old movies.

    The actor or actress has done something so disgusting to you that you can’t enjoy them like you once did. An example of this is people who once liked Jane Fonda, but due to her actions during the Vietnam era, have hated her ever since. (I was told about that phenomenon as these actions happened years before I was born.)

    Some people are prejudiced against GLBT individuals, so finding out an performer they like is one would be upsetting and potentially make them stop watching a show. I think that’s a huge reason for the proverbial closet.

    A viewer could go to a fan event and meet some actors. They are cool, so they like them more, and if they aren’t they like them less. It shouldn’t happen, but it does. Sometimes real life does effect whether or not I like someone it is human nature, I guess.

    Knowing about the people (or their public persona) outside of their parts could influence things negatively or positively. That’s something I’ve dealt with since childhood. I’m used it to now, the only time I don’t have this is when I have no familiarity with a performer or their work.

    With almost every performer I watch unless I have never seen them before there is baggage. If I saw them in another project, what I felt about them in that job can influence things. So it doesn’t even have to be about their real life, but their reel life too.

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