When Sean Hayes, from Will & Grace, made his Broadway debut in Promises, Promises playing a heterosexual man, the New York Times theater review included these lines: “his emotions often seem pale to the point of colorlessness ... his relationship with [his costar Kristin] Chenoweth feels more like that of a younger brother than a would-be lover and protector.” This, to me, is code: it’s a way to say that Hayes’s sexual orientation is getting in the way of his acting without saying the word gay.
Instead of hiding behind double entendre and leaving the obvious unstated, I wrote an essay in the May 10 issue of NEWSWEEK called ”Straight Jacket” examining why, as a society, it’s often hard for us to accept an openly gay actor playing a straight character. You can disagree with me if you like, but when was the last time you saw a movie starring a gay actor? The point of my essay was not to disparage my own community, but to examine an issue that is being swept under the rug.
Immediately, a number of gay blogs picked up my essay and ran excerpts from it out of context, under the headline that I was antigay. It went viral. Chenoweth wrote a letter to NEWSWEEK calling the article “horrendously homophobic,”, even though she went on to acknowledge that I am openly gay. It went even more viral. In the meantime, commenters on the Internet piled on the attacks. Many of them said they hadn’t even read the original article (some of them did) but they all seemed to agree on the same point: that I was an idiot.
Over the weekend, I became the subject of a lot of vicious attacks. I received e-mails that said I will be fired, anonymous phone calls on my cell phone and a creepy letter at my home. Several blogs posted my picture, along with a link to my Twitter feed. People commented about my haircut, and that was only the beginning. I was compared to Ann Coulter and called an Uncle Tom. Someone described me as a “self-hating Arab” that should be writing about terrorism (I’m an American, born in Texas, of Iranian descent).
But what all this scrutiny seemed to miss was my essay’s point: if an actor of the stature of George Clooney came out of the closet today, would we still accept him as a heterosexual leading man? It’s hard to say, because no actor like that exists. I meant to open a debate—why is that? And what does it say about our notions about sexuality? For all the talk about progress in the gay community in Hollywood, has enough really changed? The answer seems obvious to me: no, it has not.
I realize this is a complicated subject matter, but the Internet sometimes has a way of oversimplfying things. My article became a straw man for homophobia and hurt in the world. If you were pro-gay, you were anti-NEWSWEEK. Chenoweth’s argument that gay youth need gay role models is true, but that’s not what I was talking about. I was sharing my honest impression about a play that I saw. If you don’t agree with me, I’m more than happy to hear opposing viewpoints. But I was hoping to start a dialogue that would be thoughtful—not to become a target for people who twisted my words. I’m not a conservative writer with an antigay agenda. I don’t hate gay people or myself. As for my haircut, I don’t know what to say. Should I change it?