“Heterosexual actors play gay all the time. Why doesn’t it ever work in reverse?”
Ramin Setoodeh, a gay Newsweek columnist, has come under heavy criticism for writing an article asking why gay men aren’t believable when they play straight. The internet has become ablaze with anger directed toward Setoodeh, and many are now accusing him of being anti-gay himself. “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy has called for a boycott of Newsweek and Kristin Chenoweth (co-star with gay actor Sean Hayes in “Promises, Promises”) wrote a letter calling Setoodeh’s piece “horrendously homophobic.” There has been so much outrage that Setoodeh has written another article and even went on MSNBC to defend himself. GLAAD is even asking Newsweek to apologize for the article’s publication.
There’s little doubt in my mind that there’s been a rush to judge Setoodeh, partly built up by another two articles he wrote that some have attacked as being anti-gay. One of those articles was about the effect of gays in pop culture on the gay rights movement, which has been portrayed as an editorial that feminine gays are hurting the movement. The other article was a long and in-depth examination of the murder of 15 year-old Lawrence King, shortly before Valentine’s Day 2008. I read that article and not only did I not think it was anti-gay, I actually found it to be a very touching piece that’s brought me even more sympathy for King. But others have come to the conclusion that it was actually an attempt to blame the victim for being too flamboyant.
I mostly believe that Setoodeh was genuinely trying to discuss what he views as our society’s difficulty in accepting a gay actor playing straight, but he’s really not articulating his case very well. At first, it very much seems that he’s saying Sean Hayes is simply incapable of playing a straight character because of his sexual orientation. But if you listen to him carefully and keep an open mind, you might find that he’s saying something quite different.
I still question why Setoodeh wrote of openly gay actor Jonathan Groff, “In half his scenes, he scowls — is that a substitute for being straight?” This doesn’t really say anything of the audience’s perception of Groff, does it? This is directed at the actor himself.
On the other hand, in his original article, before all the controversy began, Setoodeh pointed to Rock Hudson as a prime example of “beefy bravado” but then says his performance in “Pillow Talk” “dissolves into a farce when you know the likes of his true bedmates.” He didn’t say that it was a bad performance given by Hudson; he was saying that it’s perceived as an unbelievable performance once the audience knows Hudson is gay. In this case, Setoodeh appears to be saying that this is a problem with society in accepting gay actors, not a problem with gay actors themselves being unable to play straight, as has been the common interpretation.
Setoodeh’s defense of the article has not been well-received either because he again fails to clearly state his position. His self-defense focuses on the problem being with society. This is being misinterpreted as an attempt to shirk the heat off himself by rewriting his words, which is only making matters worse. In fact, Dan Savage did a much better job of defending Ramin Setoodeh when they were both on HLN’s “The Joy Behar Show”.
Though some of his comments have been questionable, I think Setoodeh was really trying to ask: Why is it that I, along with much of our society, have such an inability to look past the sexual orientation of a gay actor and to analyze and appreciate his performance, just as I would a performance by a straight actor? What is it that’s so deeply ingrained in us about gay people that we can’t give gay actors the same opportunity to seduce our imaginations as we give to straight actors?
If I’m totally wrong and that’s not Setoodeh’s true question, I would still assert that this isn’t internalized homophobia nor self-loathing at play, but instead an extremely deep-seated perception of all gay men as effeminate. That perception most definitely is a pervasive idea throughout society, which is why I’m a bit perplexed and even amused by all this outrage, since the overwhelming majority of people — even many gay people — unapologetically buy into that idea already.
The gay feminine male stereotype is exceedingly common and acceptable, even in “polite” society. How often do you hear a comment such as, “Please, he’s so obviously gay!” in explicit reference to a person’s feminine characteristics? No one is ever attacked as being anti-gay for that though, and they shouldn’t be. It’s not anti-gay, at least not in the hateful or shameful way Setoodeh is accused of being, to believe that gay stereotypes are true. It’s just ignorant and stupid.