“RuPaul’s Drag Race” launched its seventh season this week, spurring talk about the diverse choices gay people have if they’re looking to watch members of their tribe on television screens.
But I know many people stay away from drag queens, opting instead for shows like HBO’s “Looking,” claiming it’s more realistic.
OK, fine, watch whatever you want. But at least consider the problematic remarks gay actors we idolize make once they go off script.
Example No. 1: In an interview earlier this week with The Guardian, “Looking” star Russell Tovey, 33, revealed that he was assaulted for being gay, spurring a change in his physical presentation, which his father encouraged.
“I feel like I could have been really effeminate, if I hadn’t gone to the school I went to. Where I felt like I had to toughen up,” he said. “If I’d have been able to relax, prance around, sing in the street, I might be a different person now. I thank my dad for that, for not allowing me to go down that path. Because it’s probably given me the unique quality that people think I have.”
The “quality” that he’s referring to, of course, is his straight-acting persona, which likely scores him more traditionally masculine film roles for which other out gay actors like Jim Parsons or Andrew Rannells might not win. That observation, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily problematic. It’s probably true.
Tovey proves not all gay men are obsessed with theater and dance. But haven’t we established by now that there’s nothing wrong with gay men who are? That’s the part that seems to fly over Tovey’s head.
Bigotry hurts when it comes from far right-wingers. But the attacks cut deeper when they’re coming from one of our own.
Can someone please tell Tovey that he’s not the only one who’s been bullied for being gay? In fact, this happens all the time, causing a suicide rate in the LGBT community drastically higher than the rate for our straight counterparts. But the solution to being bullied isn’t to “hit the gym,” as Tovey says. Rather, it’s our job as a community to speak out against old notions of how people are supposed to express their identities. It’s our job to stop the bullying.
I’m not sure how gay people can sit back and watch “Looking” complacently when one of the lead actors says he’s happy his dad didn’t allow him to become a “tap-dancing freak.” He might as well have said: “I’m gay – but thank God nobody can tell.”
Tovey’s shameful comments might be commonplace: Gay or straight, you’ve likely heard an iteration of his story in your own social circles. But just because self-hatred is pervasive doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.
If you don’t have anything smart to say, Tovey, don’t say anything at all.
For the record, he did attempt to apologize on Twitter: “I surrender. You got me. I’m sat baffled and saddened that a misfired inarticulate quote of mine, has branded me worst gay ever.”
An apology that reads less like “I’m sorry you were offended ” and more like “I’m sorry I made a bigoted remark that perpetuates stigma” would have been ideal. But I’ll take it – I guess.
Tovey isn’t the only one giving lousy answers in interviews recently.
“I don’t think answering who I’m sleeping with accomplishes anything other than quenching the thirst of curiosity,” Jack Falahee of ABC’s “How To Get Away With Murder” told Out magazine last month. His non-response – harkening back to Ricky Martin or Anderson Cooper-style attempts to avoid being honest – is frustrating in an era when I was beginning to think it was safe to assume that Shonda Rhimes’ liberal audience was past all that already.
“I really hope that – if not in my lifetime, my children’s lifetime – this won’t be a question, that we won’t need this,” he continues. Me too, Jack. But that won’t happen if celebrities like you remain tight-lipped, sending the message that there’s something wrong about publicly disclosing you’re gay.
Go ahead, watch “Looking” and “How To Get Away With Murder.” Or stick to “Drag Race” if you prefer. It’s great that there are so many different representations of gay people nowadays. (Full disclosure: I watch – and, to a degree, enjoy – all of these shows.)
But just because you play a gay role on television doesn’t mean you’re a gay hero.
Justin Peligri is a student at George Washington University.