In a recent interview with Gay Times, former Kyle XY star Matt Dallas spoke out about Hollywood producers encouraging him not to come out as gay because he “could not be successful if you were openly gay in the entertainment industry.”
This is striking for a number of reasons. Queer characters are slowly becoming a staple on television and film–being a member of the LGBTQ community is no longer a storyline that writers shy away from because, in 2019, it’s overwhelmingly okay to be gay.
With that in mind, it seems curious as to why it’s okay to play gay, but not actually be gay.
All the time we see straight actors portraying gay characters–yet gay actors are not granted the opportunity to bring their own experience to these stories because being openly gay in Hollywood as well as successful are not mutually exclusive.
If we want to live in an inclusive landscape, the importance of representation can’t be ignored. Allowing gay actors to bring gay stories to life is the best way to accurately portray the challenges of being a member of the LGBTQ community, as well as affording LGBTQ members the opportunity for a successful career.
In the past, we’ve seen actors like Darren Criss or Eric McCormack bring stories of gay men to life. This representation–while positive in many regards–takes a chance to more genuinely tell the story of a gay character from someone who better understands these struggles.
Peppermint, the first transgender woman with a major role in a Broadway musical, Head Over Heels, told Vice, “Right now, gay, trans and queer people need to participate in the telling of their own stories. Hollywood has a terrible history of creating movies and making money off the experiences of marginalized people, without letting them have any input in the process. A lot of the time, Hollywood makes these stories about queer, trans and minority folks and they get it wrong. There’s offensive material, tragic storylines, one-dimensional, stereotypical characters with little depth.”
The best way to tell a story about a marginalized group is to allow members of that group to tell their own stories. A level of understanding on what it actually means to be a member of a group that faces scrutiny the way the LGBTQ community does, brings sincerity to a character that may otherwise be missing from a straight actor portraying the role.
This is not to say that straight actors shouldn’t be taking on these roles or that when given the opportunity they do a poor job. The point is that if Hollywood is willing to cash in on writing queer characters, the stigma behind being out in Hollywood needs to be eliminated.
In the past, non-trans actors have portrayed trans characters, which again, is limiting opportunities for trans people to tell the stories that they have lived and can more accurately depict.
With a record number of 4.5 percent of adults (which translates to a whopping 11 million people) identifying as LGBTQ in just the United States, there is certainly no reason why the opportunity to bring a story that is true to them to life is not being more readily offered.
While bringing awareness to these issues is what is most important–representation in our media being the key to a more inclusive world–one cannot deny that taking representation to the next level by using actors who have had somewhat similar experiences to the characters they are portraying can only be beneficial, not only to the overall storytelling experience, but also by showing LGBTQ youth that being who they are can take them to the same places as straight and cisgender entertainers.