Saturday, June 11, 2016

Ranting On...Noah Galvin and the Culture of Homophobia

If you've been following this blog at all (or, in particular, my Twitter), you will know that I'm a big fan of The Real O'Neals, the new ABC sitcom that shows an Irish-Catholic family in Chicago who is going through both a divorce and dealing with having an openly gay son.  The show is hilarious, if a bit broad, and recalls some of the best family-sitcoms.  At the center, and easily the standout of the show, is Noah Galvin, who plays the gay son Kenny in the O'Neal clan, and happens to be openly gay himself.  A theater veteran even at only 22, Galvin has terrific comic timing and has even been talked about as an Emmy contender (which is pretty much why he was making the publicity rounds right now) for lead actor in the show.  Thursday, though, Galvin got himself in some hot water over comments he made during an interview with Vulture magazine over select figures in the entertainment community, most of whom have a connection (either through orientation or whom they play on TV) to the LGBT community.  Considering the conversation was relatively salacious, it made head waves, and Galvin has since apologized, but I wanted to get into it because there was some (harsh) truth that Galvin shared in the interview that I truly wish he hadn't apologized for.

Three of Galvin's more-highlighted comments centered around Eric Stonestreet, Colton Haynes, and hiring practices in general in Hollywood (he also made some eyebrow-raising comments about director Bryan Singer, but considering those border less on opinion and more on gossip, I'm going to skip that giant can of worms).  We'll start with hiring practices in Hollywood, and the way that gay people are treated.  I am not an actor, nor do I ever intend to be, but it's not a particularly closed secret that it's tougher for gay actors in Hollywood and that they aren't treated with the same level of equality. Straight actors like Sean Penn and Heath Ledger are "brave" for going gay, but no one ever says the same about gay actors playing straight-then it's just a question of believability, as we saw a few years ago with the whole Sean Hayes in Promises, Promises situation.  I'm not someone who gets really riled up about the concept of "pinkface," but I will say that it's clear casting directors have opinions on this, otherwise we'd have more openly gay actors in higher-profile roles (like, cough, Matt Bomer as Superman).  And that has to be infuriating in the acting community, just like it is in any community.  Any member of the LGBT community who hasn't, at one point or another, had to deal with workplace discrimination deserves a freaking parade, but I doubt you'd find many.  Voicing that is going to make matters better in the same way that the recent trend toward shining a light on gender and racial inequality in entertainment will make things better.  Galvin should be applauded for making this an issue.

Representation is also a key component of his criticism of Eric Stonestreet.  This was clearly the moment in the interview his publicist had their biggest ulcer (give or take when he insinuated that he was trying to fool around with one of the extras on the show), as very few people know who Haynes is and it's hard to really argue against discrimination in Hollywood.  Stonestreet, on the other hand, is a well-known, Emmy-winning actor who is not only a big star, he's a big star on an ABC property.  Modern Family is worth exponentially more to Disney than The Real O'Neals, which is surely why this was a ballsy (or foolish, depending on how you look at it), move on Galvin's part.  Still, it's worth noting that there's a sincere amount of truth here.  Stonestreet is a good comic actor, and has made me laugh many times on Modern Family, but the show's portrayal of Cam-and-Mitch is deeply problematic (I know that's a word Twitter has used so often it's mocked the instant it comes up, but it's true), and I've talked about this many times before.  Cam and Mitch are not like Jay-and-Gloria or Phil-and-Claire on that show-they aren't allowed to have sexual desires for each other like the other couples do.  I think the best illustration of this was the episode that Phil and Claire got caught trying to have a frisky night out at a hotel while Mitch and Cam were forced to babysit Manny on his date...trying to pursue a girl.  The show may have gay characters, but they aren't realistic gay characters.  It's a sitcom and all that, and none of these people actually exist in this form in real life (and I genuinely like the show-I've watched it for seven years now and frequently catch reruns), but Galvin is correct in saying that Stonestreet is playing a parody or a stereotype here that is questionable at best in its relation to the gay community, even if he's doing it very well.

Finally, there's Colton Haynes, and this is a situation where I think it's time to rethink some conventional wisdom.  Haynes, for those who don't know, is the (now) openly-gay star of shows like Arrow and Teen Wolf who in an interview with Entertainment Weekly came out, though he didn't actually use those words if you read the interview closely (Entertainment Weekly says it in a sentence that isn't a direct quote from Haynes).  The conventional wisdom around gay celebrities is that "private life is private," and that "everyone comes out in their own time," and while that's true, it's not really fair.  For starters, no one says "private life is private" about straight celebrities in this way (no one says boo about a straight actor talking about his wife as "private lives are private"), and secondly, being gay is not really a "private life" thing-it's an integral part of who you are.  Private life is if you're dating a specific guy, not that you'd be dating guys-there's a difference.

And while I do feel everyone should come out in their own time (when I was first coming out I got into a big fight with a friend when she accidentally outed me to someone and then blamed me for not going fast enough), I also think that actors like Haynes (and James Franco, Zac Efron, and Nick Jonas) try to have the perks of being a gay actor without having to have any of the institutional problems that out gay actors have to deal with; they (and I'm not saying anyone other than Haynes is gay here, for the record) wink with comments about being "a little bit gay" or acknowledging that they're attracted to gays or the gay community, insinuating just enough for the gay male community to think that they're on their team, but then make sure to underline their heterosexuality.  This moves the line from ally to gay-baiting, which is wrong because it makes it that much harder for truly gay actors when the expectation is that they handle their sexuality like a James Franco, who is not publicly gay.  Plus, and I know this isn't something you're supposed to say, I have trouble with this line of thinking (that "everyone comes out in their own time") particularly with Haynes because frequently this argument is accompanied by a "the costs are too great to come out" conversation, which I'm calling bull crap on, quite frankly.  Admittedly, this would have an unfair hit on Haynes' career, and that's wrong, but he's a handsome, rich celebrity in Hollywood who has headlined two major television shows.  Not to play oppression Olympics here, but I was a closeted gay teen in a small town who had to endure violent threats against gay people almost my entire high school experience.  Don't talk to me about the dangers of coming out-if you truly don't want to go there, then don't, but don't try and wink at the crowd and patronize us all, as that's wrong and insults gay people who have to endure frightening home situations while identifying as their true selves.  And thankfully Noah Galvin (pre-apology) agrees with me.

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