Being out and proud in Hollywood is for some a huge obstacle. People believe it will halt big opportunities and others believe it can mess up their flow of income. Whatever the reasoning Nico Tortorella spoke with Vice about why he decided to come out and why it’s important for more closeted Hollywood Elite to break out of the closest!
I identify as a human being before anything else. Although I don’t believe in labeling myself with one word, right now I’m into using the word “bisexual” because of its radicalness in our generation. There needs to be more visibility in all things surrounding that word, and I am here for myself and for that community. But I do not believe in the binary of sexuality or gender.
I joke that I was never in the closet, I wasn’t even in the house. I’ve always done my own thing and been comfortable in it. But through working on myself and my sobriety, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with who I am and what that means on a public level. I have a podcast where I talk to people about just that.
I’ve always said that if anyone was going to be able to pull off playing in the spectrum—be able to pass as straight on television and be whoever I want in my personal life and still get the 15-year-old in Missouri to have a poster of me on her wall—I was going to do it. And at the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to: Is your name going to sell tickets? That’s it. I also realize this is a result of privilege I have, stemming from how I look and various other reasons.
I think the system itself is changing so fast right now, in the sense that there are new networks being made every single day. The amount of product for actors right now is exponential and raising every single day. I mean, Netflix is going to do 100-plus original shows next year? That’s insane. If you’re already good at your job now, if you’re already established, you’re going to keep working whether you’re gay, straight, transgender, bisexual, or, like, fucking Casey Affleck. You’re going to work.
Nico Tortorella is an actor best known for roles in Scream 4, TV Land’s Younger and FOX’s The Following. His podcast The Love Bomb, in which Tortorella “explores love and the labels associated with it,” premiered in September. As told to Ian Daniel.
As actors, those personal fears or childhood scars don’t go away just because you’re suddenly on a TV show. So I think actors who may not be out are also just struggling with personal demons that may have nothing to do with their careers. Except that now you’re talking about being out to millions of people at once, which only amplifies all those fears.
It’s possible that being out has affected the kinds of roles that have come my way, but I honestly haven’t felt that. In the last few years, I’ve played several straight characters. And I’ll tell you that not feeling like you have a secret on set that you have to protect in order to play the role has allowed me to bring way more of myself to those parts and to feel 100 percent more comfortable in my skin.
I believe that people remain closeted because they’re afraid of losing opportunities, which is a fancy way of saying they don’t want their identity to mess with their money. Hollywood is really a game of façades. Everyone in this town has a narrative, and it’s all about perception. If being straight is a part of your façade, if that’s a part of your brand—well, you don’t want to fuck that up by having the public find out your truth. I think people are afraid of everything they’ve built falling down around them. Especially if you’re a person of color.
There aren’t many women of color who are out. Being black and gay is still taboo in the black community. There’s still a shame associated with being gay—and that’s not going away anytime soon. We’re making progress, but it’s slow.
That said, I think being open about sexuality has actually helped me! My gayness, my blackness—me being proud of where I come from is what makes me special. Sure, I could’ve taken a different path, and maybe I would’ve had a different career. But I like being my authentic self; I like being a beacon of light for little girls who are struggling with their sexuality and are afraid to be themselves. That’s more important to me than making a lot of money or making certain people feel comfortable.
Lena Waithe is an actor and screenwriter best known for roles in Bonesand Master of None. Showtime recently picked up her drama The Chi, a forthcoming series inspired by her childhood in Chicago. This summer, Master of None returns to Netflix for its second season. As told to Jon Shadel.
I came out at a time in my life where I knew there wouldn’t be another NSYNC album. I wanted to keep it private until I knew I wasn’t going to influence anyone’s business, meaning my four best friends. I was in an interesting situation, where 90 percent of my market was female, and teenagers at that. If I was going to rip the Band-Aid off, I was afraid it would be received as a betrayal and just ruin NSYNC. You’re constantly told things: “Don’t be seen with a beer in your hand, don’t be seen with a girlfriend.” They didn’t need to say “don’t be gay.” It’s implied.
My business completely changed after coming out. I was working on a sitcom, I had projects I’d been working on for years, and when they had to put the “gay” label on me, all those projects went away. My career went from being asked to do tons of stuff to only being asked to play gay stuff. It’s very disappointing; you go from doing something as big as NSYNC, having a huge team around you and getting amazing offers, then you share a personal thing and it completely changes the way people perceive you. You become part of a minority. Business is business, and when you’re part of a minority, there’s not a lot of money behind that, and they move on to something that will make them money and you get left behind.
Lance Bass is a member of NSYNC and was a daily panelist on NBC’s The Meredith Vieira Show. He has won numerous awards in his career as a musician, appeared on Broadway in Hairspray, published a memoir titled Out of Sync, has appeared on Dancing with the Stars, and hosted two shows on Sirius XM. As told to Jessica Ogilvie.
I recently watched Ellen for the first time, and I never watch Ellen. I’m like, “How has this sort of butch, masculine-presenting white woman—who’s been totally out of the closet for the last 15, 20 years—taken over daytime television to the degree where there are slews of white women clapping and oohing and ahhing at her when she dances in the aisle?” You know, who needs to come out when Ellen’s coming out every day? I think that for me, what I’d like to see are those intersections of coming out around my class, my race.
I think if coming out is not done as a spectacle, and if it’s done as an act of coalition building and intersectional allegiance, then yes, we’ll see more of it. I think as people wake up and stumble around and wipe the sleep off their eyes, I think we’ll feel the pinch to need to come out or recognize who’s out and grab onto them to do something more tightly and more powerful.
Cheryl Dunye is a filmmaker and assistant professor in the School of Cinema at San Francisco State University. Her 1996 directorial debut, The Watermelon Woman, is widely considered the first feature film directed by a black gay woman. Her forthcoming film, Black is Blue, is due out in 2018. As told to Jennifer Swann.
Growing up, I never really came out, but everyone sort of knew. There’s an old Spanish saying that’s like, que lo que ves no necesitas preguntar, “that what you see you don’t need to ask.” It’s funny because it’s true. I came out more for my mom than myself, so that she could be comfortable.
I never felt pressure to suppress my sexuality from my agent or anyone else, and I don’t shy away from it. I feel like because I’m comic relief, I’m a sidekick, I’m endearing—it’s like I’m everyone’s best friend. The roles and characters I’m fortunate enough to bring to life are more forgiving. The difference is that when a muscular, model-esque Adonis comes out as gay, then they lose their demographic and their agents drop them. I have those friends, and I know they’re gay, and I would never out them. That’s their journey, their life. It is a different topic for them.
I get messages from people like, “Oh my God, you’re Latino, you’re short, you’re round, you’re not the stereotype.” I’m not cookie cutter, that’s for sure. But I made a career by owning who I am. Being short, stout, gay, Latino—statistically, I shouldn’t be where I’m at. But I’m working in Hollywood because I want to be that example. When I grew up, I didn’t see people who looked like me, but now I’m that person. I want kids to look at the TV and be like, “Oh my God, there is hope. I can do this. I can be this.”
Harvey Guillen is an actor known for roles on SyFy’s The Magicians, ABC Family’s Huge and The Internship. As told to Ian Daniel.
I think the closet is absolutely generational, and I totally understand the importance of coming out, but what I don’t understand is people my age ganging up on the Jodie Fosters and John Travoltas of the world, who grew up in the spotlight. They never had a normal youth that would have given them the freedom to make those discoveries in a private place. And coming out when they may have naturally wanted to do it would have been dangerous—not just for their careers, but socially, and maybe just interpersonally. And if your public image is part of how you make money, or if that’s where you derive your self-worth, then it might feel a lot more dangerous to you than it actually is to make a big change in that image. I think we need to be a little more forgiving of those who grew up in a totally different time, and whose lives are just completely distorted due to their massive wealth and fame.
And also, the sad thing is, if John Travolta came out, I do think it would help his career. I think that he and the Kevin Spacey’s of the world are living under this kind of 80s assumption of what acting is and they’ve got to be able to play straight to get the straight roles, but I think that we’re actually living in a far more personal, confessional time in entertainment. We’re living in an era of reality television and direct-to-camera confessional YouTube stuff, so it’s a totally different time when everyone is—major stars, you have access to their unfiltered minds through Twitter—so it would actually be beneficial to their careers. Especially among young people, like literal teenagers who over 50 percent of them don’t identify as straight now, who do not know who those people are. I actually do think it would be brilliant PR move for them to come out this late in the game. I just really think it would shake shit up a little bit for their careers. I don’t think anyone needs John Travolta to still be this, like, beacon of masculinity.
John Early is an LA-based comedian and actor who can be seen in TBS’s Search Party, Netflix’s The Characters, and his Vimeo series alongside co-creator Kate Berlant, 555. As told to Tyler Trykowski.