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Code of silence.

People always ask me about homophobia in Hollywood. I can tell them about homophobia in West Hollywood. The other night I went to a big benefit for a predominantly gay-driven AIDS charity. It was at the Pacific Design Center, a couple of enormous glass showcases for decorators, nicknamed for their colors as the Emerald Structure and the Blue Whale (which has also been my nickname on certain evenings).

In the course of the evening, many of the high-powered guests used the men's room, the very same rest room that had been the scene of a police sting some weeks earlier. In a scenario reminiscent of the George Michael case, vice cops were busting visitors to the men's room, visitors whose lawyers cried entrapment. This in a building full of interior decorators and their clients. Talk about a victimless crime! It's just about the easiest bust on earth, right up there with nailing people for speeding on a downhill mountain road. And this in West Hollywood, a creative city, a city established largely by the energy and determination of gay people to have a place they can legitimately call home.

Homophobia in Hollywood is a bit more insidious. No one gets arrested. And it's practiced largely by homosexuals. Oh, sure, there are still some straight Neanderthals who are threatened by almost everything, including women. But in the newly sensitized corporate power structure, I find that executives are as OK with us as they can be, considering they can feel the good ol' white boy club slowly losing its grip. Straight Hollywood doesn't have a major problem with any of us--except, of course, actors.

But we have the same problem. An openly gay casting director told me he could never date actors. (I hadn't asked him out, by the way.) I figured it was, oh, some sort of old-fashioned notion of conflict of interest. In fact, he said that if he were to be seen with an actor, it would be assumed that the actor was gay and therefore castable only in gay parts or "neutered" roles, which is to say ones with no real love interest. He told me this 23 years ago. And nothing has changed.

Well, one thing has changed. Millions of us have come out. But not a lot of us who are actors. A great many writers have come out, and a great many of them make their living as professional gay people--writers whose sexuality and sexual politics are the theme of nearly everything they write. They tend to go after closeted actors with the kind of, blood relish not even a hound feels toward a fox.

A handful of proud, brave actors have come out, but many more remain closeted because they know that the rules haven't changed: Greg Kinnear gets an Oscar nomination for playing the gay best friend; Rupert Everett does not.

A young gay American actor who feels he has a shot at playing a straight character with a romantic emotional life is still terrified to come out publicly. Actors are notoriously insecure, and why shouldn't they be? A barely competent neurosurgeon will always have work, but the greatest actor in the world might never catch on.

So even a gay actor at the beginning of what appears to be a long, promising, financially rewarding career is unlikely to rush to be branded. When asked about his sexuality, he says it's nobody's business. I've never heard a straight actor say that, have you? It's like running up a house flag. Anybody who knows nautical code can read it.

Actors are in the business of convincing you that what they do is possible. Anything that puts that in jeopardy scares them. So how do we handle that fright--that internalized homophobia, if you will? Our solution seems to be to make the actor the enemy. Outing is outre, so we attack and criticize in print and in conversation, and we boo when his name comes on the screen. Like this will change his mind.

Who wouldn't want to be a part of a community that's screaming: "We hate you. Come join us!"
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Article Details
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Author:Vilanch, Bruce
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 13, 2001
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