When I was in the sixth grade, my grandma took me to a theater outside Ft. Lauderdale to see a production of the turn-of-the-century musical Ragtime.
We went to a lot of shows together when I was a kid because as an immigrant, she’d clawed her way into America and once here, was determined to indulge in the most glamorous aspects of our culture. This meant Broadway.
I was usually ambivalent about going to the theater with her, but something was different at this shoddy Ragtime matinee. I noticed, thanks to my new friend Puberty, that the guy playing “Mother’s Younger Brother” was a super fox. I also noticed he was, thanks to a very sweet Playbill shout out to a boyfriend, not likely to marry a middle school girl. Bummer.
Thus began a pattern of falling in love with gay theater boys.
It’s as much a fantasy as the big choreographed dance numbers or the shiny costumes: a beautiful man, with the impeccable grooming, obsessive body sculpting and flawless skin of a vain actor, on stage singing and kissing ladies. Nice.
Of course, most actors aren’t exactly like their characters. The Broadway actor I’m buggin’ about probably has a lovely long-term boyfriend and a pekinese named “Judy Garland” at home. It’s why John Barrowman is so sexy in Torchwood and not at all like Captain Jack in real life.
Obviously, another person’s sexual orientation doesn’t exist for my benefit and obviously, the concept of “loving gay men!!!” is limiting and fetishizing. My frustration here is pretty tongue in cheek.
But my crossed wires of attraction actually touch on a serious issue beyond my pathetically inaccurate gaydar; there’s a huge disparity between the number of gay actors and the number of good, meaty roles where the character is gay.
It’s true for other minority groups too. When I interviewed Broadway veteran Fredi Walker-Browne for my web project, 100 Interviews, she lamented that there are just two parts on Broadway for voluptuous, African-American women like herself: Mama Morton in Chicago and someone in The Lion King.
Even the part she originated, Joanne in the rock opera Rent, is now usually played by a thinner woman. Lack of meaningful, non-stereotypical roles is a problem for a lot of underrepresented groups in acting. (Not just in theater either. I’m looking at you, The Help.)
Speaking of Rent, (and getting back to the LGBTQ community) in high school, I was obsessed with the character of Mark, the neurotic cameraman. I wanted to scoop that lonely nerd-boy into my arms and squat together in the Lower East Side while somehow still dressing like Gap models.
As is my crush custom, the part of Mark was originated by out, gay actor Anthony Rapp. Sorry, straight boys Adam Pascal and Taye Diggs. The heart wants what it wants.
None of this is smooth detective work: A lot of hot men in Broadway shows are gay. Duh. Talented, queer actors flock to Broadway for the leading man parts they’d never get to play in Hollywood. It’s kind of a haven from the usual BS. Glee’s Chris Colfer notoriously had a difficult time booking acting gigs in LA because he, in his own words, is unconvincing as a straight male lead.
On Broadway, a talented actor like him would probably have more options.
Meanwhile, in film and TV, old-school thinking prevails. At least until I can get my script for The Gay Expendables off the ground. (“Enter NEIL PATRICK HARRIS, MATT BOMER, and ZACHARY QUINTO. They kick in a closet door action-movie-style, guns blazing.”)
What I’m saying is, it’s preposterous to insist that gay actors can’t play straight when I’m sure I’m not the only dude-inclined woman melting in my theater seat. If that’s a casting director’s concern, then he or she should check the line of ladies that’d form for a “Shirtless Cheyenne Jackson Convention.” How about the female Tumblr devotion to Jonathan Groff? I don’t need Kristin Chenoweth vocally defending Sean Hayes to prompt me into admitting that Gavin Creel can get it. (Not that he, you know, wants “it,” but for casting purposes, all systems should be go!)
Rock on, gay theater boys. You’re performing, working hard and convincingly portraying a character — whatever their preference. That’s your job. If you can do that, your real-life sexual orientation is moot. You deserve the same respect — and career opportunities — provided to other actors.
Here’s my additional evidence: You consistently confuse the crap out of my lady hormones.
A month ago, I went to see The Book of Mormon because I signed up for tickets in 1927, when the line for them started.
One of the leads is a fantastic actor named Andrew Rannells.
Rannells is gorgeous like a Ken doll. His smile is so white the front row of the show should be wearing sunglasses.
Outside the theater after the show, while planning our future children’s names, I Googled, “andrew rannells single?” Then, for no reason other than my own past, I changed my mind and instead, Googled, “andrew rannells gay?”
I’ll let you guess what I found.