Playing It Straight

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I’ve slimmed down my use of Twitter in recent months and it’s largely because it’s become a negative place. We all know that, and I’m sure we all feel the same way. I can be having a great day and then I’ll log on and it’ll bring my world crashing down. And heaven forbid I have an opinion. Many times I’ve posted an innocuous comment to return and find I’ve had 300 replies calling me the physical embodiment of Beelzebub!

The whole “light the blue touchpaper and stand well back” thing has become tiresome, but there are, on occasion, subjects for which I feel  so passionately and suitably informed upon that I will have my say. That happened yesterday when Twitter took to its pitchforks over news that a camp, effeminate straight man had been cast as a camp, effeminate homosexual man in a Disney Movie.

Let me be clear. It’s wrong to cast a white person as a black person. It’s wrong to cast an able-bodied person as a physically disabled person. But being gay isn’t a physical attribute – it’s one of character. It’s a bit like having a political stance. There is no reason why a straight actor shouldn’t play a gay role. More importantly – and this is where the passion in me arises – there is no reason why a gay actor shouldn’t play a straight man. Once you’ve said that straight can’t be gay, you’ve created inequality and that’s not right.

Thankfully, a lot of people agreed with me and it’s always warming when people who you admire like a tweet or whatever. Some argued that gay men were being turned down for straight roles and were the subject of prejudice, so we should redress the balance. It’s hard to disagree with this – it’s certainly the case in Hollywood that a gay actor – particularly an out, gay actor –  might find it harder to get a straight role. But, we do actually live in quite good times. The theatre world has lots of opportunities for gay and lesbian people and is thriving (some might say infested) with them. Our British soaps all have gay, lesbian and bisexual characters and we are lucky to be in a position where our lead talk show host in this country is openly gay (Graham Norton), a knight of the realm is one of our most celebrated actors (Ian McKellen) and we have come a very long way since the days of John Inman and Larry Grayson.

There ARE still problems. There IS still discrimination, but we are also in a place where Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Paulson, Russell Tovey, John Barrowman and Jodie Foster (to name but a few) are huge stars playing straight characters despite the fact that they sleep with same sex partners “in real life”.

So, what’s the issue here? Where is this objection coming from? Sadly, it seems to be largely from within the LGBT community itself, alongside its well-meaning supporters and herein lies the problem. Once you create this faux outrage about LGBT roles on screen, you are putting the studios off the idea of creating LGBT roles. It was a wonderful decision to create a lesbian super hero on screen with Batwoman, but now we’re in a situation where that actor (who describes herself as coming out when she was very young) has been forced off Twitter for being “the wrong type of lesbian”. If it carries on like this, the studios will just stop creating gay roles if it’s only going to lead to negative publicity.

It’s a sad fact that the LGBT community – however well intentioned – is creating some of the problems and this became apparent when I agreed to appear on TalkRadio this morning. I was slightly concerned because the show’s host, Julia Hartley-Brewer has certainly tweeted a few opinions on other issues that have aggrevated me. She’s posted a few thoughts about Brexit that even a glue-sniffer would consider to be nonsense. But as I waited in line to speak, the producer helpfully told me that I would also be in conversation with Josh Jackman of Pink News. My heart sank a little as I realised that they would be pitting us against each other. Whilst we might have different opinions on the casting debate, I really hoped that Josh and I could send out the same message of positivity on LGBT issues.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and whilst Josh had very valid comments about the lack of opportunity for LGBT actors in Hollywood (same goes for everyone who is not a white, heterosexual male), he made a number of faux pas that made him look antagonistic and unlikeable. For example, calling the host discriminatory for not understanding the term “gender fluid”. It’s not discriminatory to not get this. Ignorant, maybe, but this isn’t discrimination. I’ve been sleeping with men for well over 30 years and even I can’t get my head around all the terms and letters and so forth.

Once the LGBT community starts putting up barriers or creating a stigma towards its understanding, it’s lost half the battle. Don’t make well-meaning people feel stupid for not understanding all of the nuances of our lifestyles. It will turn them against us.

John then got Julia’s name wrong (come on, Josh – you’re a journalist – you can’t do this kind of thing on air) and once she had the upper hand, all his arguments were lost.

During the conversation, I mentioned the successful gay actors out there as I truly believe we should be celebrating them and aiming for more of them and a friend texted after to say that she “punched the air” when I gave the list of names. This made me feel a little sad. It wasn’t a competition. I wasn’t trying to get one up on Josh. We both want the same end result.

But we of the LGBT community and all of our supporters need to pick our battles wisely. We need to think twice about how we present our arguments. But most importantly we must remember that inclusion happens when we make it the desirable option. If gay pride events have taught us nothing, it’s that getting out there, being visible and being positive will always get a faster and better result that guilting people into your agenda.

Celebrate, not