Heteronormality…

So most of you by now have already heard about Kristen Chenoweth hitting back at openly gay Newsweek writer Ramin Setoodeh about his supposedly homophobic article about why gay men can’t play straight.

If you haven’t read these articles, I highly recommend them.
Setoodeh’s 1st article- http://www.newsweek.com/id/236999
Chenoweth’s piece- http://www.movieline.com/2010/05/kristin-chenoweth-attacks-newsweek-article-on-openly-gay-actors.php
Setoodeh’s rebuttal- http://www.newsweek.com/id/237758

It used actor Sean Hayes as a prime example of how difficult it is for openly gay actors to be taken seriously as heterosexual leading men. While many have interpreted Setoodeh’s article as homophobic, myself included, I realize that it wasn’t a matter of homophobia or not with his rebuttal. Honestly, the piece is just poorly written and has no real grasp of its subject matter until the last paragraph.

However, all this controversy got me thinking. Yes, to a certain extent I do believe that audiences project gay mannerisms on openly gay actors, but that’s the individual viewers fault. That has nothing to do with their own sexuality, open or not. An example Setoodeh uses in Jonathan groff, who guest stars on “Glee” as Jessie St. James. Groff is apparently openly gay, something I didn’t know until reading this article. I just had no interest in his personal life, but now that I know, I don’t really care one way or another. As long as the character is played consistently and believably or even comedically, I could care less.

What I believe Setoodeh’s article to be truly about, although terribly unfocused, is this idea of heteronormality. I’m not one of those militant gays who wishes that the whole world was gay so people recognize how hard it is for me. It’s true, it’s hard for a lot of people, but I’d like to think I’m a stronger, more mature being for what I’ve gone through. No, what I’m really talking about is this idea that straight is “normal” and anything not is abnormal. I mean, sure, I get it, there are more straight people in the world than there are gay people, but that’s true of many identities. For instance, there are more women than men on the planet, does that make us males “abnormal” or even counter-culture? No, it makes us a minority, but in no way marginalized. Setoodeh seems to equate “minority” with “abnormal” which is an issue for me.

According to the article, people react differently when a gay actors play straight, but you garner praise when you’re straight and play gay. This once again has to do with the fact that when straight people play gay, they’re inhabiting a role and leaving it behind as soon as they leave the stage or the director yells cut. For gay people to play straight, well they just have no idea what it’s like to be straight, so how could they possibly do it convincingly?

Let me tell you how. Just from my personal experience, I never dabbled in the whole “what am I?” category. At the age of 13 I came out. I wasn’t bi. I wasn’t questioning. I knew I was gay. I told the people that I respected and my loved ones that I was gay. It went over just fine with some, not so much with others, but never did it change who I am. I’m open, but I don’t reveal my sexuality to anyone unless asked or if it directly affects them. It’s not the first thing people should know about me, because it’s not all that I am. That being said, I’ve been mistaken for straight plenty of times. Apparently, too bad I didn’t go into the acting world where no other gay men can play straight, because I might’ve gotten some consistent work.

The biggest issue that I have with this whole debate is the issue that gay isn’t identifiable. I mean, it’s not on my skin or in my voice. It’s part of me, but not the only part. I understand that Setoodeh was admittedly trying to spark debate about the topic, but he went about it poorly. Homosexuality and what I like to call “heteronormality” is a difficult thing to write about on the internet, something Setoodeh blames for the controversy. I agree with him on a lot of things in the article, once he clarifies, but the piece is just poorly written in the first place. As a gay man, I believe Setoodeh should recognize how detrimental these labels of “heterosexuality = normality” versus “homosexuality = something to be gawked at” but at the same time, we’re all given the right to express ourselves. he has his opinion and I have mine. I don’t begrudge him his, as long as I’m still allowed to speak my mind.

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