Jake Gyllenhaal is not a homosexual. Granted, I’ve never seen him have sex with a woman, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that it’s happened at least once. He’s dated famous women, expressed a desire to get married and have children, basically he’s given us no reason to think that he’s a closeted homosexual. Oh right, there was that movie where the Joker gave it to him in the butt. If you ask me, that’s further proof of the man’s heterosexuality. If he was actually gay and trying to hide it, he would probably think twice about taking on what might be the gayest role in the history of cinema (A gay cowboy who’s also a bottom? Who wrote this movie, Elton John’s anal beads?). So why then does Jake continue to be plagued by rumors that he’s gay? Is it really just the result of a movie role he took 5 years ago? He also played a guy who hung out with a dead rabbit in Donnie Darko, but no one has accused him of necro-bestiality. No, there’s something else at work here; something that says a lot about how Hollywood and moviegoers feel about homosexuality in 2010.
The speculation about Jake’s sexuality puts him on an ever-growing list of male film and television actors who are widely believed to be gay, despite their frequent claims to the contrary. Kevin Spacey, Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Richard Gere, Justin Timberlake, Tom Hanks, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have all, at one point in their careers, been the subject of widespread gay rumors. Don’t get me wrong; it’s fully possible that one or more of these men might have pursued musical theatre if Hollywood hadn’t come calling (I’m looking at you, Cruise), but as a society, we don’t commonly second-guess the sexuality of others, particularly in cases where the person is married with children, and has never shown any of the tell-tale signs of homosexuality (Like, say, blurting out at a party, “Wow, I wish I was having sex with another man right now!” When that happens, bring on the rumors.) It would be easy to chalk it up to the fact that these people are celebrities, so of course they’re subject to more speculation, scrutiny and unfounded rumors than us regular folk. Why is it, then, that young actresses aren’t the subjects of similar rumors, even when they tongue wrestle each other onscreen?
The answer, it seems, is a bit like Jessica Simpson – sad and simple. In the eyes of America’s tabloid readers being a lesbian is sexy, being a gay man is shameful. And because embarrassing secrets sell, while good news sits on the shelf, gay gossip is right up there with rehab stints and overdoses in terms of what sells magazines. Gay rumors are even better than drug stories, though, because they don’t require any kind of verification or truth. Just throw a name into the rumor mill, maybe dream up an “anonymous source” who says he banged the guy, and you’re in business. Stars have successfully sued mags for spreading gay rumors in the past, but once the story’s out there, the damage is done. And because history has shown the public loves a good outing, those stories are sure to keep coming.
With all the recent light shed on the tragic repercussions of gay bullying, Hollywood has decided to show its sensitive side with public campaigns designed to encourage gay teens to keep their heads up and be proud of who they are. Unfortunately, male stars being forced to dodge unfounded rumors sends a conflicting message that homosexuality is something to be ashamed of. It’s not the stars working to clear their names who are to blame, or even the handsome young gossip bloggers who might occasionally report an unconfirmed rumor (I gotta eat, y’all!). The root cause of the problem is a culture that can’t seem to make up its mind about homosexuality: it’s great for a chick’s career, disastrous for a dude’s; it’s tragic when a gay teen commits suicide, but we think it’s funny or scandalous when an adult male actor might be closeted.
Last week, a young actress named Amber Heard came out as a lesbian. The public reaction was…non-existent. Granted, Amber’s a C-lister at best, but she’s had roles in several major Hollywood films and there was virtually no talk about the career damage she’d suffer. By contrast, Neil Patrick Harris and Lance Bass (also not a huge star at the time of his revelation) concealed their sexuality for decades before coming out of the closet, and unlike the non-reaction with Amber, everyone acted like they came out as space aliens who found the original copy of Obama’s Kenyan birth certificate on their home planet. Similarly, the movie Black Swan, with its much-ballyhooed lesbian sex scenes premiered last week to mass critical acclaim and boner-inducement, while I Love You Philip Morris, starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor as a gay couple, has finally found a limited release date, after years of rotting in some studio vault. I’m predicting fewer boners with that one.
So, the upshot of all this is that Hollywood seems to be afraid of gay men, and in love with gay women. I won’t pretend to know the reason or have a solution in mind, but it’s a problem that’s worth making note of. Maybe, as the film execs would likely claim, the movie industry is just reflecting the feelings of the general populace. If so, there might be more at stake here than box office receipts and the question of who Jake Gyllenhaal is riding bareback with.