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Psst… have you heard the real reason why Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes hooked up? Well, this is what I heard: It seems Rob Thomas’ wife Marisol walked in on him and Tom in bed playing slap and tickle, if you know what I mean, and was pissed off. Can ya blame her? So Tommy paid her off, and then his “people” went into hyperdrive to do damage control by getting him a “girlfriend” (wink, wink). They made this list of up and coming, single actresses, with Jessica Alba on top, but you know Jessica don’t play no games, so they picked Katie Holmes. Tom knew he had to get this story out fast, which is why he went so ape-shit crazy on Oprah, ‘cause it was the only way to bump Bradgelina off the front pages of the tabloids. Now, all Katie has to do is stay married to him for something like five years, and then she’s a rich woman. The baby was a nice touch—they probably used a turkey baster. Anyway, that’s what a friend who got an e-mail from his cousin who read it on a really reputable website said.


Such a story explains Cruise’s behavior of late, behavior so bizarre that comedian Kathy Griffin claims “even the gays don’t want him anymore.” Tom Cruise has been fighting the rumor that he is gay for almost two decades now; this story is the merely the latest in a long series of reported gay alliances the actor has had. Cruise swears adamantly that he is straight, and I have no reason to doubt him, nor any desire for his herd of lawyers to swoop in and sue my ass, so as far as I’m concerned, Tom Cruise is the embodiment of heterosexuality. (So is everyone else mentioned in this article, excluding those who are openly gay, of course.)


Yet, Cruise is not alone as a target of the “gay rumor”, as similar rumors have plagued such diverse celebrities as Alicia Keyes, Kenny Chesney, and 50 Cent, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, NFL stars Kordell Stewart and Rod Strickland, preacher Jerry Falwell, Congressmen Mark Foley and Larry Pressler, and actors Orlando Bloom, Kevin Spacey, Marcia Cross, Ryan Reynolds, Mariska Hargitay, and Viggo Mortenson. Even President Bush has been the subject of gossip regarding his sexual orientation.


Why so many rumors? It’s only natural to want those we admire to be like us, and it is fairly easy to figure out if a celebrity has the same political leanings, moral code, or even fashion sense that we do, but sexuality…that’s another matter. Plenty are the celebs who have worn the mantle of heterosexuality in public while carrying on same-sex relationships in private, which has led the curious public to question the legitimacy of many declarations of “straightness”. And the louder and harder someone proclaims his or her “straightness”, the more we tend to question the honesty of such proclamations. A good case in point would be Kevin Spacey, who has done everything but take out ads proclaiming his heterosexuality, to no avail. The rumors just keep flying.


Still other well-known persons are the subject of rumors because their opponents can think of no better way to ruin the subject’s credibility. How much more of a hypocrite could George W. Bush and Jerry Falwell be than to campaign against equal rights for American homosexuals while on the “down-low”? Such rumors are far-fetched, of course, if for no other reason than no self-respecting gay man would go down on either one of these two.


Sometimes, however, the rumors are based on simple misunderstandings. Singer Alicia Keyes mentioned to a reporter that she was bi-racial and the writer wrote such, but shortly afterwards the internet was buzzing with reports of an interview in which Alicia said she was bisexual.


So, which celebrities are secretly gay? I don’t know and I don’t care. And if you’re reading this expecting the inside scoop on celebrity sexual orientation, you’d probably best move on to something else. It’s not my intention to “out” anyone. When and how a person comes out is a personal matter; forcing the issue has serious psychological consequences for that person and his/her friends and family. We all deal with our sexuality in our own private way, in a manner which we feel is in our best interest (even when it isn’t), and the same holds true for celebrities.


Still, our fascination with the subject is one of the cornerstones of tabloid gossip. Just ask Chad Allen, the young heart-throb from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Allen was “outed” during the run of that show when a tabloid printed on its front page a picture of Allen and another man kissing (Allen was 21 and a consenting adult). In an interview with The Advocate in 2001 (”Chad Allen: His own Story”), he describes being terrified to return to the show’s set after the picture’s publication — “I thought, ‘Everybody who looks at me is gonna know’ …What? That there’s a scared little boy inside?” — and he was relieved to find acceptance from his co-workers, including the technicians and engineers. In another interview, Allen recalls some excellent advice about coming out, “Don’t do it until it’s good news.” (”Chad Allen”, MetroWeekly, 11 April 2002) Unfortunately, Allen was denied that opportunity.


Also unfortunate is the fact that Allen’s decision to be open about his sexuality is still affecting his career. Last year, Allen starred as a straight missionary in the film The End of the Spear, which, due to its themes of redemption and forgiveness, was marketed heavily to church groups. Yet, many such groups refused to see the film due to Allen’s presence. Allen’s performance in the film is respectable, and his sexual orientation does nothing to weaken the film’s message, but the conservative resistance to the film is indicative of why celebrities are often afraid to be upfront about their sexual preference.


But it isn’t just actors who have to deal with this prejudice. Gay inline skating champ Ryan Carrillo notes that “Most of the (other skaters) are really homophobic. I intimidate some of them because I am not shy about my sexuality and I am completely confident.” (”Inline Skater Battles Homophobic Sports Culture”, Genre Magazine, April 2003) Baseball player Billy Bean, tennis legend Billie Jean King, football lineman Esera Tuaolo, and Olympic champs Greg Louganis and Mark Tewsbury have written autobiographies discussing how each struggled with hiding his or her homosexuality in the “straight” world of sports.


It’s understandable how this fear of rejection, whether from colleagues or the general public, would lead a gay celebrity to stay in the closet, or a straight celeb to be steadfast in their denial of rumors, no matter how many rumors may be floating around. Still, the nature of what a celebrity does plays a big role in how accepting fans will be. The more a sport crosses traditional gender lines, the more willing we are to accept homosexuals in that sport (consider male figure skaters and female basketball players). Likewise, certain genres of music seem more accepting than others; pop, folk, and even heavy metal seem more willing to accept gay musicians (for instance, Melissa Etheridge, Rufus Wainwright, and Rob Halford of Judas Priest) than hip-hop and country (k. d. lang only felt comfortable about coming out after country fans abandoned her for being a vegetarian, and Kayne West has openly criticized the rampant homophobia in hip-hop).



Vin Diesel in his kilt.

The same consideration also applies to actors. Those who play primarily testosterone driven roles, such as Vin Diesel and Viggo Mortenson, could see their fan base shrink by allowing such rumors to persist, as their fans tend to be straight males who like to think their actions heroes are going home to screw some random babe after a day on the set. A fan may have no problems with gay people in general, but still may not want to think that the macho savior of the world fits into, you know, that category.


By contrast, some actors can be out and proud or nonchalant about the persistence of gay rumors because the roles they play don’t define their public persona. Gay actors Alan Cummings and B. D. Wong have played both gay and straight characters convincingly; however, neither is the type who would be considered for straight romantic leads or action-hero parts. Likewise, Portia de Rossi’s relationship with Ellen DeGeneres had no impact on her performance on Arrested Development. Straight actor Jake Gyllenhaal, who has also played gay and straight, says that he is flattered by rumors that he is bisexual; since Gyllenhaal’s more macho roles, such as in Jarhead, are in films aimed at more artistic and open-minded audiences than Van Diesel’s “shoot-first-ask-questions-never” films, he need not worry about alienating fans to the same degree as Diesel.


Olympic swimming champ Ian Thorpe also seems to have a healthy attitude about such rumors, noting, “It is the most flattering thing that anyone can ever say because if someone wants to label you or claim you as part of a minority group, it means you must have some strength in your character or in what you do.” Thorpe’s attitude is reminiscent of advice given to me the first time I was in a gay bar. A naïve 19-year-old, I freaked when a man grabbed my butt. The friend I was with calmed me by noting, “It just means he thinks you’re cute. Take the compliment and leave the rest.” I still don’t care for uninvited groping, but I have grown to welcome compliments from any source.


Ideally, American society will some day reach a state where rumors regarding sexual orientation don’t matter, a state that exists in much of Europe. English actor Ian McKellan has noted how much more open European society is to gay and lesbian actors, and notes further that Broadway is more willing to accept gay performers than Hollywood. Perhaps theater-goers have a greater ability to suspend their beliefs, separating the actor from the role. Or perhaps homosexuals are so closely associated with live theater that we just expect there to be queers playing straight on stage.


Still, that acceptance needs to be adopted by television, film, and sports fans. After all, would Anderson Cooper’s reports on Hurricane Katrina carry any less impact if it were true that he returned home from Louisiana to the loving arms of Julio Recio, his rumored partner? Would Jodie Foster’s performance in The Accused be any less heartbreaking if she, either the actress or her character, were a lesbian?


We are making strides in the right direction; that is, toward tolerance and acceptance. Dallas Sheriff Lupe Valdez is an out and proud lesbian whose arrests carry the same weight as any straight officer’s. More actors are growing indifferent to rumors about their sexuality; for every Orlando Bloom, who throws a fit at the mere suggestion he is gay, there is a James Van der Beek, who doesn’t care if “Joe Public who lives in wherever, Middle America” thinks he is gay. Even country and hip-hop appear to be opening up somewhat. After being arrested for solicitation in a men’s bathroom, country singer Ty Herndon didn’t see his career come to a grinding halt, as many had predicted. And gay hip-hop artist Caushun, whose songs openly discuss his sexuality, noted that straight men at his shows typically have the same reaction: “I’m not into that gay shit, but I feel you for keeping it real.” (”Words of Caushun”, MetroWeekly, 23 May 2002)


As more athletes, actors, singers, and politicians come out of the closet, and the number of openly gay persons in those fields is greater than most realize, our acceptance of a celebrity’s sexual orientation will increase. Studies have shown that interaction with homosexuals makes people more accepting of that lifestyle on a personal level, and the same is true on a larger, public scale. While some ignorant souls viewed Melissa Etheridge’s recent battle with breast cancer as God’s retribution for her “deviant” lesbian lifestyle, most hailed her courage in battling the disease and cheered her bald return to the spotlight when she rocked the house with her performance of “Piece of my Heart” during the 2005 Grammys. Her sexual orientation hasn’t stopped her from becoming one of the most successful women rockers in history, having sold 27 million albums worldwide.


So who really cares who’s straight or gay? Sadly, far too many people. Dittoheads (fans of Rush Limbaugh) could care less if their hero is a convicted drug addict who steals other people’s Viagra prescriptions, a multiple divorcee, and a former recipient of government assistance, but suggest that Rush might be gay, and the Dittos will foam at the mouth with fury. We are willing to separate the actor from their characters or their personal lives in many cases — for instance, despite his chilling performance in Silence in the Lamb, no one really believes Anthony Hopkins consumes human flesh (I hope) — so why can we not separate actors from their sexual roles or sexual rumors, as well?


If Tom Cruise and Rob Thomas did hook up, their being forthcoming about the tryst would help advance the public discussion on gay rights. (And just think of the millions the video of it could make them!) Were it true that Tommy is gay, and of course, he isn’t and don’t even think about suggesting that he is, he would have undoubtedly created a life of misery for himself, hiding his true self, joining a religion that vilifies who he is, and marrying women who deserve better. But ultimately, it is his choice and his decision how he deals with his sexual preferences and the rumors regarding his sexual tastes. As for the rest of us, it’s just none of our damn business.

Michael has been writing for PopMatters since 2000. His primary focus, aside from queer culture, is television reviews and commentary, and his article Male Bashing on TV has been reprinted in two college textbooks. He currently lives in Louisville, KY, and is a Lecturer of Communication Studies at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, IN. As a teacher, he has an interest in the study of contemporary political rhetoric and argumentation. He and his partner Jim have been living in un-wedded bliss since 1995.


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