I have decided to throw myself into the conversation regarding actor Matt Damon’s recent remarks on gay actors. But before I do this, I would like to specify what was actually said. According to the Observer interview:
Is it harder for actors to be openly gay in Hollywood? “I’m sure. When Ben and I first came on the scene there were rumours that we were gay because it was two guys who wrote a script together.”
He thinks attitudes are changing, and welcomes the introduction of same-sex marriage in California in 2008. “I think it must be really hard for actors to be out publicly,” he continues. “But in terms of actors, I think you’re a better actor the less people know about you period. And sexuality is a huge part of that. Whether you’re straight or gay, people shouldn’t know anything about your sexuality because that’s one of the mysteries that you should be able to play.”
So is Matt Damon just a normal guy, adept at pretending to be mysterious? I don’t think so. He’s cleverer than that: he’s worked out that the appearance of averageness affords the greatest opportunity for privacy and creative space.
How would he describe himself as an actor? There is a long pause. “I don’t know,” he says. “Subtle, hopefully.”
Hmmm… “I think it must be really hard for actors to be out publicly”? I think I will address this first.
Is It Hard Being Out Publicly?
Granted, I am no actor in Hollywood, but I was out before Ellen DeGeneres came out. The first book I read of someone openly gay was Going the Other Way by Billy Bean, because being gay didn’t mean effeminate. So would I say things got harder for me when I came out publically?
I am going to answer this question in two ways. The first way addresses my emotions regarding myself, and the relationship between me and myself (the most important relationship in my life). The second way will be handling what other people think about my sexual orientation, sexual preferences, etc.
For me, coming out in 5th grade in Lawrence was about having an honest relationship with the rest of the world, period. It was about being able to have inner peace with myself about who I was for the rest of my life. When others observe people coming out, there appears to be a disconnect with the fact that prior to a person doing so, there is an interim period in which that person is aware of this part of themselves, possibly afraid, and making considerations for who knows how long a period of time before actually coming out. It is considered the worst period of the entire endeavor. It is within this period that a person can feel anguish, almost saying it, leaving hints, yet not actually doing so. I remember that feeling well and how much I really desired to get out of this period of coming out.
The act of coming out internally was nothing short of a wonderful thing. Once I came out, the fear and uncertainty that I had been fostering had disappeared. I was no longer holding in pain within myself. I had accepted myself, and now I had shared that acceptance with the rest of the world. It was a wonderful release. The first time I came out wasn’t easy, but the more and more people I shared that with, the easier and easier it became. The uncertainty of not knowing who would or wouldn’t accept me back simply disappeared as well, because by coming out, and knowing the reactions of others to this, I had that certainty in place.
According to Everyday Feminism‘s article, “Dealing with the Stress of Being in the Closet” by Jarune Uwujaren:
If you’ve been (or are) closeted, you’re already aware that it’s not that fun.
There’s a reason we call it being “in the closet” and not “in the spacious two bedroom loft with high ceilings”: Hiding your sexual orientation and/or gender identity from others can be a confining, isolating experience.
Having to hear what your (not so progressive) friends and family say about LGBTQIA+ people when they think there aren’t any around. Wanting to date without wearing a sign on your forehead that says “available for same gender loving.” Having that one person who managed to discover your identity threaten to out you to the people you never wanted to come out to. Living a partial life or an all-out lie.
And the list could go on.
And what’s worse, being in the closet isn’t really a choice.
No one would catch a glimpse of a beautifully diverse and accepting world and choose to hide in a closet.
People are closeted because they feel that it shields them from some of the bullying, rejection, violence, and discrimination still common in the wider world.
But for many of us, being in the closet also brings with it a sense of security. And that feeling of security can make it hard to see the small ways that being closeted can take a toll on your mental well-being.
Though there’s no one-size-fits-all way to deal with the stress of being in the closet, especially since there are so many situations that put people there, there are some things that can ease the burden or keep it from getting heavier than it already is.
According to Huffington Post‘s, “Coming Out Fears: Some Thoughts On Gay Sex, Stereotypes And More” by Rick Clemons for YourTango.com:
Don’t let fear prevent you from living an authentic life.
Call it a midlife crisis or just finally coming to your senses. Either way, coming out late in life is confusing.
Yes. We could have avoided all this had we walked the line of integrity and said, “I’m gay!” The only problem is that’s so much easier said than done. In fact, I’m always amused at the number of people from all walks of life who say to me, “If you knew you were gay, why did you get married to a woman?” And I really get tired of explaining that when I got married, it was a different time and place, and that I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to fight the demons. The same holds true for those who have joined me in this boat. There’s no magic wand you can wave to make coming out a picnic in the park (at least not yet, but were working on it; it’s called acceptance, and that’s a completely different article).
Here’s the deal, like it or not, gay or straight, we’re all trying to find ourselves; hence why some of us are late bloomers to our gay life. When you are older, the journey out-of-the-closet can be even more exciting because we’re finally able to be ourselves after hiding for many painful years. On the other hand, there’s a high probability of feeling as if you’re wandering through a barren wasteland of regret over what you have done and confusion about who you are. What you did was be honest with yourself at a much deeper and more spiritual level than probably any other time in your life. However, before it makes sense, you’ve got to get through the low moments to find your rainbow.
Some common fears include:
1. I’m not going to be good at gay sex. Well you’re probably right. But for crying out loud, you weren’t good at the hetero sex thing either, so what do you have to lose? Until you climb on that pony and ride, you’ll never know when you’re ready to ride a horse.
2. I’m not that gay guy. Forget the stereotypes about gay men. Some of us are ripped, others have girth; some of us hit the bars, others of us hit the RV Clubs. But guess what? We’re all gay. You are who you are in your own gay skin, so stop fretting and start finding your gay peeps. You’ll likely discover you’re really not alone.
3. I’ve never been alone before. If you’ve never lived alone, not experienced a quiet house without a spouse breathing next to you or the energy of kids running rampant, then it can be scary to suddenly enter that environment. In fact, a large majority of late bloomers never had a full-blown experience of being alone. Relish it. It’s our growth time, and the best opportunity you’ll ever have to get to know yourself at a really deep level. Besides, before you know it, you could meet Mr. Right who’s ready for marriage and kids, and poof, bye-bye solitude.
4. And you thought women were fickle. One of the hardest lessons to learn about gay men is that generally speaking they can be very hard to pin down. Many feel that there could always be someone better around the bend or in the next gym locker room. Even thought the phrase “you gotta kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince” may have been intended for hetero audiences only, it certainly applies to gay men as well. There are princes out there though — don’t lose hope.
5. It’s all so different — but also, so much the same. Society has made us believe that being gay is a different universe than being straight. In reality, most of the same rules that apply to heterosexual couples apply to homosexual ones as well. From the sexual roles we assume, to how we argue with each other, it’s all pretty much the same stuff. In fact, the only thing that separates us from heterosexuals is the anatomy between our legs.
In those moments that you feel as if you’re adrift on the sea with no land or man in site, remember it takes one man, and one man only, to make you feel at ease — and that man is you. The sooner you adopt this belief, the sooner you can join the rest of us in the agony and the ecstasy of gay dating and relationships. Come on, you know you want to. So get over the fears and jump headfirst into the lovely, rainbow-colored world of being gay and loving every perfectly fabulous moment.
When I decided to come out, I had come to already realize that it didn’t matter so much what other people think about it. It wasn’t always about everyone else. Sometimes it is about me. I didn’t want to feel isolated or confined when I had a choice. I always have a piece inside me that shines brightly, and I wanted people to know what that was, clearly and happily.
On Being Publicly Gay
The second thing Damon states is this:
“I think you’re a better actor the less people know about you period. And sexuality is a huge part of that. Whether you’re straight or gay, people shouldn’t know anything about your sexuality because that’s one of the mysteries that you should be able to play.”
Yet in this same interview he also states this:
“You know, a guy who’s married happily with four kids is not quite a story,” Damon says with a sorry-but-what-can-you-do smile. “And so they’ll come back and they’ll take an occasional picture… but it’s kind of just updating the file.”
It’s nice, talking to Damon. Unlike many actors, he answers questions with a reflective openness. There is a feeling that nothing is out of bounds. He is politically engaged – a Democrat, but also a critic of Barack Obama (he has spoken out about Obama’s education policies and questioned the legality of drone strikes) and says he’s deeply worried about the chasm between rich and poor in America in the aftermath of the economic crisis.
I need not say much about this personally. According to The Guardian‘s article, “Matt Damon has backed himself into a corner with hypocritical gay comments” by Nigel Smith:
Fallon wrote: “By arguing that gay actors should keep their sexuality secret, Damon is in essence turning homosexuality into some sort of event or curio that should matter when an actor is being considered for a role.”
HitFix’s Louis Virtel called Damon’s comments discouraging in his informed takedown titled: 7 Ugly Implications of Matt Damon’s Comments About Out Gay Actors. “Being a celebrity requires some candor; putting pressure on gay celebrities to shut up indicates that they’re not invited to the same fame as their straight contemporaries,” he wrote.
The actor made no apology during an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres’s US daytime talk show on Monday, clarifying that he had not intended to come across as homophobic, but once again stressing that “actors are more effective when they’re a mystery”.
Contrary to what Damon argues, his comments weren’t “twisted around”. Asked directly, during the Observer interview, if it’s harder for actors to be openly gay in Hollywood, Damon said: “I’m sure,” then inexplicably launched into the rumors that he and Ben Affleck were gay during the period the pair became well-known in Hollywood after writing the Oscar-winning screenplay for 1997’s Good Will Hunting. He followed up that leap by taking it one step further, saying Rupert Everett – “more handsome that anybody, a classically trained actor” – took “a hit for being out” at the time. This talk led Damon to unwisely launch into the comments that have put him in such hot water.
In the interview, he never says verbatim “actors should stay in the closet”, but by suggesting that the public shouldn’t know about an actor’s sexuality, he’s implying just that. If he were to live by his coda, Damon would rather his own sexuality wasn’t public knowledge, so he could convincingly read as gay in the audience’s eyes when playing a homosexual character. Trouble is, Damon played one such role in Behind the Candelabra opposite Michael Douglas as Liberace’s much-younger male lover, and in turn received some of the best reviews of his career (bolstered by Golden Globe and Emmy nominations) – all despite the fact that he’s openly come out as a heterosexual to the press in discussing his marriage to his wife, Luciana. This makes Damon, for lack of a better word, a hypocrite.
Damon’s arguments simply don’t hold water. Sexuality in our day and age, is inescapable, with the advent of the internet and society’s increased acceptance of non-heteronormative lifestyles. How does Damon propose actors restrict the press from reporting on their personal lives? Is he suggesting actors never display signs of affections for their loved ones outdoors; that they live their lives in solitary confinement, save for when on a film set? If so, he’s failed at his own ethos miserably.
Instead of echoing the values of Old Hollywood, in which actors’ private lives were kept private by the studio that employed them, Damon should offer his take on how the industry can evolve to better serve openly gay actors. It indeed is a shame that Everett never became a Damon-sized star. But blame for that shouldn’t be placed on the tabloids and the public – it should be directed at an industry that didn’t trust that an out actor could believably play straight on screen. To date, his only major roles in studio pictures were as gay best friends to Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding, and Madonna in The Next Best Thing.
According to Salon.com’s “Don’t be “that guy,” Matt Damon: Why his lecture on sexuality and silence rubs people the wrong way” by Paula Young Lee:
This past month, Damon has suddenly clarified why Matt Stone and Trey Parker gave the Damon marionette in “Team America,” 2004, just one line: his own name, said over and over again. When he speaks extemporaneously, he has an unfortunate tendency to say the kind of things that makes headlines for all the wrong reasons. Even with Ellen giving him lots of wiggle room, he actually doubled down on the same dunderheaded remarks that got him in trouble in the first place—the idea that actors are more effective when there’s a little “mystery” about their personal lives, so they ought to keep their sexual orientation to themselves.
With an expression of clueless affability on his boyish face, Damon looked out at the studio audience that he clearly expected to forgive him, oblivious to the fact that Ellen looked as if she’d just sucked on a lemon. In 1997, she famously came out on her scripted television show, “Ellen,” making her the first actor playing a leading role where both she and her character publicly identified as lesbian. There was significant backlash—followed by hard-won success, which kind of puts the kibosh on Damon’s belief that being out of the closet is, for a queer actor, the kiss of professional death. And yet Damon seemed unaware of the courageous history that brought Ellen to the very place where she could now be interviewing him on a hugely popular talk show that, as of last count, had won 33 Daytime Emmys. Instead, he offered a mind-boggling repeat of his attempt to whitesplain diversity to Effie Brown, a successful Black female producer who’d appeared on his show, “Project Greenlight,” earlier this month.
Which is why #Damonsplaining is a now thing, and Damon is now that guy, because he’s earned the dubious honor of being Ambassador Clueless. Dude, stop talking. Really. It’s painful. We want to love you, Jason Bourne! American wants to root for you, My Favorite Martian! But as of this morning, there is sorrow and confusion in Liberal Land. Just stop talking! (And read some books, maybe some written by women of color, because it’s time for gaining a teensy bit of perspective on the world your daughters will inherit. For starters, try this list, along with Celeste Ng, Natalie Baszile, Naomi Williams, and Vanessa Garcia.)
How, exactly, does one get to be That Guy? Behold, Reddit has the answers! That guy is a douchebag who leaves dirty underwear on the floor and blames it on the dog. Explains one Redditor: “Regularly bitching about your own job to your unemployed friends is also an ass move.” (See also: using decades-old speculation about your friendship with fellow superstar Ben Affleck to identify with actors who are actually gay and might face discrimination for it.) Says another: “A normal person, when called on their behavior, will apologize. A normal person will make an effort to change for the better. Not THAT GUY, though. THAT fucking GUY will accuse you of overreacting. He’ll say, ‘it was just a joke, man,’ as if he had done nothing wrong. In his mind, he can do no wrong.”
And finally, according to Time Magazine‘s “Here’s Why Everyone Is So Annoyed With Matt Damon” by Daniel D’Addario:
It would follow that gay actors shouldn’t come out, that telling the world about their sexuality runs counter to the goals of an effective actor. What’s strangest of all is that this line of thinking comes after Damon, in the same interview, describes how painful it was to be considered Ben Affleck’s lover in the 1990s and briefly describes his family happiness. If Damon really believed actors ought to reveal nothing about their personal lives, even this would seem too much; that he’s giving gay people unsolicited advice, which he doesn’t follow, about how to live their lives seems like an unforced error at best.