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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Can A Soap Star Come Out As Gay?

In an age when movie and prime-time stars are coming out in droves, actors and experts weigh in on daytime television’s biggest taboo. Can a soap star come out as gay? Below, an excerpt from TV Guide's Nelson Branco, which tackles that very question.

Nelson Branco writes:
As prime-time TV actors like Neil Patrick Harris, Adamo Ruggiero, and T.R. Knight burst out of the closet to positive responses and thunderous applause, and daytime talk show host Ellen DeGeneres legally wed actress Portia de Rossi (nabbing a full-image People magazine cover in the process), the suds community is still stuck in the middle ages when it comes to the soap closet. So why are daytime actors still seemingly afraid to come out of the closet? 
Historically, there has been a misleading assumption that daytime audiences, which are mostly compromised of women and gay men, would reject a gay actor playing a romantic lead role. However, the viewing public has only embraced gay portrayals onscreen. Would it be a huge stretch to assume the soap world could separate an actor’s real and reel life as well? Earlier this year, SOAPnet.com, which is owned by ABC, outed a soap actor via a report by gossip blogger Perez Hilton. Despite this unprecedented outing, it was business as usual for the actor, who did not respond to the website’s claims. 
Conversely, Desperate Housewives star Tuc Watkins (ex-David, OLTL), who plays a gay character on the prime-time soap, thinks as gay rights inch closer to being realized, there will be less need to spill ink over a star’s personal life. He shrugs, “I don’t think anyone really cares anymore. Having said that, I think actors in general want to maintain a cipher role. Actors want fans to see them as the characters they play, not as the person behind the role. When viewers find out too much about ourselves, then we become celebrities, not actors. And those of us who sign up to be actors want to be actors.” But that sheds light on a gay-straight double standard: why do straight actors feel free to reveal their personal lives in the press without judgment on their artistic process and not gay actors? 
Former The Young and The Restless star Thom Bierdz, who later came out publicly after his soap stint, tells TVGuide.ca it was a very different reality during his 1980s stint as Philip Chancellor. “I was always scared because I was a closeted gay soap star living in a straight world. Even though the Bells never made it an issue professionally, I knew I could never bring my gay lover to Y&R events or discuss my personal life. When I told Lauralee Bell I was gay, she burst into tears. She was scared I would die of AIDS, but in her defense, it was a very horrific time in the gay community. Most of us were dying. I think she also had a crush on me.”
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