I hope you’ve already read Kit Williamson’s cover story in The Fight magazine where he interviews EastSiders co-star Van Hansis. It’s an excellent interview. You know, they call an actor/singer/dancer a “triple threat.” I think Kit, because he’s so good at so many things, is just an across-the-board threat. And the establishment should be more than a little wary.
Why? Because Kit is shaking up just about everything that is wrong with the status quo in Hollywood. And he’s doing it while not being an asshole (I’m assuming; but I have it on good authority) and he’s doing it on his own terms and he’s doing it right under their noses because he’s that smart.
After I read the interview, I said to myself, “Well, they’re going to pull the wrong thing.” And I was right because I am Cassandra! (Oh, look it up.)
Every damn LGBT website I visited it seemed had some version of “Van Hansis Comes Out” on their homepage. And it made me crazy because that’s not the point.
The point is that no one was saying anything about this:
KIT: I’ve been out since I was sixteen, but when I first came to LA my agents were a bunch of Hollywood bro guys and I was afraid they wouldn’t be able to see me in straight roles. It’s a fear I still harbor, and it’s not necessarily paranoia. I met with a manager a couple of years back who told me I was “fey” and that I would need to “work on that” to be her client.
Someone, somewhere — and certainly more than just me — should be absolutely incensed by that. “Fey?” Seriously? Oh, just butch it up a little. I’ve said for years that the metaphorical corner of Hollywood and Vine is the most homophobic spot in America, but the inability of the industry as a whole to break free from ingrained stereotypes is an outrage.
Has the industry moved forward at all from 60 years ago when the divine Ethel Waters burst forth from a TV kitchen with a “Did somebody bawl for Beulah?” and the only African-Americans on television were servants?
Is gay the new black? Is calling someone “fey” any different? Is the fear that you may not work because someone thinks you may be gay any different?
When Van was breaking barriers and pushing envelopes and making a real cultural impact as Luke Snyder on As The World Turns, he didn’t talk about his own sexual orientation. Why? He tells Kit, “I was completely green, fresh out of college, and honestly, I was scared.”
And why shouldn’t he have been? He jumped feet first into the big time in a highly visible role in an industry that thinks it’s better off if you, you know, butch it up a little. Date some nice girls, like Rock Hudson did. Gimme a freakin’ break.
Van Hansis was a rock star on ATWT. I mean, he was so good you couldn’t really even believe it. He elevated the material to a new level and his was, culturally, the most important gay character of the time in the mainstream media. And the industry — and its warped perceptions of public attitudes and tastes — scared him from telling his own truth as a gay man. That shit just breaks my heart.
But, guess what? I get it. I well and truly get it because I’m a helluva lot older. I lived through coming of age in the early 1980s. I lived through the terror of the early AIDS years where you weren’t sure if sex was a death sentence. I lived through years and years of pretense for fear of losing my job and my reputation.
In the late 80s, I was asked by a program director (I was on the radio at the time) if I had a girlfriend. I said that I didn’t. I probably rolled my eyes. He said — and this has been seared into my brain for 30 years — “You ain’t gay, are you? ‘Cause you can’t be gay on the radio.”
It would have been okay, I guess, if I was some abusive straight jerk, who smacked women around instead of a greenhorn 20-something who was scared as hell of being “found out.” I guess no one would dare listen to a gay guy do the damn news.
You can’t be gay on the radio. Jesus, that’s about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Thirty years have passed since then and the needle hasn’t moved on actual, honest-to-God LGBT acceptance by the industry. Thirty years.
And that, cats and babies, is why EastSiders is so damn important. As Van points out in the interview, the show is changing the narrative; upsetting the applecart of preconceived notions.
There’s no classic hero to emerge from Thom and Cal nor is there one to emerge from Ian and Kathy. What’s there instead is a marvelous leveling. The gay characters are just as screwed up as the straight characters and the distinctions are not in any of their sexualities but in their personalities. And that’s powerful.
The show started at the Mayan Apocalypse and it’s shown since day one that just because some group says that disaster’s coming, it doesn’t mean it is. Life doesn’t work that way.
So, for anyone who has ever been told they are too gay or not gay enough or not straight enough or to butch it up or to hide their truth or to not ask or tell or that you can’t be gay on the radio, well, you owe it to yourself to make sure that this season of EastSiders gets made. Your $5 will make it happen.
What do I get out of this? Not a goddamn thing. Except smart, powerful entertainment. And the satisfaction of seeing the LGBT acceptance needle move a little bit more toward BETTER.
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