Joan Rivers: Young Gay Performers Hoping to be Romantic Idols Should Stay in the Closet


Given the amount of outrage generated by Ramin Setoodeh's Newsweek article on whether gays can convincingly play straight, it's no surprise that Joan Rivers quote from a recent Advocate interview is getting similar attention.

Asks Brandon Voss: "Should young gay performers still keep their sexuality a secret? "

Says Rivers: "It’s part of the game. If you’re going to be a romantic idol and try to get every teenage girl to love you, then you’d be an ass to come out and say you’re gay. That’s why Ricky Martin was so smart — he did what he did, he made his millions, and then he said, 'Guess what, everybody? I’m gay, I’m having this life, and here are my children.' It didn’t matter anymore because he didn’t have to bring in 16-year-old girls."


  1. Robert says

    On one hand I agree with her. I am not particularly attracted to straight guys, why should the general audience of romance songs be attracted to a gay man? Yea yea, its all about the music, but so is the fantasy of having a stud sing the song to you.

    On the other hand, Adam Lambert gets a lot of female attention regardless of sexuality. You will get those crazy ladies who think they can change him, but still.

    I don’t think Joan was out of line, she was just pointing out the obvious fact that *straight* women just won’t be as attracted to a gay crooner than they would a straight crooner.

  2. Rod says

    I don’t personally take offense to her remarks, I think it’s just a generational thing. Clearly she hasn’t been to an Adam Lambert concert.

  3. Chris in MN says

    Love Joan, but she’s showing her age. She is from a different era, and I don’t think she fully appreciates the changes that have happened in our society.

  4. says

    16 year old girls are not idiots. They can handle it. Plus the more celebs come out after the fact teaches people that they were in the closet at some point. Meaning, teens know that some of their idols are gay. Adam Lambert outsold Kris Allen. It may be because Adam is seen as single and sexually available / adventurous. And because his music is better. But also because Kris Allen is in a relationship.

    Plus even if it would make people have bigger careers and make more money for themselves (and studios), that doesn’t mean staying in the closet is right. I still want to see the documentary on Joan, but perhaps I’ll wait to see if she ever comes out of the closet. I wouldn’t want to support romantic idol Joan Rivers if there’s a chance she’s a lesbian. I’ll wait until she’s dead as proof that she never came out. Then I’ll see her movie. That would be following her advice.

  5. Paul R says

    From a strictly business perspective, she’s correct. And being a singer is different from being an actor….lots of singers have toyed with sexuality over the years, but actors tend to be more rigidly defined.

  6. Ted says

    As others have noted, it is remarkable that Joan Rivers is still alive, let alone provoking headlines.

  7. Mark says

    Her comment is not offensive — it’s a sad reality. Even the most villaged and idealistic gays should realize that.

  8. Garrett Ghost says

    But what about Romantic idols for gay teens? I never had a gay example when I was younger even though a lot of those idols turned out to be gay(Lance Bass, Ricky Martin, H from Steps). I think if I knew they were gay, I would have a much easier time to relate.

    The entertainment business only seem to look at the straight girls and never at the gay boys, I hope that someday that will change.

  9. David in TO says

    Actually, I agree with her. It is a sad reality but it’s a reality nonetheless. It doesn’t mean that it can’t be changed but she is absolutely correct. Why would 13-14 year old girl swoon over a gay man? If your goal is to make MONEY then I agree with her statement 100%.

  10. chris says

    Just to point out a nuance that’s important, given your comparison: She doesn’t say gay actors shouldn’t or can’t play straight. That, to me, was the most offensive part of RS’s “argument.”

  11. Joel says

    She’s not much of an ally. When thousands of us were dying in the eighties, she was dining with the Reagans and praising them on the Tonight Show. Everything is about money for this woman: when she’s old and over the hill, she can play the gay diva and fill up theatres like Kathy Griffin.

  12. Jack M says

    Why shouldn’t a young girl be able to idolize a gay celebrity? Gay men have been in love with straight male celebreties for decades.

  13. Mike C. says

    What’s the big deal? What she said is a fair, objective statement. Deal with it

  14. Alex N says

    I’m shocked that anyone is shocked by her comment. It is absoltely truthful and by no means does she really state that the truth is fair…She’s giving an interview to The Advocate, not The National Review.

    Why does any gay person need to have this knee jerk PC-inflated reaction to comments mae by someone who has been breaking barriers for decades? It isn’t productive to bury your head in the sand about what is true and comedic performers always push limits.

  15. SkepticalCicada says

    Old hag comediennes who want to live off a loyal gay following should keep their bigoted mouths shut.

    Thank goodness I haven’t paid to see her movie yet. Now I won’t.

  16. Gridlock says

    Joan should stick to selling shitty circus clown jewelry for old bats to fund the continuing hilarious deconstruction of her face.

  17. SkepticalCicada says

    Mark: “Her comment is not offensive — it’s a sad reality. Even the most villaged and idealistic gays should realize that.”

    Whether accurate or not–and I’m not so confident she knows what today’s 16-year-old girls think–she demonstrated utter and complete ignorance about the costs of the closet, acting like it’s similar to choosing what color socks to wear. Fuck her.

  18. Joel says

    Oh, and recall this woman made her career by lampooning Elizabeth Taylor, who may be a lot of things, but she is a true friend to the gay community. Who was there with us — giving and raising money, pushing for visibility — when Joan’s buddy Ronald Reagan would not even utter the word “AIDS”? Elizabeth Taylor.
    The rainbow flag in Joan Rivers’ hand is there because she is a crass hypocrite following the money (which is exactly what she says Ricky Martin did right).

  19. David in TO says

    That’s a good point Jack. Maybe it is just something to do with the group mentality. If Justin Beiber (or however you spell his name) was out and frequently brought the fact that he is gay up I don’t think he would have the loyal preteen and teen girl following that he does. I can’t say for sure though.

  20. jomicur says

    I’ve never understood why so many gay men pay any attention at all to this shrill, superannuated hag. If knowing when to leave is the height of good manners, she’s the most horribly ill-mannered entertainer on record. She hasn’t been anything but obnoxious since the 60s, and even then she was just a pale drag imitation of Woody Allen. She can save her opinions for the yobbos who shop on QVC.

  21. alguien says

    i’m with joel and his 2 comments on this. she certainly didn’t distinguish herself as a friend to teh gays during the reagan years. for her non-flagging support of the reagans she will always be someone for me to avoid.

  22. Bryan Harrison says

    “You look like a pterodactyl, and you think like one too…”

    More to the point, aging has great advantages provided you continue to challenge yourself with new awareness and new experiences. I suppose that’s unsurprising from a surgery addict more concerned with appearance than substance, but it’s still sad Joan River’s brain is wearing a bustle.

    Her point is arguably valid if we’re discussing Rock Hudson, but she seems utterly unaware that pubescent girls constitute Adam Lambert’s main fan base.

    Since we’re discussing Hollywood where any mention of ethics, honest, or personal integrity will be met with wide-eyed bafflement, we needn’t bother to go there.

  23. says

    As terrible as this truth is, it is still the truth. It’s called good marketing and PR. I dont know if this will ever not be a truth despite how far the gay rights movement comes. It’s all about attracting the young girls/boys and getting their cash sometimes. That’s what Ricky MArtin did in America. It was very well known in Latin America that he dabbled in the bisexuality dept. Frankly I am suprised it took so long for America to get on board. Read a paper.

  24. Mark says

    David Ehrenstein: “Self-loathing closet queens always take calls for actors to stay in the closet as a “sad reality.””

    Jack M: “Why shouldn’t a young girl be able to idolize a gay celebrity?”

    Perhaps the mention of the infamous Newsweek articling in this post is confusing. She’s not saying either of these things. She’s stating the objective fact that if you want to have girls swoon over you (and buy what you’re selling) then you should appear to be into girls.

  25. Brady says

    Uh, is Adam Lambert really a gay that gays are “proud” of? Leaving aside the nauseating femminess and vanilla commercialism, his music is SHIT.

  26. says

    Um, Ricky Martin can’t pack in the 16 year olds anymore because he’s no spry chicken anymore. Meanwhile, Adam Lambert is packing in plenty of 16 year olds and living out and proud.

    Joan Rivers FAIL.

  27. TANK says

    Adam Lambert has replaced NPH & Ian Mckellan as the incessant chant from the delusional that it’s not a career ender to be gay in the showbusiness…lmao!

    Yeah…don’t listen, kiddies! Music ain’t da movies, and in da movies, gays aren’t A listers.

  28. TANK says

    And i say this as someone who dislikes joan rivers and always has–she’s not funny…ever…yenta dreck

  29. Roy says

    And female comedians shouldn’t be vulgar, rude, or obnoxious. It’s not ladylike, and will turn off a huge segment of their audience.

    Has she forgotten that being different is what MADE her a name?

  30. says

    Only a fool would believe that what she’s saying is NOT true. Of course it’s a reality. However, how any closet case can look at themselves in the mirror is another question. I’ve never been in the position to make a fortune playing the teen idol role, but I’d like to think that if I was offered big bucks to pretend to be straight, I wouldn’t do it. I mean, not that I could anyway, of course.

  31. Wes says

    This is so true. Everyone knows once someone comes out as straight, all the gays stop lusting.

  32. Soren456 says

    “Dear Liberace, this is Joan . . . .”

    Her opinion is a paean to closetery.

    It’s so “bad” to be gay that dissembling is the only realistic alternative.

    I wonder what she thinks Stonewall and all that has followed is all about, and for whom.

    Sorry, Joan, but there’s more than money involved here, and in an entertainer’s decision to be honest and to set an example for those who he/she can help. It’s called the Human Factor (or something) and it has taken decades to make it workable.

    The fewer modern-day Liberaces we have, the better.

  33. JeffRob says

    We will only ever be to the world what we show them we are to ourselves.

    If we want to be respected, equal, fearless, out and proud in their eyes, we have to be that in reality. Like, now. Like, all of us.

  34. Bill says

    It’s always about sex with heterosexuals. Heterosexuals like Joan Rivers are using sex as an excuse for heterosexual prejudices. Heterosexuals don’t want gay people to be idolized above heterosexuals. What would it mean for heterosexual males if gay men were idolized by heterosexual women? I think this question heterosexuals never want answered so we have to be marginalized.

  35. Jesse says

    I LOVE JOAN!!!

    You can say she’s showing her age but you cannot honestly say she is wrong. Why would teenage girls go wild over a gay man (You can site Adam Lambert but he really isn’t that big). I have a feeling most of you who say her opinion is due to her age are living in urban environments. If folks really didn’t care about sexuality, gays could get married. American society is not that excepting yet.

  36. Paul R says

    Some commenters seem to be forgetting that she’s speaking purely from a financial perspective. Integrity, self-respect, advancing gay rights—all those things are unimportant to her. Why she continues to work and fixate on money is beyond me, but she’d probably go crazy otherwise.

    As others have said, performance is secondary to her: money comes first. Performance may even be third, with power second. In her words, it’s all a “game,” and she just wants to win regardless of the ethical or other issues involved.

  37. Eugene says

    If what she says is true, how can you explain gay porn with “straight” guys?

    No, it has everything to do with homophobia.

  38. TANK says

    Yes, that does have everything to do with homophobia, eugene…and so does the fact that there are no A list actors who are openly gay, and won’t be because it doesn’t sell. America is a deeply homophobic country.

  39. JoshEV says

    Adam Lambert isn’t starring as the romantic lead in Twilight and never will be. yes, women like him. But they’d never buy him as a romantic heartthrob in a movie.

    AND– look how much press the whole Robert Pattison crap gets. Wouldn’t work if he were gay.

    It’s totally different.

  40. Dave says

    I’m just not getting how anybody can get worked over this. She didn’t say entertainers should stay in the closet. She didn’t even say that staying in the closet was the only way to be successful.

    All she said was that *if* you want to make money off teen girls, *then* you should stay in the closet.

    She didn’t say making money off teen girls was the only way to succeed. She didn’t even endorse it as the best way to succeed.

    Learn to parse before you get pissed.

  41. says

    Teen girls aren’t as stupid, or homophobic, as Joan Rivers — or the self-loathing closet queens who claim waht she said is “the truth.”

    Over and abive all that if “romantic leads’a re the be-all and end all why did Robert Pattinson’s Rememebr Me” die the death?

    “Prince of Persia” anyone?

    How about “Knight and Day”?

    The old formulas are drying up. The only surefire thing at the box office is cartoons.

    And cartoon characters don’t have genitals.

  42. TANK says

    yeah, DE, and jordan chandler’s sex abuse allegations against MJ were legitimate…you’re about as credible as BP’s concern for the environment.

  43. Jim Fotter says

    Perhaps one more facelift will help Joan keep her mouth shut. Perpetuating the Rock Hudson “beard” days is a half-century step backward. Joan seems a bit stuck there to me.

  44. lewlew says

    Gur-fren is not stupid. She’s right.

    BUT the world is changing, and it changes by our actions. More come out, less a problem.

    Come on out, boises n’ gurs… the weather’s fine.

  45. says

    As another commenter so validly pointed out, clearly this is a generational thing. And you know who’s in charge in Hollywood right now? Joan Rivers’ peers. That’s why you have this group mentality in Hollywood (cause shit aint the only thing that rolls downhill) that states out gay men would not convince the average teenage girl to cream in her Spider-Man Underoos while watching them. As long as Joan Rivers’ peers stay in control in Hollywood, we’ll NEVER have an out gay man as a leading man.

    But the good news here is the one thing you can’t cheat is death. Much like the whole DADT debacle (a prime example of Joan’s peers and shit rolling downhill) once those people are dead and gone (or at least retired) then we’ll start to see changes in Hollywood.

  46. boywonder3919 says

    I read Joan’s comments very differently from Seetodeh’s. I think she’s tackling the subject from a business view and not on the talent or ability of a gay performer. Basically, I see her comment to boil down to a simple assessment of the business. If you are trying to sell yourself as a sex symbol that women will fantasize about, it only hurts your cuse to come out. While I think she overlooks the emotional and social costs of staying in the closet, I can’t disagree with the business statement. Bringing up Adam Lambert is a red herring because Lmbert didn’t come out until after he was off American Idol and had already hooked a fan base.

    Seetodeh said that gay performers couldn’t convincingly play straight. I think the central difference here is that Joan’s statement seems to be acknowledging that Hollywood is about selling the person of the actor. The actual ability to act is secondary to being an object of desire or at least being well liked.

  47. V says

    Joan, and many of you, clearly haven’t talked to many girls and women about this.

    Most straight (non far-right-wing/non super-religious) women I know, from 14 well into their 80s couldn’t care less about the orientation of a hot celebrity — and not because they harbor any delusions that they can change him (it’s not like they’d have a shot in hell even if he were straight) — hot is hot regardless of whom one sleeps with and/or loves. And as all young gay boys know, in one’s own fantasies a celeb’s orientation and/or one’s own gender are easily changeable.

    Moreover, most (non far-right-wing/non super-religious) straight women who bother to think about it, find that they find men together just as hot as straight men find women together. Hell, it’s not just the straight and bi women either: I know dozens of lesbians who get all hot over gay men/characters/couples like Adam Lambert, Randy Harrison, John Barrowman, Robert Gant, Brian Kinney, Brian & Justin, Luke & Noah, Luke & Reid, Luke Macfarlane, etc., etc.

    Nor would any of them have any problem believing men like Adam Lambert, John Barrowman, Robert Gant, etc. in romantic lead roles gay, straight, or otherwise, (providing they are decent actors to start with).

    Times have changed, Joan.

  48. V says

    And as for the notion that teens would never want to see Adam Lambert or another gay star starring in “Twilight”, it takes only a quick look at the web to see how untrue that is.

    Not only are fansites flooded with teenaged girls writing slash fiction that portrays the current characters and stars of “Twilight” as gay (e.g. Edward/Jacob, Robert/Taylor stories), but there’s also tons of them writing about wishing they could get Adam a role (of any orientation) on “True Blood”, “Gossip Girl”, etc.

    And who are the ones shrieking with delight over every flirtatious hair pull, kiss, etc. between Adam and his bassist Tommy? Who moon over the romantic photos of Adam gazing lovingly into his ex’s eyes? Who follow the story of the various gay soap couples obsessively? Along with a few gay boys, it’s overwhelmingly teenaged girls and women of all ages.

    There’s tons of money to be made from the teen girl demo (and older women too) by hot, out, gay men. Those who believe it will be the ones raking it in.

  49. antisaint says

    I think you’d all do well to go read the article and see the quote in context. See the question before it, see the comment about Sean Hayes after, read the whole thing.

  50. V says

    I did read the whole interview, including her comment in context.

    I still think she’s wrong.

    Tried to comment there, but kept getting an error message saying the page didn’t exist.

  51. says

    Not a fan, 50 year old jokes, but I have to agree with Joan. Musicians have always been somewhat androgynous (look at David Bowie in the 70s & 80s) and outrageous, it’s expected, however, actors are a different story. I do think that Ricky Martin could have come out earlier, but was afraid. Remember, Lambert did not actually state he was gay until after idol.

    With young actors, they have to build a career in public and role play. There are still too many barriers for them to come out young. While it is acceptable on Broadway, the transition of acceptability to the larger television or movies audiences is yet to be ascertained. It is slowly coming around, but there still is a lot of anti-gay sentiment. We have seen it in politics, schools, and religion, mainly by the inbred and elders. As an actor, starting out, there is a boat load of competition, no need to add another stumbling block (not that it should be).

  52. MCnNYC says

    A Younger Joan Rivers wouldn’t even take advice from this Reagan loving Joan Rivers so why the F#%K should any self respecting LGBT performer.
    Her comments/advice is as plastic as her “face”.

  53. Scott says

    I say it’s a question to which we do not yet have an answer. It’s all speculation right now. There has not been a romantic lead heart throb that has come out as his star was on the rise.

    What if Tom Cruise had come out after Top Gun? I bet it would have been easier for those after him. What if Robert Pattinson or Taylor Lautner were to come out now? Hopefully they would still be as popular but we don’t know. I don’t think it will be career-ending or career-stifling as some think. Someone will need to step forward. It will take some bravery to defy managers and handlers and gamble to some extent that he is risking future fame and millions. But, I think in the end, he will be OK

  54. says

    I think it’s a bit more complicated then stated by the populace on Towleroad and Ms Rivers. Times have changed… whether naturally or induced doesn’t matter but I believe, from experience that females [young and old] are much more accepting of homosexuality than males within the entertainment industry.

    As “V” brings up the subject of “slash” writing… I suggest if you haven’t, go take a looksie and see who’s been the fastest and largest population of writer’s in this genre for near a decade now… none other than straight females.

    And who are the most ‘popular’ pairings in ‘slash’ writing amongst the younger generation? None other than the “Twilight” boys… The “Star Trek” gang… “Harry Potter”… and others. Amongst the older females… it’s still “LoTR”, “Queer As Folk”, “PoTC”, etc., etc.

    As far as movies? Well, one you have to take into consideration who the ‘target’ audience is for most movies.Traditionally, most movies are made to appeal to the young male adult… not females, unless it’s a down right “Chick Flick”… and look at who the ‘leading’ males are that the female population swoons too… if any one of them were to ‘come’ out, it wouldn’t mean a hill of beans to most of the female audience… believe me 😀 I’ve read/seen the ‘slash’.

    The youngest ‘slash’ writer I’ve known was 13… the olderst? 86.

    Oh, and we won’t get into the Asian male idols… 😀

    IMHO, I think the LGBT community has nothing to worry about really. If the marketers really want the female dollars… they won’t make such a fuss over whether their client is ‘out’ or not.
    The issue is… do the female dollars matter? Or is it the straight male population that generates industry ‘icons’?

  55. Jimbo says

    I feel genuinely sorry for her. Not only is she wrong, but she hasn’t been truly funny for a long time. Sadly, achingly trying to be, but not. She needs to just take some time to rest and find her true centre.

  56. walter says

    joan maybe right but this view has to be changed. it is hard for gay teens to told that have to live in the closet. this is a major reason for teen suicide. they need role models. more people need to be open about themselves to help thes kids cope. those actors who are out deserve support.

  57. Malcolm says

    ‘V’ is absolultely right. I don’t know where you others have been, but I’m young enough (20) to see so many of my peers of younger generations just either NOT CARE, or get VERY HOT AND BOTHERED about the possibility of a male teen idol being gay. As homosexuality gains acceptance, this will fade into a non-issue either way, but currently it is seen as something scandalous in a good way.

    Though I have a feeling most Towleroad commenter are 35+ and don’t really understand the demographic trends going on, along with Joan.

  58. alleged "villaged" person says

    I love that you used “villaged” as a verb. But not so sure ur right about claiming that people committed to hope are “villaged.”

    Dave, I’m not pissed at Joan. I’m pissed at Joan and her generation’s continued inability to dream big for our people. JeffR seemed to say we need to believe, now. I think he’s right. Just not to the point of lying to ourselves about the hater reality out there. But we have every reason to believe that nothing intrinsicly makes a gay guy less attractive than a straight guy to a 16 yo girl (or to anyone else). The reason there’s a difference in our marketplace now is because of homophobia taught by parents and peers, by the larger community – even by some in the openly-gay community.

    An otherwise Hollywood-elite like Joan apparently isn’t part of the future perhaps. Or maybe she was drunk and just shooting out thoughts. I don’t blame her exactly. She started this conversation didn’t she? I can’t imagine that she put a ton of thought into it. She might say just the opposite tomorrow. That’s her IMAGE.

  59. Reggie says

    I seems to me by the way she answered the question that she was focused on the CAREER of the young performer and their ability to make money and stay on top vs. whether or not they have a responsibility to gay youth to be a good role model. And in that regard she is correct. Should it not be true? Hell yes. Let’s keep working on it boys and let us see where we are 10 more years from now.

  60. Bill H. says

    I don’t understand the broohaha over what Joan said. She has the right to her opinion and unfortunately, she is probably speaking the truth. She doesn’t advocate the practice. She isn’t judging anyone, in fact she seems to be saying, “you have the right to say and do what you want”. With any decision, there are consequences and even now, coming out has consequences – good and bad.

  61. Andalusian Dog says

    If Elizabeth Hasselbeck (whom I hate) had made this comment, no one would be defending it as a “sad reality” of show business. My point is that somehow, somewhere down the road, perhaps undeservedly, Joan Rivers became a “gay icon” and now many people here are defending her just because of that.

    I agree, her thinking (or lack thereof) on this matter is horribly outdated. It would also pass as outright homophobia in other, less-respected people’s mouths. So let’s at least be consistent in our criticisms.

  62. says

    What’s more shocking than Joan Rivers’ ignorant comment are the people in this thread who agree with her. We definitely don’t have our minds on freedom, not if we swallow these stupid myths about who a Gay entertainer can and cannot appeal to! The bogus idea that women won’t accept a Gay man as a romantic lead is an insult to women.

  63. Manawolf says

    Gee that’s odd – most 16-year-old girls *I* know would find an attractive boy coming out as gay to be incredibly hot. Particularly if he were to cuddle up with his boyfriend on the cover.

    It’s really saddening how many people agree with Joan that this is a reality of logistics. My experience says otherwise (though I am undoubtedly subject to sample bias).

    Those of you who say it’s just harsh reality – I’m curious, how many 16-year-old girls do *you* chat with on a regular basis upon whom you base this judgment call?

  64. ken says

    How is it that straight men can play gay and gay guys cant play straight…I beg to differ. There are plenty of gay men pulling it off. They are just not out. Trust.

  65. Lorraine says

    I agree with her, its fine for them to come clean about their sexuality if gay roles are eventually what they wish to be stereotyped in. The moment someone “comes out of the closet” it makes headline news everywhere, even though you may argue that people “can handle it” perspective changes. So it would be in their best interests to keep it low key for a bit.. to broaden their job scope…

  66. Romulus says

    Listen TANK(HAH!), Reach back into that somewhat cloudy memory bank and Google y’moronic self a Brit actor named Dirk Bogarde. An A-lister on all counts, respected trend setting actor, un-apologetic homosexual and always cast opposite beautiful A-list ladies as the romantic lead. Back in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. No problems, smooth sailing all the way.

  67. Buster says

    Tell that to the Huvane bros. two of the biggest power-mo’s in H’wood telling clients to stay in the closet while throwing pool parties with hot and cold running gay fitness models and porn twinks.