Straight Actor Confronts Discomfort With Playing Gay

FeemalesIn a piece that explores the darkest crevices of prejudice and ingrained discrimination, Nicholas Brown writes about his own discomfort playing gay for pay and being perceived as gay by strangers on the street.

Here is an excerpt from the piece, published at The Atlantic:

I am not gay. I have no shortage of gay friends. My uncle is gay. I’ve marched in a gay pride parade. More than half of the roommates I have lived with are gay. I support marriage equality.

So it comes as a shock to me when I realize that, actually, if I am honest with myself, I’m not comfortable with kissing another man on camera. I really don’t want to book this part.

I don’t want people to think I’m gay. And I’m even more uncomfortable because that isn’t a thought that I want to have.

The article is not a man trying to justify a discomfort; rather, Brown goes on to study his own implicit prejudices and how we are all programmed with insidious messages and ideas about people, places and things.

“Psychologists at Harvard created a series of tests that measure your
reaction time when you associate positive and negative concepts with
different social groups,” Brown writes. “The results give you an indication of how
racist or sexist or ageist or generally prejudiced you are on a
subconscious level.”

“If you ever want to feel really wretched about what a big jerk you are, there are worse ways to do it than logging onto Harvard’s Project Implicit.” Maybe save that for a sunny day when you’re in a really good mood?


  1. Michael says

    May I be yhe first to call bullshite on this one.

    Oh no, I am an actor in 2012 and the mere thought of playing gay on screen freaks me out because no straight man has ever played gay.

  2. Randy says

    I appreciate the guys’ honesty. I’m sure lots of people feel that way, and he doesn’t seem to harbor any ill thoughts towards gays.

    however — he is an actor. What if his role is to play a murderer? Or a jerk? Larry Hagman played a scheming shyster on Dallas many years. Did people out in tvland think that Hagman is really a jerk in real life? Maybe yes, maybe no — but it is what comes with the territory.

    Think of it this way — if you were to play a hipster who gets all the girls, would you be upset if in real life you aren’t that, but people think you are? Probably not, but as an actor you have to dissassociate yourself from your character, whether the character is good, evil, or just another sexual orientation. It’s called professionalism, and he’d better get used to it if he wants a career.

  3. Andrew says

    I don’t think this guy merits Michael’s comment. By all indications, he’s aware of the problem — “I’m even more uncomfortable because that isn’t a thought that I want to have.”

    Sure, I’d love to live in a world in which no straight actor is ever afraid of playing a gay role. But we’re not there yet, and we’re only going to get there when straight actors confront these kinds of prejudices upfront, like this guy is doing. He might be hesitant about playing a gay role — and despite it being 2012 it’s not a gay paradise out there — but he recognizes this hesitation and that it’s bad.

  4. Foolish Pig says

    Then why doesn’t this idiot quit auditioning for gay roles and let other actors (preferably actual gay people) take on these roles? Straight people don’t need to be taking our roles anyway.

  5. says

    @Foolish Pig: If straight people don’t need to take “our” roles, doesn’t that mean that gay actors shouldn’t take straight roles either? Seems to me that that’s far from ideal.

  6. Factoid says

    While I am not one to say that straight actors should not play gay, I do believe that an actor taking on a role must fully commit to a role. There’s no way a guy feeling uncomfortable can do that. We have seen that on camera before. It make for bad acting. His personal issues aside, his admission means he shouldn’t be taking on these roles. It does raise the question about why he would take the role. Is he doing it because its suppose to make us think “wow, what a great actor?” That’s not what I feel with I read this. I feel “wow, what a bad actor.”

  7. will says

    Oh, please, some of you. The guy is just being honest and is exploring his feelings in an open, transparant way and he doesn’t deserve all your petty chastizing. He’s UPFRONT, he’s exploring his issues. I wish the rest of the culture would do this.

    We, as a gay culture, too, have a tendency to be superficial and judging. We are sometimes the opposite of what we preach. We need to explore that ourselves.

  8. Francis says

    Unfortunately, given most actors are not straight yet not ever going to come out, this is the position we’re in. In fact, there are as many gay/bi/non-straight actors who WONT play gay than straight actors that won’t. Hollywood is both very gay yet, outside of some actors speaking out on their own accord, very awkwardly silent regarding homosexuality.

    I liked the article. It’s a person looking into the mirror and questioning their own internalized bias and making an attempt to embrace the fact they feel this way and then do their part to change. I respect Nicholas Brown for that. He’s representative of someone who is legitimately gay-accepting and not doing it for show.

    There is still bias. We still have gay people saying that gay actors cannot play straight, so given that’s the case, it’s clear there are still issues surrounding out gay actors being able to make a career in film. And in leading rolls. And basically, there is still a major glass closet. Society is a lot to blame for that. As society is becoming more accepting, things will improve. Many tend to think sex regarding anything gay, tend to think intimate/sexual relations, regardless of the circumstances. It revolves around insecurity and it’s getting better, but we have a ways to go.

  9. nonapologies says

    One of the problems with a site like this is some people like nuance.

    My criticism of the guy has nothing to do with being gay or straight.

    Its about whether he’s a good actor or not.

    There are many gay actors who play straight all the time. You never know it. More than you realize. I could not imagine them saying, ‘I have difficulties kissing a woman” even if its true because they are good actors.

    Not everything is gay versus straight, or more importantly, about some of your need to be validated by straights.

    I don’t care if this guy is being honest because my criticism isn’t about his honesty. Its a question about how good of an actor could he be if he can’t act in roles that aren’t like him? Other actors do it all the time. I don’t need his validation about his issues about gayness even if you do.

  10. nonapologies says

    By the way, let me emphasize something: One of the saddest aspects of gay mainstream media and those who follow it is the constant search for validation fro straights.

    Even when, if you think about it, what they are saying it isn’t something that’s particularly interesting or helpful to us. Do you really want actors playing gay roles who look uncomfortable in the roles on screen? I will bet you more people will see him being uncomfortable in the role than will care about this random statement he has made in an article.

  11. says

    I read Brown’s self-indulgent, pay-attention-to-me piece and then looked for him on the Internet Movie Data Base. He doesn’t appear there. Odd, for someone who is uncomfortable about playing gay on television. Then I looked at his actual resume. His film work includes such things playing Luc in “Tangiers” which you didn’t see because it’s a student film. He also played Luke in Marco Polo, which is also another film no one saw because it was a student film. He managed a third role in Clubscene, yet another a student film, though this one was at NYU. He is currently in post-production, playing Me1, Me2 and Me3 for a company called “Cobra Death Snake Productions.” The only place they show up on the net is in his resume. You have as much chance of seeing his panache as you do seeing him in a role on television: gay or straight.

  12. Jerry says

    James, did you miss the part where Brown said he was auditioning for A COMMERCIAL? Millions of actors just in the US, and not all of them get (or even want) TV or film work.

  13. AngelaChanning says

    I am glad I am not an actor, because, frankly, I would not want to do a love scene with a woman, or be mistaken for straight – So, I can empathize with him. :-) Since this is not his comfort zone, he should probably avoid auditioning for those parts – but I understand that since the market crash of ’08, a tough environment for actors got a lot worse. I would not be surprised if, in time, his feelings change as he matures.

    (For the record, I am a cisgender gay male, in case the screen name is confusing.)

  14. unruly says

    Ha. My thoughts exactly, James Peron. Some nobody being self-indulgent. As someone who has quite a few friends (actors) in this business with actual credits (and who are all straight), auditioning for a gay role isn’t a big thing to them. They’re more concerned with script, director, and budget.

  15. says

    That is why most of your best actors are liberal. If you are a conservative, you are simply not willing to actually walk in someones else’s shoes, if you don’t like them or what they stand for.

    For instance Charlize Theron would never had been able to win an Oscar and a Golden Globe for the movie Monster had she not been willing to totally embrace her character and be willing to “live” in the mindset of the character.

  16. says

    If he was “exploring” how repulsed he was as a straight white man to play opposite a black woman in a role, I think there would be less sympathy. We might be quick to judge as a community, but many of us are also quick to embrace a straight guy who pays us some attention — even if it’s negative in tone.

    While I can TRY to appreciate his honesty, I’m not sure I have much patience left for bigots who think it’s okay as long as they preface with a disclaimer, “Of course I just feel terrible for saying this….”

    My response? Then don’t say it. These days, bigotry is best left unspoken until it dies from lack of attention. For the record, I don’t want to hear how bad a KKK member feels about burning crosses, either.

  17. nonapologies says


    You aren’t an actor. No one is asking a non actor to kiss anyone. The point is: This guy IS an actor. So expectations of him are not the same the expectations of you.

  18. andrew says

    Nicholas Brown’s discomfort as a heterosexual man playing gay is quite understandable, and he should not apologize for it. As a Kinsey 6 gay man I would find it equally or probably more uncomfortable to play a straight man who has to kiss/make out with a woman. He should not let the PC types make him feel guilty about his natural feelings.

  19. Molc says

    Just another nobody homophobe trying to generate some publicity for a non existant career. Who knows? Maybe if he aims really high he can be the next Kirk Cameron.

  20. Tony says

    Then don’t audition for gay roles. Problem solved. The only time I would see this becoming a problem is if the writers do an about face and decide to suddenly push the character is a “gay” direction. When that happens, ask to be let out your contract.

    Actors have a right to pursue – and decline – certain roles…just like regular people have the right to pursue certain jobs, or to not. The growing mood of late is that all actors should be willing to play gay characters, or embrace a gay-related storyline…and that’s totally ridiculous. As if it’s some kind of measuring stick of how authentic an actor is. That’s like saying every actor should be willing to play a murderer, a nerd, or thug. No. If these aren’t the kind of roles an actor wants, then so be it. Don’t act as though said actor isn’t being true to his craft if he refuses certain themes.

  21. Bill Michael says

    I applaud his honesty but I agree with the one who said he shouldn’t take gay roles if he is uncomfortable. Personally, it is a disappointment to me to find out that an actor who I thought was gay actually turns out to be “gay for pay”. Kind of like what’s his name on Will and Grace at the show’s end that turned out to be a married man with five kids. What a let-down. I do so love Sean Hayes, though. He’s my hero.

  22. andrew says

    @MOLC: You homo-fascists sure like to throw the charge of homophobe at everyone with whom you disagree. Eventually people will realize that it is like the race card, used by people with no other good explanation for their position.

  23. DC Arnold says

    Kudos for being honest about the discomfort but your chosen profession requires you convince the audience you are what you portray, your friends and family are the only ones you should care about what they think.

  24. Chris says

    I have a hard time believing that most of the people posting negative comments even read the actual article, as it directly addresses most of their criticisms. This actor is genuinely shocked at the discomfort he feels, and writes about that shock. He is a supporter of equality, and is bothered by the fact that he has this discomfort. Recognizing what makes us uncomfortable when we don’t want to be, and learning to address that discomfort is how we grow as human beings.

  25. Nat says

    I think the more notable aspect isn’t that he doesn’t want to portray a gay character, it’s that he had a visceral reaction to people thinking he’s gay. That’s indicative of prejudice that is far more ingrained than basic discomfort with kissing someone of a gender you’re not attracted to, which – as several commenters here have demonstrated – is not confined to heterosexuals.

  26. Spikee says

    Here’s the problem I have with his statement;
    “I don’t want people to think I’m gay”
    So he’s saying he doesn’t want to be labeled “GAY” because he as an actor played a gay role. He’s worried people will think he’s GAY. There’s one thing saying “I don’t feel comfortable kissing another man”, same as I would feel having to kiss a woman…but to be worried people will think he’s gay does mean he has real issues.

  27. says

    Actually I find his brave honesty about this rather refreshing.

    And let’s remember, folks, that’s we’re still dealing with gay men who are actually gay who have the same response he has!

    Only without any self-aware dollops of nuance.

    The gays who dont’ want people to know that they’re gay. At least this actor has an excuse in actually being heterosexual. His comments are wonderful in that they show an honesty about insecurity and willingness to learn.

    Take note, trolls. This man’s expression of his own learned insecurities could one day free your from your own self-imposed internet exiles.

  28. walter b says

    Interesting discussion. But I have a question:
    What does that book cover, Fee Males by Bert Shrader, have to do with anything being discussed here? What am I missing?

  29. Caliban says

    I think he’s just being more honest than most. Whenever you read an interview with str8 actors playing a gay role they always make sure to emphasize how straight they are, what their WIFE and KIDS think about them playing gay. Now some of that emphasis may be from the interviewer and, if it’s in print, how the quotes are arranged.

    So did any of you take the Harvard “Project Implicit” tests?

    I read this last night and took two of the tests linked to the article, one about sexuality and one about race/African Americans. Basically it has you associating good/bad words with black/white faces and gay/straight symbols, then reversing the association. The theory is that if you have a harder time associating words, positive or negative, with certain groups that’s a reflection of ingrained bias.

    I don’t know. While taking it, it seemed to me that after getting comfortable with the way you were separating words then reversing it caused some coordination difficulties of their own. But it was… interesting. According to the tests I have a [i]slight[/i] preference for European-Americans over AAs and a [i]slight[/i] preference for gays over straights. (There is “neutral” and 3 categories above and below that, with “slight” being the closest to neutral.)

    But because the “gay” test is arranged the same as the race test, black and gay being in the same ‘places,’ yet I scored a slight preference for gays, it made me question whether coordination was really the problem or if the test really was detecting bias. I don’t know. Maybe.

  30. Merry & Gay says

    The price on the book cover is $1.25 so it must be about a hundred years old!

    As for the guy finding in himself some deep seated homophobia and fears of being thought to be gay, well, that’s honest enough, and not hard to understand.

    It’s the ones who don’t understand that who wear their homophobia on their sleeve who do the gay bashing.

  31. Francis says

    Kiwi is right as usual. I don’t get some of the knocks on this guy. He’s not saying anything a lot of non-heterosexual men haven’t said, who do not want to be seen as gay because they don’t want to be out. Nicholas has his insecurities, yes, maybe he shouldn’t take a gay role, but maybe taking a gay role is also a sign he really connects with our community and wants to break free of said bias, hence he wants to take gay role(s) and will treat them with the same respect and professionalism he would otherwise and immerse himself in the plot and action. There are a lot of men, gay and straight, who are insecure regarding homosexuality, if not legitimately homophobic. It’s good he was honest. We can start a conversation and knock down that bias.

  32. says

    The “i don’t want people to think i’m gay” thing is actually common among (usually…) younger actors.

    To them I can only say “Do you think people believed Dennis Hopper actually was a murdering madman since he played so many?”

    the reality is that GAY is something worry about playing more than “Insanely Violent Sociopath”. why? well, i think we all know the answer to that.

    there are so many grown-adult gay men who still walk around every day hoping that people “can’t tell” that they’re gay. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that a non-gay person may have the same insecurity. At least this actor in the article has the cojones to admit that it’s a failing on his part.

  33. says

    The “i don’t want people to think i’m gay” thing is actually common among (usually…) younger actors.

    To them I can only say “Do you think people believed Dennis Hopper actually was a murdering madman since he played so many?”

    the reality is that GAY is something worry about playing more than “Insanely Violent Sociopath”. why? well, i think we all know the answer to that.

    there are so many grown-adult gay men who still walk around every day hoping that people “can’t tell” that they’re gay. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that a non-gay person may have the same insecurity. At least this actor in the article has the cojones to admit that it’s a failing on his part.

  34. Molc says

    @Andrew Homo-fascist?? The only people who use that term is the religious right. You and the little idiot your defending are about as progressive as Bryan Fischer.

  35. Chris says

    Again, how can anyone compare this actor to those people (Kirk Cameron, Brian Brown) working against equality. He admits that he knows his discomfort is wrong, and is trying to figure out where that discomfort comes from. One important nuance that people clearly miss here is that the author’s concern about being perceived is gay is not because he feels there is something wrong with it, but that he is concerned about how that perception will impact his career. I don’t see how anyone who has taken the time to read the source article can come to the conclusion that this man is acting from a place of hate.

  36. darkmoonman says

    “I don’t want people to think I’m gay. And I’m even more uncomfortable because that isn’t a thought that I want to have.”

    Your many gay friends can relate, having had to play gay parts in movies, theatre, etc. for the past several hundred years.

  37. nonapologies says

    I really wish people would stop saying that others have not read the article just because we aren’t terribly sympathetic to the actor’s position.

    Its really childish to decide that we must address every nuance to find the argument to be b.s.

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