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Can You 'Out' Someone If The Public Already Assumes That They're Gay?

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Editor's Note: This column appeared on Towleroad ahead of "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett's public coming out earlier today. You can find Smollet's interview with Ellen here.  

The Interplay is a special biweekly series exploring the intersections of sex, pop culture, and current events.

BY CHARLES PULLIAM-MOORE

We all need to give Malik Yoba a break. Earlier this week Yoba, who currently stars as Vernon Tucker on Fox’s “Empire,” apologized and backtracked on statements he made in an interview late last month to Black Film in which he “outed” “Empire” co-star Jussie Smollett. Smollett, who plays the openly gay (if sometimes conflicted) Jamal, has stepped into the spotlight for his role in making “Empire’s” nuanced depiction of a black family’s reaction to its gay son. 

Over the course of the season so far, “Empire” has generally treated Jamal’s plotlines with as much deftness as a campy primetime soap can muster. The recurring flashbacks of Jamal’s father shoving him into a garbage can for dressing up in his mother’s clothes are more than played out. But the complicated relationship between Jamal and his mother Cookie--played flawlessly by Taraji P. Henson--are a breath of fresh air in a sea of media narratives that cast most families of color as unwaveringly homophobic. 

Smollett’s performance perfectly captures tension many queer man of color have experienced with their traditional fathers and the messy, love-strewn bond we often share with our mothers. Also Smollett’s a solid singer, which is always great for a show that’s 40% musical.

 

Acting and singing aside, there’s one thing in particular that has consistently made Smollett’s performance feel particularly authentic for many “Empire” fans, myself included: a lot of us already thought that he was gay.

 In many ways the discussion and speculation around Smollett’s sexuality has mirrored the ways in which “Empire” has handled Jamal’s. From the very first episode “Empire” treated Jamal’s sexulity as something of an open secret. Jamal’s rise to fame within his family’s record company is initially stalled because of his father’s (Lucious) long standing homophobia. His mother, fresh out of prison, quickly meets his boyfriend, Michael, who lives in an apartment that Lucious pays for knowing that his son is living in at least two different types of sin. 

 Many of Smollett’s fans came to the show having made similar assumptions about his sexualiy if only for the fact people usually assume that gay characters are played by gay actors. While that logic might not be the most sound, it’s often how people conceptualize the characters and actors they admire. Some stars, like Jack Falahee, find the speculation and endless questions tiring, but at the end of the day it’s a part of the job.

I don’t think that what Malik Yoba said about Smollett can really be described as an “outing” in the usual sense of the word. Outing someone against their will is a controversial practice because of all the social damages that can be wrought upon a person’s reputation. In some instances, people justify outing a public officials who, while secretly gay, actively work in opposition to LGBT rights. In other situations outing someone is just an easy way to hurt someone. Regardless of the situation, all forcible public outings have one thing in common: the bulk of the public doesn’t know, or at least doesn’t assume, that the person in question is actually gay.

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For many people, Smollett’s sexulity was never really a subject of discussion. Given some of his past work and certain social media posts, it’s easy to see why many thought he was gay, and that idea, whether it’s right or wrong, makes Yoba’s statements ham-handed at worst, but far from an act of social violence. Unlike celebrities who spend a fair amount of time in glass closets, the possible secrecy surrounding Smollett’s sexuality is weakened by the not so uncommon perception that he’s both gay and long-since out of the closet.

If there’s one thing Yoba can be blamed for, it’s sparking off a heightened scrutiny of Smollett’s personal life that works against his “Empire” success. Outing celebrities, especially actors, carries with it the threat of irreversibly changing the types of roles that queer performers are able to take on. The casual assumptions about Smollett up until this point were proof that regardless of his actual sexuality fans would continue to watch “Empire” and support Smollett’s career. 

If respect for Smollett’s privacy and a vested interest in his success are actually things we’re concerned about, then the best course of action is to let folks keep wondering and find something else to gab about.


'Looking' Back RECAP: Episode 16, 'Looking For Glory' - SPOILERS

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The back half of this season has really been rewarding viewers who have stuck with this show and invested in the characters. We're only one episode into the next phase of Kevin (Russell Tovey) and Patrick (Jonathan Groff)'s relationship, and already there's been plenty of developments. Without the excitement and drama of the affair, how will their romance take shape?

Let's chat a little about what went down tonight,  AFTER THE JUMP ...

Continue reading "'Looking' Back RECAP: Episode 16, 'Looking For Glory' - SPOILERS" »


Gay Iconography: Shonda Rhimes' Inclusive TV Empire

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Typically, we talk about icons in terms of notability, recognition, fame, impact. You know the names — Madonna, Gaga, Cher, Liza, Judy, Bette. We hear the arguments about vocally supporting the LGBT community, marching in parades and contributing to charities. Then there’s the argument that an icon needs to be the kind of person a drag queen could “do” in their act. But what about an ally that’s leaving her mark on pop culture behind the scenes?

Enter Shonda Rhimes, a TV master so powerful that ABC handed her an entire night of their primetime schedule. Her shows have become some of the most talked about series of the last decade, blending steamy sex scenes, ripped-from-the-headlines commentary and so much soapy melodrama. But through it all, she’s also been committed to diversifying the kinds of stories we see on television. Her casting process for breakout hit Grey’s Anatomy made headlines for the “colorblind” role descriptions that yielded one of the most richly diverse ensembles on television.

Part of that inclusive approach includes telling stories of LGBT characters. The Advocate named her one of the Coolest Straight People In Entertainment in 2014, saying “Rhimes isn’t simply setting the gold standard in character diversity for network television, she’s setting the standard for creators as well.” In 2012, she accepted GLAAD's Golden Gate Award. She’ll also be honored later this month at the 2015 Human Rights Campaign Los Angeles Gala Dinner. “We are thrilled to honor such a fierce and longtime advocate for LGBT equality at this year’s HRC Los Angeles Gala Dinner,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “Shonda Rhimes is not only politically outspoken on issues of equality, but has also created some of the most groundbreaking portrayals of LGBT people ever seen on television, helping to change hearts and minds around the world.”

Get familiar with some of Rhimes’ work in a few of our favorite clips, AFTER THE JUMP

Continue reading "Gay Iconography: Shonda Rhimes' Inclusive TV Empire" »


'Empire' Actor Malik Yoba Backtracks After Potentially Outing Co-Star Jussie Smollett

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Empire actor Malik Yoba has backtracked on his statements about co-star Jussie Smollett’s sexuality after inadvertently outing him as gay last month during an interview with Black Film. The plot revolving around Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon, has focused primarily on his journey to come out as gay whilst vying for control of his father’s vast fortune. When asked about his own sexuality Smollett has consistently declined to comment.

Jussie-noh8-final"I am not willing to confirm or deny anything, I live my life…if anyone is looking to put me in a box, then that’s not going to happen,” Smollett said in an interview with Sway In The Morning. “But if you really want to know about me, just watch, because I don’t hide anything. I just don’t choose to talk about my personal life."

According to Yoba’s publicist the actor was misquoted in his Black Film interview.

“My reference to Jussie was only about his character and storyline on Empire,” he said in a statement to USA Today.

Smollett’s most recent assertion that his sexuality is an off-limits topic came before Yoba’s statement and subsequent clarification. The actor has yet to publicly comment on the renewed interest in his personal life.


'Teen Wolf' Introducing Two New Gay Characters

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Matt Webb Mitovich of TV Line recently spilled some tea about two gay characters that will be making their debut on Teen Wolf in its upcoming season. The show is no stranger to gay characters, having given us some steamy man-on-man action in the past between Ethan (Charlie Carver) and Danny (Keahu Kahuanui) in the past.

Said Mitovich of what we can expect in season 5:

For those who’ve been holding out hope for Danny’s return, there’s this consolation prize: Episode 4 of the new season, titled “Condition Terminal,” will introduce the recurring character of Corey, who in the course of being treated in an operating room for a strange, painful wound dishes on his boyfriend Lucas. (Guest star Lucas, meanwhile, is described as a shy young man who has become an aggressive problem at a club.)

Danny, who was Teen Wolf's first gay character, was not seen in any of the episodes in season 4 though series creator Jeff Davis has hinted that we have not seen the last of of him.

No news yet on who will play the two new characters.

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'The Fosters' Features Same-Sex Kiss Between Two 13-Year-Olds, Possibly Youngest In US TV History: VIDEO

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Last night's episode of ABC Family's The Fosters saw a same-sex kiss between thirteen-year-old boys Jude and Connor, which may be the youngest same-sex kiss ever to be seen on US television. Executive Producer and show creator Peter Paige (whom you may recall from Queer As Folk) tweeted about the kiss, the history it made and how the moment shared between Jude and Connor (or #Jonnor as their social media fans know them) captures the "exquisite torture" of falling for someone in Jr. High and not being sure if that love is unrequited or not:

#Jonnor fans were not shy in sharing their elation over the kiss. 

The tension between Jude and Connor had been building for sometime on the show, as BuzzFeed notes. Jude is one of five children that live with a lesbian couple that have built a family composed of five biological, adopted and foster children. Jude and Connor first grew close when Connor wore nail polish to school to show solidarity with Jude who had been bullied for painting his nails. 

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Things got a little more intense when the two went on a camping trip, sharing a tent and doing something that was vaguely referred to by Jude as "something that was wrong...I guess." Then, the pair upped the cuteness factor by interlocking pinkies whilst watching a movie (flanked by girls, sadly).

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But all of this became too much for poor love-stricken Jude who finally confronted Connor about what happened that night in the tent in the woods and everything that had been building since:

“You kissed me! Remember? In the tent? And then at the movie theatre you held my hand. And now all day you’ve been…I just… I don’t get this. I don’t get you.”

And then, Connor took matters into his own hands and the kiss happened. Watch for yourself, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Continue reading "'The Fosters' Features Same-Sex Kiss Between Two 13-Year-Olds, Possibly Youngest In US TV History: VIDEO" »


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