Rock's Little Secret

As this is written, in early summer, a tempest still swirls in the tabloid teapot about the sexual orientation of film star Tom Cruise. Cruise has promised to sue anyone who publicly claims that he is gay. Let's assume Tom is straight; there is certainly no evidence to the contrary. But, as several commentators have noted, that still leaves the question of why, in the year 2001, the sexual orientation of a Hollywood leading man is such a big deal. Think about it. There are no openly gay male film stars. There are openly gay actors, but they are character and comic-relief types, not leading men. Italian actors can play Cubans, British actors can do Brooklyn accents, Anne Heche can live with a woman off-screen and play a straight heroine, but 15 years after the death of Rock Hudson the film industry still believes that the audience won't accept a gay actor in a conventional movie-hero part.

But then commercial films are an incredibly expensive product. When capitalist businessmen drop $200 million to make a story, we can expect that they won't take any unnecessary risks. That brings me to the next question. Where are the gay rock stars? This spring Michael Stipe of R.E.M. finally came out of the closet and called himself "a queer artist." But that crack in the wall was a long time coming. It's been almost 50 years since Little Richard was playing drag shows and the tough guys at Humes High were beating up Elvis because of his "sissy" looks. Little Richard, for his part, still hedges the question. There are important openly gay figures in dance music, and pop-meister Elton John is out, but the Presleyan cult of the electric guitar was thoroughly closeted until Stipe stepped out. Okay, there was Morrissey, formerly of The Smiths, who was a bona fide rock star in England, but not here.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2001
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