If you didn’t love Daniel Radcliffe for playing Harry Potter, taking his clothes off in Equus, or for embracing gays both in The Daily Beast and British gaymag Attitude, you’re either a very ungrateful gay, or I’m gonna pretend you didn’t know about any of this. Nevertheless, along comes another chance to jump aboard the DanRad-loving bandwagon; a sit-down with MTV to, among other things, talk gayness. Maybe it’s because I know he’s faced with it time and time again, but I have never seen any straight guy being as easy about this issue as he is. After telling a mildly amusing anecdote about somebody on the web accusing him of having ‘a gay face’, he gets the question back as a hypothetical, as in whether he thinks it would be a problem for someone playing Harry Potter to come out. And here’s the thing; after having letting slip out that he’s in fact straight, he doesn’t for a second feel the need to reaffirm that. It’s there implicitly, of course (‘If I were gay…’), but still. When he talks about how coming out is an important step in a gay man’s life, he erects no wall between himself and that experience, it’s just something he understands and accepts intuitively. The gay community should be grateful that he has taken up our cause.
It would be perfectly understandable if he had struggled a bit more with finding the right answer to such a question. In some ways, it might even have made it easier for him if he had found the question intimidating or insulting. Then he could have just laughed it off, declared his straightness and moved on. It would have told us that he thought the question was too far out to elicit a more thorough response. It’s easy because you don’t have to care about what neither nor straight people think of your answer. If you’re aiming for what Daniel Radcliffe actually did, however, things get much more complicated. If you feel like you have to qualify your statements in a straight context all the time (‘Not that I know anything about being gay’, ‘As a straight man I…’ etc), people might not get that you’re also extending an hand to the gays. And likewise, if you spend too much time emphasizing that you have nothing against gays, for some people that will invariably drown out the message that you yourself are straight. It’s not fair, for sure, but it happens all the time. Radcliffe seems pretty confident that he’s striking the right balance, which in return makes it more convincing and reassurement for the viewers.
I’m speculating, but I kind of think this is a generational thing. Surveys routinely find that young people are less likely to think that homosexuality should even be an issue with their friends and family, and at the same time, they’re most deeply engaged in advancing gay rights. Young enough to have experienced and gained from the progress that their predecessors fought for, they’re having a hard time understanding why this should be anybody’s business at all. Because they sense that they’ve got history on their side, they may also be less uncomfortable about questions of their own identity, no matter how straight they may be. If this analysis, which doesn’t imply that homophobia doesn’t still exist as a problem, is correct, then it could also help explain why people of a different generation, however gay-friendly, seem to struggle more with hitting the right balance. At least when it comes to getting their point across in a way that satisfies them.
Consider, for example, the English former soccer star Graeme LeSaux. For reasons so odd I’d love to write them off as laughable (going on a vacation with a team mate, reading a quality newspaper (!)), he was routinely subject to anti-gay bullying both on and off the pitch. In an interview with Attitude in 2008, promoting his autobiography, he had some really interesting thoughts 0n the challenge of being thought of as “representing a community without being part of it”
At the times I was playing it was difficult for me to deny that Iwas gay and respond angrily to my abuse without being disrespectful to the homosexual community. I never believed that there was anything wrong with being – I have no prejudice in me whatsoever. It was about the environment that I worked in. I felt that if it came to be accepted that I was gay, I’d be unable to continue as a professional footballer.
I’m not a standard bearer for the gay community, and I’m not gay. But in talking about homophobic abuse it feels like I’m representing a community without being part of it. It instantly creates a difficulty. I would be upset if someone got offended. But equally I feel like I have to stand up for who I am. Most people will take that in the spirit in which it’s meant. But I worry that some might think, well, what’s his problem with being called gay? There’s nothing wrong with it, but I’m not.
And there is definitely nothing wrong with what LeSaux is saying. While their situations are not completely comparable, I guess what sets Daniel Radcliffe apart in this context, is that he doesn’t feel the need to articulate that he’s walking the same tightrope as LeSaux. But in addition to making me love them both for their understanding and sympathy, their thoughtful handling of such delicate matters made me think about the question itself. Of course, ‘are you gay?’ is a terrifying question for gays who aren’t ready to come out yet, or even for people who are but just haven’t told anyone before. But how about those who say ‘no’ because they simply aren’t gay?
Many gays have experiences coming out where friends or family simply refuse accept that they are gay, which is a tragedy. But generally, if someone says they’re gay, if your of over a certain age (“It’s just a phase” etc.) at least the conversation usually quickly turns to whether that’s a good (‘I’m so proud of you for telling me this’) or a bad thing (‘You are not my son’ etc) , not whether it’s a fact or not. If a person denies being gay, however, another dynamic comes into play. As long as society presumes people to be straight until proven otherwise, “suspected” homosexuality can be hard to disprove, because the person asking may be assuming that you’re only saying ‘no’ because of the social costs associated with being gay. The nature of the question, that no one else than the guy himself can really know for sure, means that we have to ask ourselves if we even have a right to ask a person that question. We are used to think of not being respected as a gay man as an outrage, and it is. But these two approaches to handling the question of their own sexuality, made me think about how little attention the opposite point is getting. Championing diversity and personal freedom is not only about advancing gay rights, it’s also about taking on straight people who define heterosexuality so narrowly that people who for some superficial reason don’t completely fit their definition are automatically robbed of their straight identity.
Daniel Radcliffe and Graeme LeSaux both help to advance that point.