Why it doesn't matter if Keanu Reeves and Brad Pitt aren't sleeping together
by Michael Ferguson
"My daughter's a real big Keanu Reeves fan and she would just love to have this," said Dad, pointing to the life-size stand-up displayed in the suburban Chicago laserdisc store. The cardboard Keanu was caught in mid-run from SPEED, the action movie hit that introduced the rest of America to his rather stoic charms--buzz-cut and biceps and all. "How much you want for it?"
The deal was made. Keanu was carted off. Dad had succumbed and bought his little girl a piece of her fantasy. She could proudly display it in her bedroom, invite jealous friends over to gaze upon it, sneak a little peck on his cheek from time to time, and bid him "goodnight" just before she turned off the lights.
If Rod Serling had written the scenario, the cut-out would have come to life in the dark of that teenage girl's room and the unexplored sexual implications would have been rife. In a way, Keanu did just that.
Dad brought the taciturn star, expression unchanged, back to the store the very next day. "She doesn't want him," he explained. Too big? No place to put him? Mom didn't agree?
No. "She found out he's gay."
Well, excuse me, sweetheart. That's just the news I've been waiting to hear since I first caught him sharing Rob Lowe's lockerroom in YOUNGBLOOD (1986). Sounds silly, doesn't it? After all, when is a hunk no longer a hunk? For card-carrying queers and little girls alike, it seems, it's the moment you find out you don't have a chance to climb into the sack with him.
The "gay community" seems to think we need Keanu Reeves to be a fag. In truth, we're looking for another Rock Hudson and we'd really like to pull him out of the closet before he either gets sick or manages to install the Door Club. Please, please, please tell us that you're gay! Screw the bigots, declare yourself one of us. It would be so incredibly important to the cause, so inspiring to a generation starved for role-models. Okay, okay, so you say you're not gay. Please, please, please put in a kind word for us when you're out there denying you're a homo. We want to know that you're cool about who we are and we'd like you to tell everybody else while you're at it.
The urge to co-opt a pretty young star by an increasingly pro-active gay movement is strong stuff to contend with--no matter that in the real world such an admission would jeopardize his career. He could always take up a new one: the lecture circuit, Oprah Winfrey, gay pride parades, and fund-raiser poster boy.
There doesn't have to be an ounce of homophobia or self-hate in a gay actor's decision to keep his sexuality quiet, contrary to politically-correct theories of self-love and acceptance. He owes his gay brothers and sisters nothing in the matter of his private sexuality and it makes bad business sense to cave-in to the pressure. Sure, if you're a gay leading male actor and want to come out for your own reasons, more power to you. But then expect to literally assume that alternative lifestyle, beginning with calls from your creditors.
As long as movies engage the mind, stir the loins, and excite the senses sensual, an openly gay hunk compromises his entire career by billboarding his off-screen sexuality. No longer able to simply play a role that audiences get emotionally involved with, he is destined to jar them out of the fantasy and back into reality each time said gay actor makes goo-goo eyes at his romantic co-star, who will be of the opposite sex a good 99.8% of the time.
No one can sit down and watch an old Rock Hudson movie and avoid mentally dissecting a hetero-passionate love scene. ("He'd much rather be kissing..." or "Now that's what you call great acting.")
If your livelihood depends on creating a fantasy rapport with your audience, then the last thing you want them to think about every time they see your character putting another in an amorous clutch is your imagined off-screen bedroom activities. Too much reality has a nasty way of kicking fantasy right in the nuts.
This is not to say that knowing Rock Hudson is gay necessarily spoils the fun of watching his movies. Not at all. Some people liked him back when he first made those films as a closeted man, others thought he was awful and aptly named. Same holds true today. However, nobody looks at them the same. No one can help but think about...other things, for better or worse is not the issue, it's the thought that discounts.
Being openly gay when you're a matinee idol means asking the audience to accept, affirm, and yet deny your sexuality all at once. Yes, one hopes we will see the day when mainstream America accepts us (or do we?); yes, we might even imagine a day when much of the country simply says, "Who cares?" (or do we?), but after we've won all this, what will the poor out-and-proud stud-muffin Hollywood actor do when liberated America doesn't show up to see his movies, not because they have a problem with his professed sexuality, only that the knowledge doesn't do much for them between either ears or legs--both vital territories for a flickering fantasy vying for attention on the silver screen.
When a straight actor plays gay, and inevitably announces he has no problem with it, even his apparent liberalism doesn't short-circuit the "yeah, but he really likes girls" safety mechanism that ensures his ability to play future heterosexual roles. The openly gay leading man can't make the same transition. Accepted or not, if you declare you belong to only 10% of the population in a business forever seeking to tap into the pocketbooks of the masses, your subsequent casting couch chases are sure to become marathons.
The completely cool thing about Reeves' appearances on the zine racks (including coverboy for OUT magazine's "All-Straight Issue) is that he DOESN'T deny being gay. It's no big deal, this gay, straight, bi-sexual business. We're all humans, he says. Nice work, Keanu, no forced admissions to the nosy press here.
"Well, I mean," he explained to Vanity Fair during his post-SPEED press blitz, "there's nothing wrong with being gay, so to deny it is to make a judgment. And why make a big deal of it? If someone doesn't want to hire me because they think I'm gay, well, then I have to deal with it, I guess. Or if people were picketing a theater. But otherwise, it's just gossip, isn't it?" YES! He likes us! He really, really likes us! Good for you, Keanu, because let me tell you, we can get real bitchy about our boys.
Remember Marky Mark? Marky Mark owed us an allegiance, some said, because we were pumping the money into his bank account. When he seemed to turn on us, to reveal himself as something other than what we were buying, we got snotty about it.
The fact is, Marky Mark didn't compromise the product he was selling to us. He was delivering the same goods we craved all along: streetwise streetboy wrapped in a skin-tight, hard, muscled physique with that anomalous third quarter-nipple and propensity for dropping trou and grabbing his package--all to a danceable beat. Did he owe us a mindset, too? He wouldn't even have garnered the attention of gay boys across the country if it hadn't been for the stunning beauty he cut in his Calvin Kleins and the street-punkish way he flaunted his sex.
The gay community beat up on Marky Mark because it turned out that the guy came in three dimensions and had a life and attitudes and an evolving sensibility about homosexuality that wasn't up to speed for the liberated queer. Damn, wouldn't you know, the buffed guy in his jockey shorts on that billboard over there is really straight and not so sure what to do with all this attention he's getting from gay guys. Oh, and he's had a criminal past that maybe calls into question some of his feelings about other kinds of people, too. But he says that's all behind him and he doesn't feel that way now.
Could we have been so foolish as to believe that it mattered one iota? It was Marky Mark's physique, (for some) maybe his music, that brought about the longings in both men and teenaged girls. When the fantasy turned out to have a reality we didn't like, we dumped on him, as if the context were inseparable from the content.
What upstanding member of the gay community, whatever that means, can admit he finds Mel Gibson sexy anymore? Ask that question ten years ago and you'd need to squeegee the floor. Look at Gibson in MAD MAX or TIM or GALLIPOLI and you have to walk pretty far around the subject not to come to the conclusion that he is a most lovely specimen of manhood.
The question then becomes one of ownership. It used to be okay to send up a dreamy little sigh and roll one's eyes as if about to swoon when one uttered the monosyllabic "Mel," but now he's a raging homophobe (is he really, though?) and it would be politically incorrect to be caught with LETHAL WEAPON on your video shelf (you might be safe with MRS. SOFFEL); in other words, to admit that what you dreamed about and lusted after all along was never more than a fantasy anyway.
It's not entirely unlike the plot of Gibson's THE BOUNTY, in which Anthony Hopkin's gay Captain Bligh is so taken with the strapping young Fletcher Christian that when it turns out the fellow is really interested in a native girl rather than seamen, the Captain throws a scorned tantrum and makes life miserable for everybody. The punishment won't go on for long, though, because Mel and his hetero mates mutiny and set the scowling queer and his lackeys adrift.
So what do you do with a Mel Gibson? If you must, throw him overboard with a hiss and a raspberry into the arms of straight women, precisely where he thought he was making his mark all along as the eponymous one-time "Sexiest Man Alive."
The whole topic smacks of a kinship to the debate waged in gay skin magazines over the true sexual identity of certain "gay" porn stars. Here again, the questions being asked reveal an absurd need for compliance with an identified and exclusive sexual desire. The fantasy is that much richer, so the argument goes, if you know that the men fucking on-screen really enjoy fucking each other and aren't doing it just for the money. True, it does add a politically satisfying dimension to know that the late Joey Stefano, for instance, proudly identified himself as gay and was interested in the man-to-man sex he was paid to perform. However, interest doesn't assure a great performance each time out, nor does personal disinterest necessarily translate to bad on-screen sex.
If Jeff Stryker and Ryan Idol are haughtily branded as "trade" and yet they get naked and have sex on video because men find them attractive and want to watch them do that, then someone needs to explain how these guys are not keeping up their end of the deal.
Every time a "gay" porn star gives an interview in which he says he's straight, it seems a small segment of the audience tunes them out as traitors and the rest figures they're liars. (Shows how much we know about sex. Anybody can suck a dick. It doesn't mean you're queer, you know.) The point is, how important is it that the fantasy also be the reality and how completely goddamned silly is it of us to expect that the two will ever correlate?
The boys in the skin magazines have the virtue of not talking back to their consumer and nobody much pays attention to the tiny disclaimer usually hid somewhere in the masthead that states appearance in the magazine doesn't equate to the sexual orientation of the subjects. If only movie stars wouldn't give interviews they might maintain the same unbridled worship lavished on the centerfold boys. Of course, they'd also be replaced in a month.
Undeniably, almost everybody loves to hear about the sex lives of the stars, or at least contemplate them. And it's not every week we're given the opportunity to see them in action, which is why the Rob Lowe Sex Tape Scandal had such a remarkable dynamic to it. For once, we actually DID get to see a prettyboy movie star doing the nasty.
Here was one of the loveliest lads of the decade caught in the act, and unfortunately for the actor, there wasn't quite enough loss of resolution to avoid impressive silhouettes of his enthusiasm. And even though it fulfilled a prurient fantasy by offering such incontrovertible revelations, there was also the stigma of real-life attached to the viewing of it; at least, one hopes there was. This was, after all, a private moment--never intended to be seen by anyone other than whom Lowe may have purposely shared it with, if he shared it at all. There was perhaps a bit too much reality at work here.
Because there was another guy in the Lowe video, and the two of them are obviously quite at ease about being naked and aroused in the same room as they share their lady friend, rumors began floating that the original UNCUT version of the video showed Lowe and another man (it's not specified if it is the same man) engaged in homosexual conduct and that only the investigating officers were privy to this footage.
For bizarre reasons then alleged to protect the actor's reputation, all of the homosexual material was removed and the dub that became the daddy of all the thousands of copies that eventually circulated contained only the abbreviated heterosexual threesome. Even here, with damned near "conclusive" proof that the drop-dead gorgeous Lowe is heterosexual, the homo-fantasy demands to be fed.
"Because I'm the handsome leading man, everybody wants to get in my closet and find out I've been a fag," explained Luke Perry to Vanity Fair (July 1992). "If they have facts, if they have pictures of me fucking some guy, fine--then they can say whatever they want."
Kenneth Anger is said to have just such a photo of Marlon Brando and a male partner and tried like hell to have it included in his classic tome of a skinned and rotting Hollywood Babylon. Curious to contemplate how far we might go to rationalize a heterosexual coupling similarly flash-framed.
An actor getting fucked by another man (or more excitingly by another cute actor) proves to the world he's gay, but Rob Lowe going to town on a young lady in a Parisian hotel room right in front of our eyes still allows for speculation that he might like guys, too. And so he might, but...
Where Valentino offered to pummel the Chicago Tribune reporter who called him a "pink powder puff" and a "painted pansy," and Liberace managed to sue the tabloids, today's stars are apt to remain playfully ambiguous or come right out and just say no. But neither seems to satisfy, because we all know how denial figures in these matters.
FRIENDS hunk and former model Matt LeBlanc achieved some level of gay exposure akin to the slick monthly bed-spread boys when an early modeling gig included a turn as coverboy on a Spartacus guide, the international travel book for adventuresome gay men. Assumptions were made, but when recently asked what, if anything, he has in common with the character he plays on his popular television show, LeBlanc wryly stated, "I, too , am heterosexual."
Is this to be taken as gay-bashing by omission? All you need do is state your sexual preference these days and it nearly comes off as if you're denigrating the "other" one. Yet you can hardly blame the actors for wanting to set the record straight.
The subject has gotten to be so pervasive that every time Tom Cruise or his wife Nicole Kidman do an interview they're forced to broach the question of his alleged homosexuality. What do journalists expect when they ask questions like this over and over and over again--that somehow or somewhere along the way the answer is going to change? Not likely.
The only conceivable purpose this question could serve after its repeated denial is to prompt a brief, but hopefully telling and self-serving dialogue on the subject. We want to know if Tom likes us.
It's a game that some celebrities must be tired of playing. Both Cruise and Brad Pitt danced around the topic when they took on the roles of vampire lover and beloved in INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, wisely suggesting that the film wasn't about homosexuality, but was indeed very sensual and erotic.
River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves were wont to do the same when questioned about the more blatantly homo-erotic MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO. In truth, it was Phoenix, the actor, who made the ambiguously-written character of Mike gay in that film when he improvised dialogue and beautifully fleshed out a campfire scene that was hardly a pivotal moment in Van Sant's original screenplay. Still, Phoenix and Reeves were right to say that IDAHO wasn't about homosexuality.
In the wake of Phoenix's death, however, there were stories of his own private "experimentation," of possible confusion over his true sexual nature, and that was just enough to create a martyr in some segments of the gay population. The thought that he could have been one of us, struggling to come out and then lost to us in the process, assures his future deification as a junior James Dean.
Sex comes loaded with enough socio-political issues without having to subject those politics to a vote. Nobody should give a damn about whether Brad, Tom, Matt, Keanu, Leonardo, Rob, or Johnny are really queer. All that matters is that they might be... there's the frisson for friction. Admission would only rob us of the juicy mystery of it all. What's more, these guys are still strutting their stuff.
An image is worth a thousand words, yes, but it produces its share of nocturnal grunts, too. That Matt Dillon has never played a gay character has had little impact on what he's capable of doing to my psyche. Besides, presumably straight movie actors have never failed to turn on members of the same sex because they play straight roles--there's about a century of experience demonstrating otherwise. It's the Image, stupid.
Marky Mark dedicated his slick, colorful 1992 book to "my dick," accompanied by a playful shot of him grabbing it through the front of his jeans. He had the right idea.
If lots of gay men felt he made a mistake, it was only in being honest enough to say he wouldn't suck theirs.
Killer bod on that kid, though, huh?