The Unbearable Lightness Of Being Heterosexual: Why One Heterosexual Actor Finds Kissing A Guy Icky

Heterosexual Actor Reconciles His Homophobia In Piece Decrying Homophobia. Or Something.



By Nicholas Brown

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.


The effect of multiple strangers asking you to take off your clothes is uncomfortably intimate—like walking around a doctor's office with a glass of your own urine.

That's what I'm thinking when, for the third time in a day, a woman asks me: "So, you are comfortable taking your shirt off?"

I nod and hand her a headshot.

The script she gives me in exchange is for an AIDS awareness advertisement for Logo, Viacom's gay-targeted network. It has two lines: 1. "Did you hear that? We have chemistry!" and 2. "When were you last tested?"

The woman says "And you know that, if you book this, you'll have to kiss another man?"

"Yes," I say.

"And you're comfortable with that?"

"Yes," I say.

I have worked as a model and an actor for eight years now. Part of the job is making yourself comfortable in situations that are not familiar.


The casting director, another woman, emerges from inside the studio where they are filming the audition, and she asks me to take my shirt off and stand in front of a blazing white light. I am reminded that I really ought to work out more. It's as if my metaphorical glass of urine spilled a bit and we can all see the carpet stain.

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. (I hear that he also has a black friend)

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.

Acting is a curious profession. The Oscars tend to award actors who transfigure themselves. Think of Charlize Theron in Monster or Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Capote. And most actors actively want to stretch outside of themselves. That is, after all, why we tried to make a career out of pretending. But people tend to assume things about you after they have seen you onstage. The character and the person are conflated.

Still, I wouldn't turn down a commercial that required me to pretend to slap a child, or one where I played a Nazi. And—assuming the ad wasn't advocating child abuse or Nazism—I don't think I would feel odd about the audition.


I ask my theatrical agent if there is any industry stigma about doing a gay role. "No," he says, "not since Will and Grace in the '90s."

I call my commercial agent to ask him the same question. "No," he says. "Ikea was doing ads with gay couples in the '90s. Will and Grace really changed things." "But you had to ask me two times if I was comfortable," I protest. "We would do that on any spot where you have to kiss," he tells me.

Gigi Nicolas, the director of on-air promotions at Logo, tells me that at least I was not alone in my discomfort. "We had to do a second round of casting," she says. "Far fewer people auditioned than I expected. Most of my top choices just didn't show up."

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

My implicit association scores tell me that I have a moderate subconscious preference for lighter skinned people (like 27 percent of all test takers, 70 percent of whom show a slight, moderate, or strong automatic preference for lighter skin). I also moderately prefer young people to old people (like 29 percent of all test takers; 80 percent prefer young people to old). And I moderately prefer straight people to gay people (like 27 percent of test takers; 68 percent show some preference for straight people.)


I take some solace in the fact that my preferences are only moderate. But even if it's temperate about it, my subconscious is essentially racist, agist, and homophobic. It is the backwater redneck of my brain. And, apparently, I'm prejudiced against backwater rednecks.

My uncle spent 20 years of Christmases leaving his partner at home while he visited my grandparents. He pretended to be single. At my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary, my grandfather tried to introduce my uncle to single women. My uncle came out of the closet only a few years before my grandfather died. There were tense days, but then he was accepted.

Christianity imagines the period leading up to Christmas as one of great joy. It encourages us to offer good will towards men, which is a start, but it seems to me that the Jews have it right to place the emphasis of Yom Kippur, their big holiday, on just apologizing.

The essential, uncomfortable, flaw with all the progress on gay rights is that even after legislation is passed and everyone's rights are equal on paper—which still sometimes seems a long way off—there is the longer, trickier work of trying to divest each person of the ugly human prejudices we all inherited when we were born.

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