Amber Heard believes that Hollywood actors can change the stigma against gay leading men by "coming out" — but it's not quite as easy as the star makes it sound.
In a new interview with E! Online, the Justice League actress recalls coming out as bisexual in 2010 — or, rather, what the world assumed was her coming out. Heard only publicly discussed her sexual orientation in 2010, but she was never "in the closet" to her friends and family. Still, she acknowledged that it was "problematic" for her to be seen as bisexual in a world that already sexualizes women onscreen. She told E! Online:
"As a leading lady, there's a certain amount of wish fulfillment. I was asked 'How is anyone going to invest in you romantically if they think you're unavailable?' I said, 'Watch me do it.'"
Heard then added:
"I stand here now amongst many of my romantic leading lady peers who are out and fluid... I'm one of many now, and I'm working... If every gay man that I know personally in Hollywood came out tomorrow, then this would be a non-issue in a month."
While I applaud Heard's candidness — it's certainly inspiring for a woman in a position of power in Hollywood to proudly declare herself queer — I take issue with Heard's insistence that male actors have the power to make that social change.
Hollywood has had a problem with gay men in leading roles in film for a very long time. While actors like Sean Penn or Matt Damon can "play gay" in award-winning films, you would be hard pressed to find an openly gay man who boasts top billing in a major film. Seriously: just try to think of one. With extremely few exceptions, openly gay men simply aren't cast as our action heroes or romantic leads.
Heard is right — that should change, just as Hollywood narratives should include more characters of different sexual orientations. The problem is in Heard insisting that because she's out and working, men will be able to come out without hurting their own careers in the process. What Heard doesn't realize is that her position in Hollywood is different from men vying for your Jack Reacher roles. There's certainly a stigma against bisexual women, but it might not hinder her from working the way it would with an openly gay man.
Hollywood's leading ladies are often sexualized, and their offscreen sexual orientation may not make a difference if they are able to be marketed to the male gaze. Consider Angelina Jolie's early career: Jolie, who is also bisexual and was previously in a longterm relationship with a woman, was seen for many years as a Hollywood "bad girl." She was sexy — and, because she was open to dating both men and women, was seen as something of a fantasy. A similar thing happened to openly bisexual actress Megan Fox: she was even cast in Jennifer's Body as a succubus who makes out with her female best friend and, at the end of the movie, declares "I go both ways."
Heard's own career has had moments in which it seemed that Hollywood was capitalizing on her sexuality. In the film Syrup, Heard plays an ad executive who literally uses her sexuality as a marketing tool.
Heard may not realize that there's still a bias towards people of different sexual orientations, even if the bias isn't always the same for every person who identifies as non-straight. Just as Hollywood sometimes shoehorns women who are open about their sexuality into "sexier" roles, queer men are often overlooked for roles that are considered hypermasculine. Considering that so many of Hollywood's big-budget flicks are about hypermasculine action stars (a.k.a., pretty much every superhero movie ever), it makes sense for a gay actor to want to keep his sexual orientation out of the press.
Like Heard, I would theoretically love for more men in Hollywood to come out — I think visibility is important and can only help normalize the queer community. However, I think it's a little unfair to say that it's their responsibility to do so — or that homophobic attitudes in Hollywood, and the world at large, would change simply because A-listers are more honest with the public. Consider the controversy over Beauty & The Beast featuring an "exclusively gay moment." Sadly, homophobic attitudes still exist en masse — and while personal reveals can help chip away at them, the unfortunate reality is that there is a precedent for why gay actors don't come out. Homophobia simply can't be eradicated or become a "non-issue in a month," as Heard claims.
The fact that these men are in the closet in the first place is a symptom of homophobic attitudes. They shouldn't be shamed into coming out when the industry has made it clear it won't support them if they do.