The Problem with Colton Haynes and Not Quite ‘Coming Out’

The Problem with Colton Haynes and Not Quite ‘Coming Out’

Written by Jase Peeples and originally published on advocate.com

‘When stars respond to questions about their sexuality with statements like, ‘It shouldn’t matter,’ they are doing more harm than good.’

“Did Colton Haynes just come out?” That was the question bouncing through the blogosphere earlier this week after a commenter on Tumblr wrote how “excited” they were to learn the actor “had a secret gay past” and Haynes replied with a vague statement.

“Was it a secret?” the Arrow and Teen Wolf star wrote. “Let’s all just enjoy life & have no regrets.”

Haynes is right. That “gay past” the commenter referenced isn’t a well-kept secret, though there was an effort to bury it.

A quick Google search unearths a number of supposed personal and professional photos from Haynes’s younger years with an alleged ex-boyfriend, including an intimate photospread for XY – a gay/bi youth magazine which enjoyed a respectable-sized readership during its heyday, before ending its run nearly a decade ago. The photos surfaced as Haynes’ star began to rise with the popularity of Teen Wolf, but as quickly as gay blogs started reporting about the images they also posted about the threats of legal action they received from Haynes’ attorney if the images were not removed from their sites.

Haynes’ recent response on Tumblr is the first time he’s (somewhat) addressed questions surrounding his sexuality since those photos kicked off years of speculation – but it is far from a “coming out.” Instead, the actor’s coy comment firmly places him among those who reside in Hollywood’s expanding glass closet, a contraption that is weakening the ground we’ve gained in social acceptance and inadvertently sending harmful messages to LGBT youth.

There is a disturbing discordance between the improvement of LGBT visibility in entertainment we’ve experienced recently and the entertainers who are a part of it.

A number of TV shows have broken down barriers in the past two years alone. How to Get Away with Murder tackled the modern realities of HIV for gay men, while the Emmy-winning Transparent proved transgender characters can be at the center of a successful show. Empire and Orange is the New Black expanded the landscape for queer people of color. Arrow gave us TV’s first bisexual superhero, Sara Lance (a.k.a. The Canary), and its spinoff series, The Flash, featured gay super-villain Pied Piper in its first season.

However, while messages of tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion would seem to be on the rise, an alarming number of young actors continue to dodge, deny, and perform impressive displays of verbal vogueing to avoid addressing the possibility they may be anything other than heterosexual – even in the face of apparent photographic evidence.

Empire’s Jussie Smollett pulled a lesser version of Jodie Foster’s 2013 Golden Globes “coming out” speech when he made an appearance on Ellen in March, awkwardly telling the lesbian trailblazer he’s “never been in the closet” but for some reason seemed unable to clearly state exactly how he identifies.

Kristen Stewart also made headlines in August after her mother reportedly outed her as bisexual and photos of the Twilight star kissing another woman surfaced. However, rather than directly address her sexuality she rambled on in an interview with Nylon about living in the “ambiguity of this life” and stated “Google me, I’m not hiding.”

Jack Falahee, who plays How to Get Away With Murder’s openly gay character Connor Walsh, told Out magazine in a February interview that talking about his real-life sexuality “seemed reductive” and wouldn’t accomplish anything.

Additionally, pop performer Demi Lovato, who was perfectly at ease singing about bi-curiosity in her recent hit “Cool for the Summer,” coyly told British late-night host Alan Carr, “I’m not confirming and I’m definitely not denying” anything about her own sexuality.

Of course it’s not fair to place the responsibility of improving LGBT visibility solely on the shoulders of people in the spotlight. Coming out is as much an individual experience as it is a shared one, and being a celebrity doesn’t automatically include one’s duty to profess they are a part of any community. After all, coming out can still have a negative impact on an entertainer’s career and the decision to reveal any part of their private life comes with a cost that should be carefully evaluated.

And that’s the real issue.

It’s a huge problem when a rising star like Haynes is more comfortable publicly talking about his struggles with anxiety than he is about his sexuality. What does it say about the true state of social equality today when actors can play LGBT characters and simulate sex onscreen, yet can’t even address who they are with a statement as simple as, “Yes, I like dudes?”

We are living in an era where the fantasy Hollywood creates, specifically for young people, is becoming more accepting than its public reality. LGBT youth today are more likely to find unapologetic queer characters on TV than a comfortably-out young person playing one. We’re applauding the introduction of characters from across the LGBT spectrum in entertainment, while actors who may not be straight avoid the topic with a cleverly concocted response that does anything but clearly answer the question.

This issue is only compounded by our current collective mindset that discussing the sexual orientation of a public person is taboo because “it shouldn’t matter.”

Of course, a future where a person’s sexuality doesn’t generate a reaction any more than the color of their eyes is a wonderful utopian ideal to strive toward, but we need to stop pretending that avoiding the topic altogether is somehow making the world a better place for people who aren’t heterosexual. It doesn’t. Not when Republican Presidential hopefuls are building their campaigns on promises of repealing our civil rights and suspected gay teens are flung from rooftops in Syria.

This approach only serves to make us invisible and teaches our youth that who they are is something that should only be reflected in fantasy, and addressed with promises of “it gets better” rather than examples of real, prominent, young people living authentic lives.

If who we are truly “shouldn’t matter,” and as Haynes wrote on Tumblr, we should “enjoy life and have no regrets,” then we shouldn’t fear simply and clearly stating it – regardless of how we identify. It’s not about getting into the details of who we sleep with. It’s about acknowledging it and moving on.

Rather than standing by on social media cocked and ready to fire at anyone who dare actually mention what is quickly becoming the love that dare not speak its name once again, we should be working to change the common response to questions about sexuality and gender identity from, “it shouldn’t matter” to, “Yes, I’m gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, gender-queer, pansexual, straight, or whatever – and it shouldn’t matter.” Because change – real, true, lasting social change – won’t happen until the most visible among us stands up without fear of being counted.

Most often, when queer people question the sexuality of a celebrity like Colton Haynes, we aren’t looking to expose a scandal; we’re looking for examples of people who are like us and show the world we can succeed in any field our heterosexual counterparts can. Seeing ourselves in every aspect of society is exactly what gives us hope. And we need it.

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37 Comments

  1. Kenny
    January 08, 05:58 Reply

    He’s gay! Like really really gay. There are pictures to prove it and even rumours of exes including Zachary Quinto. This just goes to show that even though their society is accepting of being gay now, many people over there still feel they should hide. Or maybe they just don’t want to be known as that gay actor or singer.

    • pete
      January 08, 06:08 Reply

      Or they feel their sexuality shouldn’t be a matter for public discourse.

      • Max 2.0
        January 08, 08:13 Reply

        Internalized homophobia anyone??
        Straight celebs never have any problem using the “she”/” her” pronoun when asked about their private life(who they’re dating), even if they don’t reveal the persons identity in the process. Its only gay/bi celebs that dodge the question when it comes and make ambiguous and vague statements and say things like-” sexuality doesnt matter “, bla blah blah ..

        • Absalom
          January 08, 09:21 Reply

          Actually, it’s not IH. You forget that LGBT actors and straight actors do not have the same problems.

          Coming from a marginalized and largely oppressed minority means that for every one person that is out there living his/her truth, we instantly expect them to be our voice, our ambassadors, our everything. Maybe this is the kind of responsibility/pressure actors like Haynes are not quite ready to handle (yet)?

          Most of these actors are out to everyone they know personally; they just haven’t said anything to the media. Sad, yes. But still…

          It’s a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation: You come out, someone screams “Who cares? It’s 2016!” And some will even call you attention-seeking. Ok, you decide to be reticent about your orientation na, they scream “Come out of the closet!”

          Gay public figures are torn in ways straight ones aren’t.

          That said, Colton Haynes is not even fine! ??

            • kacee
              January 08, 17:23 Reply

              DM are u fine? pls leave my love for me.

            • kacee
              January 08, 17:25 Reply

              LMAO heheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheehehehe

          • Max 2.0
            January 08, 12:22 Reply

            @Absie, I agree with your comment except the part you said he’s not fine.. That’s plain hating.

          • kacee
            January 08, 17:33 Reply

            Mr Absalom hmmmmm, FYI Colton Hayes is drop dead GORGEOUS my friend. Are u even fine MTCHEWWWWWWWW.

    • Delle
      January 08, 10:23 Reply

      Thank you Kenny, thank you o! When you talk, they’d say you have the IH syndrome. Come and chop peck jawe!

  2. Dennis Macaulay
    January 08, 06:23 Reply

    This is a two headed monster; on the one hand I agree with the writer and it’s always when it comes to gay people that sexuality suddenly becomes a private affair! People begin to tell you how it’s nobody’s business yada yada yada, but notice how you rarely hear straight people saying that!

    Visibility is key to winning the battle against homophobia and young people have to have positive role models so that someone will not come and say “being gay cuts short your destiny”, at least it did not cut Tim Cook’s own!

    Now on the other hand what the writer missed is that if you haven’t gotten to a certain level of stardom in Hollywood and you come out? You just remain the gay actor or the gay musician etc. These stars are being careful not to reveal too early in their careers because sometimes it can have a damaging effect professionally!

  3. Timi LEO
    January 08, 07:48 Reply

    Wat difference does it make if he is gay, and even if he is not that’s his personal cross to carry

  4. Bobby
    January 08, 07:54 Reply

    Pictures pinky…Pictures…we like to see the pictures!

  5. Max 2.0
    January 08, 08:09 Reply

    Totally agree with the writer..

  6. #Chestnut
    January 08, 08:55 Reply

    Let me not talk now b4 kdians will slice off my preeq and shove it down my throat,then tie bricks to my hands and feet and throw me into a canal…*gliding away on hoverboard*

  7. Mitch
    January 08, 08:57 Reply

    I totally disagree with the writer. The only information you need about me to respect me and my decisions is my humanity. In as much as I am human, my gender, race, sexuality, religion or creed shouldn’t matter. We’ve all gotten so hopped up on the sexuality issue that it has become our definition rather than just a part of us. I am first human, then I am male, African, Nigerian, Igbo before I am gay! Let my gayness not be the sole defining standard you have for me. That’s all I ask.

    • Dennis Macaulay
      January 08, 09:23 Reply

      I kind of get his point mandy! Visibility is important for us to tame the beast that is homophobia!

      Celebrities have a lot of power because of their fame and if they all begin to own their sexuality it will go a long way in fixing things.

    • #Chestnut
      January 08, 09:40 Reply

      Yes Mitch, but we’re fighting a fight (aren’t we?) So the “normal” luxuries may not apply in all cases,if we want to get what we need.

    • Absalom
      January 08, 09:46 Reply

      Do you also realise that if the Igbo were marginalized and oppressed, you probably wouldn’t be so quick to identify as Igbo? In public you might downplay your Igbo-ness or skirt around it for fear of what impact it might have on your quest to be just like everyone else – to be considered decent, professional, hard-working and to not be limited by your identity label…

      By the way, some Igbo people/dialects are actually horribly stereotyped and marginalized sef and people from these places are sometimes reluctant to speak their dialects or mention they come from so-and-so place in the Southeast.

      You say you’re African. Have you forgotten some people run away from that label? Because it has been used by the West to categorise all Africans as the same; and to harbour certain unfortunate expectations from people of the continent.

      The only way to prevent the brutality that’s identity politics is to stop oppressing people; then nobody will feel shy about stating categorically who they really are or what “past” they’ve had.

      Has the world (and Hollywood in particular) proven without a reasonable doubt that it treats straight and gay actors equally? Ehen.

      • #Chestnut
        January 08, 10:26 Reply

        @ absie: d same world (and hollywood) that were rushing to famz Bruce Jenner when he did d unexpected? No, I don’t think gay entertainers (who are very good at,and consistent with their craft), are having a hard time in hollywood (that is eager to show how “liberal” and “politically correct” it can be) in 2015!
        I’m not a mindless optimist tho; I live in reality; I wouldn’t even advise a nigerian entertainer to say he’s anything,but heterosexual in public…but we’re talking HOLLYWOOD here; it’s a competition to see who is d most liberal and accepting and open-minded,over there!

        • Mandy
          January 08, 18:51 Reply

          Chestnut, your comment is on point. I mean, Zachary Quinto anyone?

  8. #Chestnut
    January 08, 09:48 Reply

    Anyway,when a hollywood celeb refuses to state his/her sexuality,I think it’s safe to assume they’re not straight, so in a way,they prolly think we should be satisfied that they’ve more or less admitted (indirectly) that they’re not straight. However, not stating it directly might make it seem as though it’s still taboo; something not to be proud of.

  9. Delle
    January 08, 10:20 Reply

    I think people are just more comfortable when there’s no label on them. You may be gay, you may be bisexual but you do not want that tag. It’s already who you are, it’s your essence but you do not want to be labelled like that’s all you stand for. I’m sure that’s why someone like Haynes, who is STRIKINGLY GORGEOUS btw and looks pretty gay to me, would not want an article on his ‘coming out’ experience. Maybe life is just easier for them that way, not being labelled ‘That gay actor’ or that ‘Bisexual singer’ but just ‘actor’ and ‘singer’.
    A few months abi weeks back, there was an argument concerning what I said about Sam Smith (where I was nearly burnt to death at the stake), and this is just exactly what I was saying. The label is what’s wrong with us. Gay, bi, top, bottom, verse, femme, butch, straight-acting, yada yada yada…abeg, it’s too much.

    Enough already, please who has his digits, I would like to ask him some ‘business’ questions? Tell me if you do, thanks.

    • keredim
      January 08, 12:05 Reply

      @Delle, Yes, I challenged you on the Sam Smith issue.

      This piece is saying, gay celebs should own their sexuality and be visible.
      Your Sam Smith comment was saying, he should not be talking about his gay sexuality all the time as it was “swallowing his career” (Despite picking up 3 grammys for his debut album and being commissioned to write and perform the latest James Bond film’s theme song).

      So they are 2 different arguments.

      Which argument exactly do you stand for?

      • Delle
        January 08, 17:24 Reply

        Kere I still stand on what I said about Sam Smith, maybe my words were not properly aligned but I know for sure that Sam Smith shouldn’t be all about his sexuality, no one should. That’s my argument.
        Thank u (if u care).

        • keredim
          January 08, 17:37 Reply

          If you go over my comments on the day, one of the things I said, was that Sam Smith went on record and said he didn’t want to be an LGBT poster boy. So I don’t see how he is about his sexuality.

          Yes, your words on the day were misaligned.

          Have a good evening (if you can)

        • Pink Panther
          January 08, 18:59 Reply

          Delle, this comment shows that you clearly know nothing about Sam Smith’s career. You quoted one singular magazine content as the basis for your assertion that Sam Smith lets his sexuality overshadow his career. Have you actually researched that uninformed opinion? Have you bothered to go through Smith’s interviews from the beginning of his career till date to know just how he relates his sexuality to his career? And you keep saying his sexuality is overshadowing his career, and yet somehow he’s on the rise, from Grammy win to a Bond film solo, to rumours of duet between him and Adele.
          I’m sorry, is that your definition of his career getting overshadowed?

          • Delle
            January 08, 20:30 Reply

            How does a duet with Adele signify progress? Moving on, let’s not make this a hate fiesta on Sam Smith (someone I truly adore for all obvious reasons), so I’m just going to stop here as I do not like to dwell in the past, I’m a futuristic person, care to join?

            Before you escape for the day PP, where is the response to the request I made on Colton Haynes? Still waiting…

  10. Khaleesi
    January 08, 10:28 Reply

    Thought provoking piece! i realise that attaining the status of a celebrity carries with it certain responsibilities, however, no one should feel compelled to make his private affairs the topic of public discussion, if he wishes to not talk publicly about his sexuality, his wishes ought to be respected … some people have fully embraced and accepted their sexuality but yet are unwilling to champion the cause for gay rights, they just want to live quietly and focus on other aspects of their lives …

  11. Kenny
    January 08, 12:37 Reply

    But people like Jussie smolett who in one minute say they are honoured to be doing what they are doing because they get calls from people they inspire, and in the next minute say oh I’ve never really been in the closet without actually identifying as gay…. how about those kind of celebs?

  12. Geeluv
    January 08, 15:24 Reply

    Exactly… their sexuality shouldn’t be a matter for public discuss.

  13. keredim
    January 08, 17:36 Reply

    If you go over my comments on the day, one of the things I said, was that Sam Smith went on record and said he didn’t want to be an LGBT poster boy. So I don’t see how he is about his sexuality.

    Yes, your words on the day were misaligned.

    Have a good evening (if you can)

  14. Brian Collins
    January 08, 19:58 Reply

    Yada, yada, yada I don’t even care to know. All I know is that I love this man. I remember him from The Gates too. Guy sure likes to be a sexy wolf.

  15. sensei
    January 08, 22:04 Reply

    It is easy to demand heroism from anyone but ourselves. The moment a person attains mastery of the craft, we automatically foist our expectations upon them and expect them to somehow become champions of our cause. We are quick to commit the crime of generalizaton; the one-size-fits-all approach. Until we begin to allow people to be whoever they choose to be in peace, we cannot claim to be tolerant.
    Inspiration not compulsion births heroes. Coming out of the closet is a personal decision. I do not believe anyone has a right to demand that another person should come out. If we are really interested in LIBERTY upon which this struggle is based, then no one should have such a right. It’s about time we practised what we preach: live and let live.

    • Mitch
      January 08, 23:41 Reply

      Sensei, you are a darling! Thank you for this.

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