By Emily Feimster
Is being out, in? Hollywood seems to think so - at least for the moment.It's been the year for the queer in terms of the huge success of gay-themed shows like "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." Despite seeing the Fab 5 overdo the red carpet, these guys have broken down barriers by bringing some much needed advice to the average heterosexual male - not to mention they've made some pretty sweet home makeovers, although we've yet to figure out what Jai's job is. The show became so popular that the series' stars spiffed up Jay Leno on the "Tonight Show." Ok, so the pin striped suit and big belt buckle weren't a good look for him but at least Leno was up for it. That would have never happened five years ago.
At one time, being gay in Hollywood meant the risk of career suicide. Even now, actors know they're highly unlikely to nab romantic leading man/leading lady roles if they're openly gay. Maybe that, too, will change if recent trends continue. Today, stories of the outrageous lengths to which actors went to remain closeted, of false front marriages of convenience - ala Rock Hudson's union with Phyllis Gates, his agent's (and long time lover's) secretary -- seem relics of a bygone era.
With gay entertainment earning more and more recognition, more stars are out - Sir Ian McKellan, Rosie O'Donnell, Rupert Everett, Elton John. R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe came out in an interview with Time magazine in 2001. Melissa Etheridge and girlfriend Tammy Lynn Michaels exchanged vows in a Malibu ceremony last year. Just look at the amazing success Ellen DeGeneres has had this past year with her new talk show which has picked up 12 Daytime Emmy nominations.
However, for DeGeneres, being openly gay didn't come without a price. She received bomb threats for her bold decision to reveal her sexuality on her sitcom "Ellen" and a year later her show was cancelled.
"It destroyed me," said DeGeneres, looking back. She noted that after years of trying to make audiences happy and wanting desperately to be loved - "that's why anybody gets into this business" - it was stunning to find herself hated. Times have evolved and DeGeneres's sexuality is definitely not hurting her now. She has pulled off what has been called one of the greatest show business comebacks of all time.
In a matter of a few years, the word gay seems to have become mainstream when it comes to show business. It was big news in 1996 when "Friends" came up with its "The One With the Lesbian Wedding" episode, wherein conservative political leader Newt Gingrich's real-life sister, openly gay Candice Gingrich, played the minister who performed a wedding ceremony for Ross's ex-wife and her girlfriend. Now we're used to gay storylines as a TV stock in trade. 1998 marked the premiere of one of the first primetime shows putting a positive light on homosexuality, the ever so popular "Will & Grace." Although we have never seen Will in an actual relationship let alone kiss another man, the show paved the way for other gay characters like ABC's dad duo in "It's All Relative," a bisexual babe in NBC's "Coupling," and a lesbian ex-wife in CBS' "Two and A Half Men." The cable networks have taken it to the next level with "HBO's" risqu? "Queer as Folk" and Showtime's new lesbian drama "The L Word." Of course MTV got in on the action having the Russian group t.A.T.u perform at the 2003 Movie Awards. The 2 singers who happen to be lesbians sang "Not Gonna Get Us" while the stage filled with hundreds of girls taking off their skirts, dancing only in tank tops and underwear. Now we've got reality game shows featuring gay men like "Boy Meets Boy" and the new "Playing it Straight." Who knows what's next?
To an extent, it's Hollywood's way of saying it's ok to be gay. But as with most things in this business, it's all about the money and network executives have finally realized that gays can make them money. At the end of the day, it's those dollar amounts that do the talking. Whatever the reason, gay TV is hot. It's anyone's guess as to whether networks will continue to ride the gay wave but if ever gay entertainers should pick up a surfboard, it's now.