7 ugly implications of Matt Damon’s comments about out gay actors

In an interview with The Guardian, Matt Damon managed to say a lot of discouraging stuff about the lives and careers of gay actors in just a couple of quotes.

Here's the first dubious moment.

“I think you”re a better actor the less people know about you period. And sexuality is a huge part of that. Whether you”re straight or gay, people shouldn”t know anything about your sexuality because that”s one of the mysteries that you should be able to play.'”

And here's the second, a strange review of out actor Rupert Everett's recent career.

“I remember thinking and saying, Rupert Everett was openly gay and this guy – more handsome than anybody, a classically trained actor – it”s tough to make the argument that he didn”t take a hit for being out.”

It's only been a couple of weeks since the term “Damonsplaining” was coined to describe Matt Damon's dubious opinions about minorities in the entertainment industry, and it feels like we just found another opportunity to use that portmanteau again.

Here are seven unfortunate implications from just two brief quotes.

1. Saying “I'm gay” warrants a “TMI” response.

Is anyone really surprised that an entertainer could be gay? Is it truly off-putting? Damon is suggesting that owning one's gayness makes a gay actor unable to play “mystery.” He's suggesting that gayness onscreen is best experienced as an affect, not as an actuality. 

2. Straight actors have inherent legitimacy.

Everybody is assumed straight. Before an actor comes out, we assume he/she is heterosexual, especially if he/she says nothing to the contrary. You can't be passively gay because “straight” is the default. Ellen Page called it “lying by omission.” When Damon claims it's better that we know nothing about actors, he forgets that in place of knowledge, we as curious people make assumptions. 

3. Gay visibility doesn't lead to dialogue and positive change. 

When celebrities talk about gay issues, more people talk about gay issues. When celebrities talk about any issue, more people talk about that issue. Period. 

4. Straight actors can talk about anything and it's never too much. 

It's wild that Matt Damon pretends straight actors suffer at all from overexposure in their private lives. As Queerty noted, he once shared his own “marriage and family secrets” and gave examples from his home life. Being a celebrity requires some candor; putting pressure on gay celebrities to shut up indicates that they're not invited to the same fame as their straight contemporaries.

5. You can make a case about gay actors based on the career of one gay actor. 

Rupert Everett is one of literally a half-dozen out gay actors from the '90s whom most people could name offhand. Pinning his career downfall on being out seems a tad rich. We don't have anything close to a sample size that can confirm that. Even if Everett himself claims his gayness led to his downfall, it's possible there are many contributing factors. (And by the way: Everett is still acting on the London stage; he hasn't been forced into retirement.) 

6. Rupert Everett's decline has everything to do with audiences and nothing to do with Hollywood itself. 

“He took a hit” is not exactly an argument. It's like saying, “Mistakes were made.” Who is responsible for his decline in popularity? Only audiences? Or could it be that Everett's own team abandoned him, and part of the reason was that he's out? As Dustin Lance Black once noted, actors often resist coming out because agents and managers tell them not to come out. Where's Damon's criticism of those people?

7. There's nothing we can do to reshape homophobic biases. 

Damon implies that people begin to disbelieve an actor's versatility when he reveals he's gay. That's some soft, gentle homophobia, and it should probably be upended whenever possible. How will we know whether audiences can handle knowing about out gay actors if we don't have more of them? Before Damon jumps to conclusions, we need many more years of progress and welcomed change before we can dismiss the personal decisions of gay performers so roundly.