While the talented Ellen Page's coming out is significant and helpful to so many people, at the same time it's a bit disappointing for me because I always feel torn about knowing an actor's sexuality (or politics or background) if it means I must fight through the dissonance of seeing them portray someone they're not.
Which of course is ludicrous because, honestly, did I really think George C. Scott really WAS Patton? Did I seriously think Rod Steiger really WAS Napoleon? Did I think Rock Hudson really WAS wooing Doris Day or that Neil Patrick Harris really WAS a young doctor or a wily lady's man? ... Well, no -- and yes.
I still must struggle to watch old Hudson-Day movies, or for that matter "McMillan and Wife" reruns (my spouse is very big on TVLand and Netflix/Amazon Prime), but I do still accept his performance in "Giant." Why? Because he's giving it his all and it all seems so natural that I FORGET he's acting. Same with the former "Doogie Howser": He becomes the character, and he looks like he's really having fun when emceeing the Tonys, the Emmys, and I suspect someday the Nobel Prizes. And that's all we should ask or expect: that they do their job in convincing us they are that character. No doubt when I revisit "Juno" (and I will; it's a family favorite -- I briefly even had a hamburger phone as a keepsake), I'll see the winsome anti-heroine/wayward but lovably pregnant "irresponsible daughter" and not a young lesbian. And that of course is the mark of a good thespian (or judicious/skilled director or editor).
But there's a catch.
When I watch a special-effects extravaganza and I absolutely KNOW the whole thing is shot against a greenscreen backdrop and yet I STILL buy the notion that we're on the Seven Seas with a sometimes-zombie Johnny Depp or on another planet with avatars or back in the 1600s or wherever, that's magic, even if I know exactly (or almost exactly) how the moviemakers did it. It's much like knowing a magician's secrets when watching a coin or card trick performed right in front of your eyes: The sleight of hand should be so artful that you simply never see the sleight, or you marvel at how well it is done. One of the pitfalls of modern society, however, is that we now seem to be obsessed with deconstructing EVERYTHING -- consider the popularity of all those "making-of" video "extras" on DVDs and the "goofs" listed on IMDB.com and elsewhere: Do we appreciate the movie MORE or does it make the movie less magical?
So is it any wonder that we now "must" know EVERYTHING about an actor? Does it interfere with our "suspension of disbelief"? Must I give myself a pep talk every time I enter a theater or pop in a DVD, rallying myself to forget the actor I'm watching prefers a penis to a vagina (or vice versa), even if that performer is a hero of mine, a role model?
When I was younger and struggling to accept my bi/try-sexuality, I waited desperately for a well-known person -- most likely a beloved actor -- to emerge publicly as a bi role model ... but none ever did. And so, as with so many other LGBT people, I had to become my own role model, my own hero. Subsequently, however, I tried NOT to know what an actor's sexual orientation was for the very reason I cited above: the cognitive dissonance, the front-and-center knowledge that this person playing a heterosexual lover really isn't heterosexual.
As time has gone on, I've happily and gratefully accepted that more and more actors and others in the public eye are willing to be out, and I've accepted that if they are truly good at what they do, I will forget that they are of a different sexual orientation than the one they are portraying on screen or on stage.
So I thank Ellen Page and all the other actors and others in the limelight, such as football standout Michael Sam, who have come forward as out -- and that many of them will be role models to those still struggling to be out. And I can watch them without the background static noise of knowing they're -- gasp -- acting or being something other than a stereotype.
Bu that said, is an actor the "right" person to be a "role model": i.e., one who leads by example? Is it "right" to exalt an actor who, it's true, is breaking the fourth wall by letting you KNOW he or she is performing? Ah, the dilemma of being an actor. Ellen Page got tired, she said, of faking it through the sin of omission -- and mind you, she's an actress whose whole job is to fake things. ... On the set. But even actors have personal lives, when they're OFF the clock and OFF the set. ... Or are they, like doctors, always "on"? Is a parent never a parent? Do we play our everyday roles knowing there are some things that are better left unsaid?
Well, I'm assuming we're way beyond that point of privacy in American society now: We're supposedly (I'm hoping) in the post-racial era, the post-sexual-orientation era, the post-everything era, where it's "live and let live" and "celebrate our differences" or shrug off our differences, and that differences either should unite us and be honored, or not matter, but that they certainly shouldn't divide us.
Which brings us back to Ellen Page and Michael Sam and other "out" celebs -- "celebs" as in "celebrated": At what point do you diminish yourself by looking to others to be your role models? In the sense that they help pave the way for you to be out, by helping condition society into being more accepting, it makes your own coming out less of a struggle, and for that the celebrities SHOULD be celebrated. Sadly, there still aren't enough well-know "out" bi people, though I'm guessing that will change. In any case, each time one of us comes out (again and again in the case of those of us who aren't movie stars, where saying it once is enough for a lifetime), we make life a little easier for the next bi person (or gay person or transgendered person) to be open and accepting. Maybe YOU are someone else's role model and you don't even know it, and maybe never will know it. All the more reason you should be out and proud -- and your own role model.