Why Lee Pace’s Evolving Sexuality Stance Is So Important

6/9/2018

 

I’ll be honest: it’s been hard for me to process my feelings about Lee Pace’s coming out saga. As a writer, I haven’t been able to get a bead on it for weeks. His process of emergence, then partial retraction, and minimization of his sexuality bewildered me at many turns, partly because I identified with his process.

I grew up worshipping movies and the actors in them. I haunted my local video store (yes, those were still around) to the point that full-time clerks would put together personal collections on artists I liked. The internet was still emerging at that point, so I would try to get an idea of who they were from the Entertainment Tonight-like gossip shows.

But at the same time, I grew up in Santa Barbara, California – a haven for celebrities hoping for some semblance of privacy. I think many American towns known for something usually have some sort of etiquette about their big identifier. Most of the people I knew and grew up with were raised to be polite to the celebrities and respect their privacy – but as a trade-off, they weren’t allowed to pull rank around town, either. They had to wait in line for their vanilla lattes, too. Celebrities, they’re just like us!

So it is with this mindset I mulled over Lee Pace’s coming-out process.

I first noticed him in Pushing Daisies, and immediately harbored a celebrity crush. I knew for years from interviews he was a very private person. And I respected that. Focusing on his work instead of him as a person would keep him being an observer instead of being “the observed,” which is more likely to corrupt the filter of the artist. As an aspiring actress, I felt the full truth of that.

Privacy means different things to different artists I especially appreciated that viewpoint a few years later, when I came up against a similar obstacle. I was shooting a (now-defunct) web series based on my life as an actress. We were taking a break before moving on to the next scene, and a crew member who was also a screenwriter mused on what the second season would cover. He had just learned I was bi a few weeks prior, and he suggested we weave a same-sex love interest into the second season to contrast the male love interest from the first season.

I came down on him with a hard “no.” Not every part of my life was writing fodder. And while I was pretty comfortable being out in my personal life, I knew it would be a whole other ball of wax being out as an actress – and broadcasting that on the internet. So I just continued to draw from my attractions and life story for any work that came my way. (It definitely made questions on if I was willing to kiss a woman in a piece or portray a gay character easier.)

Now I look back at that web series confrontation as a lost opportunity – I had had the chance to come out professionally on my own terms, literally writing my own script. (Plus it would have been good for conflicts on a storytelling level.) But part of my journey is having compassion for my former self and that she did the best she could at the time.

That said, I’m not working at Pace’s level. Pace works in Marvel movies and on Broadway – there’s not much room to hide in those arenas unless one goes to Garbo levels of seclusion.

But at the same time, I hate seeing things half-assed, especially when it regards visibility for a marginalized group. So when Pace was dismissive in his original interview about being queer, with the afterthought about why should anyone care about who he’s dating, I bristled. From the golden age of Hollywood to today, studios often promoted stars on their desirability – if a star was off the market, it affected their business. So nope, in the cosmic sense, of course, we shouldn’t care, but when a teachable moment like this comes around, to deny his sexuality was disheartening. It showed the many people who may be questioning their sexuality that it may not matter – who cares.

But we do care. And the story ran and ran and ran, giving more fodder to those who want to deny bis/pans/queers’ sexuality as invalid. And I’m not okay with that. Privacy is one thing. Being mealy-mouthed about it is quite another. The label argument may come up (about “not believing in labels”) but that’s never something I hear straight people argue about. (Unless I’m dating a fuckboy who doesn’t want to commit to a relationship – and I don’t have time for that.)

Also the “hurting careers” thing doesn’t work anymore, as we’ve seen many other actors. Bella Thorne, Margaret Cho, Meghan Fox, Alan Cumming and a whole host of other male actors and celebs have already done a lot of the legwork. I get how ten years ago it would have hurt Pace’s career. But that argument doesn’t hold water these days. And nowadays acting careers aren’t derailed by being honest about being non-straight. We are living in a time that embraces authenticity, so it’s great to see people own up to the queer people they truly are.

But then Pace finally tweeted about the importance of being out and counted, fully embracing his queer label. I breathed a sigh of relief, because I think now he is finally getting the bigger picture about visibility.


So I get it’s a tricky thing to balance. As my friend said, “On the one hand it isn’t your job to save the world by sharing the most private parts of your life, on the other hand I don’t think that you get to deny the harm you are doing by maintaining that privacy.” I think now that Pace is fully out, I will have more patience with him and his process. Hopefully others can learn from the backlash he experienced and fully own who they are.

Daisies grow best in the full sunlight, anyway.

Jennie Roberson
Jennie Roberson is a comedic actress and screenwriter currently living in Los Angeles. She just finished her first novel (a bi coming-of-age tale, naturally) and hopes to share it with the world soon. When she's not busy binging on Star Trek or dreaming of her future cat army, you can find her occasional thoughts between mountains of re-tweets at her Twitter handle, @JennieRoberson.