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No, Luke Evans Is Not Your Pet Gay Action Star

Off the top of my head, I don't think I've ever watched a Luke Evans movie, though High-Rise has been on my 'to watch' list for a while now. But the English actor/heart-throb/fast rising action star has been knocking around the news and social media this week for reasons that are kind of bothersome. Or perhaps it just signals a major shift in the way we need to think about LGBT celebrities.

In short, Evans has been copping some flack for refusing to talk about his sexuality, after having come out all the way back in 2002. Remember that era? When Queer As Folk and Will and Grace were gaying up the airwaves, and several countries were first legalising gay marriage? It was still pretty damn brave and unusual for a big star to come out at the time. But Evans wasn't then a big star. He was a fresh-faced emerging name in the pretty gay-friendly world of theatre-loving London.

All that has since changed, and some are calling his sudden reluctance to discuss his personal life hypocrisy, now the sweet smell of blockbuster cash is in the air. But is this just what we can expect in a post 'It Gets Better' world?

Now tantalisingly close to being a mainstream star, mostly in action movies, the fact that Evans has achieved that status having lived his entire adult life as an openly gay man (to whatever extent) is pretty amazing. Sure, I'd like his biggest box office hits to be something more interesting than a Disney retread or yet another Fast and the Furious, but that's just where big, high-paying studio movies are at now. But being 'openly' gay while avoiding the topic? That's irking some people who'd like to see Luke in team colours on the field. It's not a new criticism either.

Look, I get it. Visibility is positive reinforcement and progress. But where does that expectation end? When is a public figure gay and visible enough? Why so much pressure to take up the mantle and 'represent?' To return to oft-quoted wisdom: Public figures are not public property. The fact that Luke Evans doesn't wish to discuss his personal life, or elaborate, or be hemmed in as a 'gay actor', or wave the proverbial flag, or marshal the Pride parade is entirely his business and should be the end of the discussion.

Yes, there are plenty of celebrity gays happily serving as role models, Instagramming their family photos, and rousing the fans for justice and equality, and that's great. But what if your personal lifestyle doesn't lend itself to that wholesome, friendly gay image? If you're a gay celebrity who prefers a life a little less, shall we say, 'acceptable' to Joe and Jane Middle America - who only just managed to get their heads around 'all this gay business' because 'they're really just like us' - wouldn't you want to keep your personal life out of the spotlight? George Michael was hounded and forced into being open about his actual sex life, not just his sexuality. Even though he later came to embrace that image, the damage had been done. What could have been the most spectacular pop music career anyone had ever seen was stunted for good.

None of that has any reflection on Evans. I neither know nor care what sort of personal life he leads, why he's made the choice he has, or even how much say he has in it. But no out celebrity is obliged to be a gay icon, or even court a gay audience. Two of my biggest gay creative heroes, Clive Barker and Bret Easton Ellis (and yes, I know I talk about them a lot) have never actively gone after the gay audience or overly focused on gay art. They picked us up purely through their sensibility and truth in their work. Ellis didn't even put a label on his sexuality until after his 6th book (in which he wrote a fictional version of himself, married to a woman). If that insistence on privacy or ambiguity somehow offends you, well...that's your problem, and it's easily fixed. Don't buy their art. It's not up to the artist to change.

We are all doing this in our own way, on our own time, and living with the rewards and consequences. Celebrities need and deserve that same freedom.


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