The Reality of Being a Successful Gay Actor
At some point or another, we've all thought, "Life would be so much easier if only I was rich and famous." However, the reality of fame isn't as nice as the idea. Celebrities have their personal matters discussed on the evening news, and must fight for their children's privacy. When you're an outspoken and politically active gay actor like John Barrowman, being famous brings with it both the joy of inspiring others, and the difficulty of confronting a world of hate.
Barrowman is a triple threat. He spent 16 years singing, dancing, and acting on stage in London's West End and on Broadway before making the transition to television. He's most recognized now for his TV roles, including Captain Jack Harkness on Doctor Who and Torchwood, and Malcolm Merlyn on the CW's Arrow. He's used his fame to draw attention to gay rights issues, working with the British LGBT rights organization Stonewall, and even appearing on a BBC 1 show called The Making of Me, which explored the genetic nature of Barrowman's sexual orientation.
At a recent press conference, I asked Barrowman whether he'd received any backlash for his activism, and his personal and political beliefs. Barroman said that, "There’s backlash all the time. The comments that were on the web after Scot and I announced that we got married were horrific." Even so, he emphasized that, "If [people] have the balls and the audacity to speak like that to you, whether it be online or in your face, you have the right and the audacity to comment back to them." Barrowman recalled a specific incident at one of his concerts. "These teenage girls were screaming 'We love you, John!' and [a reviewer] actually turned to them and said 'Jesus Christ, don’t you realize that he’s gay.' He said, 'I don’t understand why all these women like him because he doesn’t like women, he’s gay, so what’s his popularity.'"
Barrowman is dedicated to confronting bigotry head-on, whether it's in person, or online. When it comes to the internet, he believes that online trolls should be held accountable for their words, and not allowed to stand behind their anonymity. "The thing is, if you’re going to put a comment online that is vile and spewing hatred, put your screen name down," he said. "Give me the chance to know who you are, because if you don’t put a screen name, you’re a chicken shit. I say what I believe, speak my mind, but you know where you can find me."
In discussing his role as a public figure, Barrowman praised others in Hollywood for making the decision to come out, but emphasized that it's a personal choice. "A lot of them are coming out now, but there’s still those who won’t. Which is fine, because if you don’t I’m not judging you for not. That’s your business," said Barrowman. "It’s not our job to out you. That’s a very emotional decision for you to make, but I would hope that actors are not not doing it because of their careers." (Wentworth Miller, who came out last month in response to Russia's anti-gay stance, has recently said he waited because he feared how coming out would impact his career after his success on Prison Break.)
While Barrowman often comes across as a cut-up in interviews — which he really is — he takes being a role model for young people very seriously, and cites it as a huge motivation. "When I get letters from young people saying, 'I was ready to kill myself, because I live in the middle of nowhere, and I’m the only gay teenager at the high school, and I’m getting beat up, and I’m getting things thrown at me.' When they write to me and say, 'I’ve decided to be proud of who I am, and move forward because of what you said or what I’ve seen others do,’ that’s it," says Barrowman. "That’s one life changed, and that’s enough. We hope to change more."