Why I Hope Darren Criss (and Other Straight Actors) Continue to Play Gay

Blaine sang so Damon can shine.

This week, Darren Criss announced he’ll no longer take on gay roles. The 31-year-old actor, who has famously played several queer characters including Glee’s Blaine Anderson and recently won an Emmy for his outstanding performance as Andrew Cunanan on The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, tells Bustle, “I want to make sure I won’t be another straight boy taking a gay man’s role.”

Many people in the queer corners of the internet praised Criss for taking a stand to create space for openly gay entertainers, while others were simply shocked to learn Criss is actually straight and engaged to his girlfriend of nearly a decade. Though I, too, appreciate Criss for acknowledging Hollywood’s ongoing representation problem and sacrificing his livelihood for us gays, I think Criss, Claire Foy, Eric McCormack, Melissa McCarthy, Timothée Chalamet, Rami Malek, and any other straight actor who gets offered a gay role should take it and slay it.

First of all, you’re an actor. It’s your job to play someone else and make us believe it. If I wanted to watch a movie where an actor just plays himself, I’d just watch Adam Sandler. Second, you walking in those gay shoes will help us to run (or sashay) later. Third, we can walk and chew gum at the same time. In other words, yes, Hollywood needs to look at its casting problem, but it also needs to work on its lack of creative storytelling. Lastly, if you’re an actor who wants to be an advocate and an ally for the LGBTQ community, don’t give up your damn seat at the table. Invite gay actors inside from the picket line.

Criss absolutely killed (no pun intended) his role as Andrew Cunanan this year. And did you see Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant as queer con artists in Can You Ever Forgive Me? Didn’t Rami Malek totally rock you as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody? All of these performances of real-life queer people are strong contenders for awards heading into the 2019 award season. Bohemian Rhapsody is now the most successful music biopic of all time.

Queer lives are being celebrated, recognized, and are making bank.

And with films like Love, Simon, Call Me By Your Name, Boy Erased, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post accelerating acceptance by furthering the conversation on coming out and conversion therapy, young LGBTQ people are being inspired and empowered to come out and love themselves despite the hateful rhetoric being spewed by our very own leaders. Yes, it’d be nice if those characters were played by actors from the queer community, but is it the end of the world if it’s Chloë Grace Moretz?

What’s also great about the latest queer-themed movies is that the narratives are becoming more nuanced. We’re moving away from the tired-ass gay best friend and confidant (mostly), and we’re seeing our contributions to society and complexities as humans. Shows like Will & Grace and movies like Transamerica ran, so Pose, Call Me By Your Name, and The Favourite could strut and death drop. We’re seeing nuanced gay characters who aren’t props, sidekicks, and punchlines, but protagonists who are owning their stories, helping young gays understand themselves, changing hearts and minds, and exposing viewers to someone who may not be exactly like them.

So what if it’s Armie Hammer in short shorts? We could do worse.

Yes, there’s much more work to be done. So if Criss wants to be an ally, he should wield his power and privilege to bring in diverse creatives to be in front, behind, and beside the camera when he’s given the platform—not give it up.

As NewNowNext writer Lester Fabian Brathwaite points out in his look-back at this year’s best in queer TV, “2018 was a banner year for queer television based not only on representation but the sheer quality of that representation.” Has there ever been so many choices across almost every entertainment genre and platform for queer audiences to “explore the entire rainbow of identities without feeling forced or contrived?”

Criss’ Blaine sang so Ryan Jamaal Swain’s Damon (Pose) could shine. Will Truman and Jack McFarland kissed so Kevin Keller (Riverdale) could cruise for cock in the woods.

This year, I spoke to many a filmmaker and actor about Hollywood’s representation challenges. Newcomer Hank Chen (Life Size 2) and Oscar-nominated Philadelphia screenwriter Ron Nyswaner both told me about the consistent need to justify having a queer characters in scripts in the first place.

“I am optimistic there soon won’t be a justification needed for an Asian person or a gay person in a script,” says Chen. “They won’t have to have some sort of trauma—unless it serves the purpose of the movie—we can just be allowed to be ordinary people, too.”

Thanks in part to the success of films and shows helmed by straight actors, we now get to have creators like Lena Waithe and Desiree Akhavan who are now creating space for others. So, no, Darren, do not pass up the next chance to play gay. Take it. You’re giving the community much-needed visibility, you’re showing our stories and our lives matter, and you’re creating opportunities for more of us to come through the door.

And honestly, our stories may not get told at all otherwise.

Lamar Dawson is a pop culture junkie and pop diva addict living in Manhattan. Follow him on everything @dirrtykingofpop.