Cruise Control

Why Is It Libelous to Call an Action Actor Gay?

Of course, identification is only part of the problem. There's also the anxiety that arises when a gay actor takes on the aggressive persona of an action hero. A homo who holds a gun triggers the scariest straight-male fantasy of all: being raped. This nightmare is what animated the tumult over gays in the military—remember the shower-room panic? It's what haunts gay men who work with young people: the belief that they will force themselves on boys. This image of the gay predator is grounded in a system that measures masculinity by immunity to rape. Male melodramas like Oz show how central rape is to the straight fantasy of homosexuality. Say what you will about progress, but most gay men still shuffle (whether they realize it or not) so that straight guys can keep their fear of violation at bay.

Ehrenstein is convinced that just as gays have broken other barriers in Hollywood, they will soon be starring in action films. I look forward to Queer as Bond. But I won't call my liberation complete until straight men cease to fear me, and I'll know that time has come when a libel suit like Cruise's comes across as the consummate paranoid act. In the meantime, I'm intrigued by Ehrenstein's twist on a classic activist tactic. "I'm starting a new free-speech campaign," he says. "I think the words 'Tom Cruise is gay' should replace 'Have a nice day.' Take back those four magic words. Own them."

Tom the tort man
photo: Tristar Pictures
Tom the tort man

Research: Michael Corwin

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