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Queer Character, Queer Actor

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"I've had to kind of volunteer to play characters that I can relate to because I didn't have any growing up. So the characters I've been playing [e.g. Callie] and am playing now [e.g. Kat] are characters that could've saved me when I was younger and questioning a lot of things. This representation is so important, this visibility is so important."

When the actor cast to play a queer role identifies in the same way as their character; i.e. Gay men played by gay men, lesbians by lesbians, transgender people by transgender people, and so on. Typically with the exception of bisexuals, who are rare, for some reason.

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This may have been in the past because straight actors didn't want to perform as gay characters. Whilst casting people of any sexuality or identity is now more common, it's not untrue that actual queer people usually can just perform as more queer than straight/cisgender people can. Casting somebody who identifies in the same way as their character probably means that they'll be more comfortable in the role than other actors may be.

This then extends to usually either all queer characters in a work are portrayed by queer actors, or none are at all. If you've got one actor who's gay you've got to make sure that the representation is equal and the audience aren't going to find holes in some 'gay' portrayals and some 'straight' within the same work. There's (or there used to be) also some straight actors who would be fine with performing homosexual scenes with somebody else straight, but not when they think that the other actor might enjoy it or be taking advantage of them. Thankfully, the Unfortunate Implications seem to have been discredited by The New '10s in most Western countries.

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The casting directors may not have been actually looking for someone queer to play such roles, but the actors were deemed best for the roles which may be because of the genuine portrayal. Note that though the actor and character may both be queer they may not identify the same way. In this way the trope may be downplayed or sometimes invoked because of the casting directors wanting an actually queer actor in the role and settling for whatever they can find. Queer actors playing a character who is queer but identifies differently than themselves is becoming more common. This is perhaps because of the "find anybody queer" rush to hit an unspoken quota, or because more actors are now out.

However, it is actually illegal in California for casting directors to seek out actors of a certain sexual orientation, or to even ask about it. This is due to the state's employment discrimination laws (though such practices previously worked against queer actors for decades). When this trope is in effect, it's usually because gay actors seek out these roles and can apply their personal experience to the part.

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Of course, this also works in the reverse: queer actors playing straight/cis characters, though this is rarer than its inverse, which leads to some questioning of Hollywood standards (queer people can only play queer, but straight people can play anyone).

Aversions are a very sensitive issue with transgender people; any cisgender actor playing a Cross-Cast Role for a trans character is likely to be criticised (as it conflates them, and by extension actual trans people, with crossdressing characters). Cisgender women playing trans women and cisgender men playing trans men tend to be better received (but may still be criticised for taking the role from the pool of trans actorsnote ).

Interesting instances arise when an actor comes out once already an established character within a universe, and then their character's storyline follows suit.

There is large real life debate over several occurrences mentioned above. Please do not inject opinions regarding such when writing examples.

Sister Trope of Disabled Character, Disabled Actor, and there may be overlap - but queerness is not a disability.

Related to Actor-Shared Background.


Examples:

    Film — Live Action 

    Live Action TV 
  • Orange Is the New Black features lesbian Samira Wiley as Poussey, and Laverne Cox as a trans woman. Then in season 3 Ruby Rose plays a lesbian though she is gender fluid (but uses female pronouns and dates women).
  • Glee has gay Chris Colfer playing Kurt. There are also other queer roles played by queer actors who identify differently: bisexual Naya Rivera plays the lesbian Santana, the gay male Alex Newell also plays straight trans girl Unique, and the lesbian Dot Marie Jones plays gay trans man Beiste.
  • John Barrowman is gay, and tried out for the role of Will in Will & Grace but the producers thought he was "too straight". His best known role is as Extreme Omnisexual Captain Jack Harkness on Doctor Who and Torchwood.
  • Trans woman Rebecca Root plays trans woman Judy on Boy Meets Girl.
  • Mrs. Hudson from Elementary is a trans woman played by Candis Cayne, who is trans.
  • Buck Vu from The OA is a trans man played by Ian Alexander, who is trans.
  • When George Takei came out as gay, a lot of people assumed that his most famous character, Hikaru Sulu of Star Trek: The Original Series was also gay. However, Takei has always adamantly denied this, and Sulu was portrayed as not only straight, but happily married to a woman and, in Star Trek: Generations, the father of a grown daughter who had followed in her father's footsteps. In the Star Trek (2009) film franchise — albeit after the dimensional... shift — Sulu is shown with a husband and daughter (Sulu here portrayed by John Cho).
  • Star Trek: Discovery features the franchise's first gay couple, Paul Stamets and Hugh Culber, played by queer actor Anthony Rapp and gay actor Wilson Cruz, respectively.
  • TV's first nonbinary character, Taylor Mason, is played by the openly nonbinary Asia Kate Dillon in Showtime's Billions.
  • Sean Hayes played Jack McFarland on Will & Grace but was not "officially" out during the show's initial run. When he "officially" came out in an Advocate article in the run-up to playing the gay title character in Sean Saves the World he took the position that he had "never been in". with the return of W&G Jack is at last played by an actor known to have a matching orientation.
  • The Arrowverse has a variety of queer characters played by queer actors:
    • Both averted and played straight with Wentworth Miller, who initially plays the straight Leonard Snart / Captain Cold from Earth-1 and then the gay "Leo" Snart / Citizen Cold from Earth-X.
    • Russell Tovey, who plays the gay Ray Terrill / The Ray, is also gay himself. In fact, Leo and Ray are dating. It's unclear if Ray's Earth-X doppelganger (also voiced by Tovey) was gay, as he's killed before this can be revealed.
    • Averted by Victor Garber, who plays the straight (and happily married Professor Stein, but the Flash episode "Duet" features an alternate universe where Stein is married to a man.
    • Gay villain-turned-good guy Hartley Rathway, aka Pied Piper, is played by bisexual actor Andy Mientus.
    • Season 4 of Supergirl introduces transgender hero Nia Nal aka Dreamer, played by transgender actress Nicole Maines.
    • Adult!William Clayton (Oliver's son) is played by gay actor Ben Lewis.
    • Ruby Rose plays Batwoman, a lesbian.
  • American Horror Story is notable for having many queer characters portrayed by queer actors:
    • Zachary Quinto (gay) as Patrick (gay) in Murder House.
    • Sarah Paulson (non-specific queer) as Lana Winters (lesbian) in Asylum, Hypodermic Sally (bisexual) in Hotel, and Ally Mayfair-Richards (lesbian) in Cult.
    • Leslie Jordan (gay) as Quentin (gay) in Coven and Quentin/Ashley (gay) Roanoke.
    • Denis O'Hare (gay) as Stanley (gay) and Matt Bomer (gay) as Andy (gay) in Freak Show.
    • Lady Gaga (bisexual) as The Countess (bisexual) and Cheyenne Jackson (gay) as Will Drake (bisexual) in Hotel.
    • Billy Eichner (gay) as Harrison Wilton (gay) and Colton Haynes (gay) as Jack (gay) in Cult.
    • Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman (gay) as Andre (gay) in Apocalypse.
  • In Scream: The TV Series, Audrey is Ambiguously Bi, while her actress Bex Taylor-Klaus is a lesbian.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer - although Amber Benson and Alyson Hannigan were straight actresses playing lesbians, Iyari Limon, who plays Willow's Season 7 girlfriend Kennedy - is bisexual. Gay actor Tom Lenk also played the gay Andrew Wells.
  • Following "The Puppy Episode" of Series/Ellen the lesbian Ellen Morgan was played by the lesbian Ellen De Generes. On her next sitcom, The Ellen Show her character Ellen Richmond was openly lesbian from the start.
  • 13 Reasons Why has Ryan played by gay actor Tommy Dorfman.
  • Several gay actors from HBO's series Looking play gay characters, including (but not limited to) Jonathan Groff, Russell Tovey, Murray Bartlett, and Daniel Franzese.
  • In Gotham, Oswald Cobblepot is reimagined as gay like his actor Robin Lord Taylor.
  • Instinct stars Alan Cumming who is bisexual as the gay, happily married Dylan Reinhart.
  • In Teen Wolf, Jackson was originally portrayed as straight, only getting involved with female characters. After his actor, Colton Haynes, came out and returned to the show after leaving some time prior, Jackson similarly became canonically gay. Incidentally, Jackson's boyfriend Ethan is played by gay actor Charlie Carver.
  • Trans actress Candis Cayne played trans mistress Carmelita on Dirty Sexy Money.
  • Laverne Cox was touted as the first series regular trans character to be played by a trans performer on Doubt. She also played sweet transvestite Frank-N-Furter on a television remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
  • Pose is the first TV series with all of its trans characters played by trans actresses.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine has bisexual Rosa Diaz being played by bisexual Stephanie Beatriz.

     Music Videos 
  • Stolen City's music video for the song "Faces" revolves around a transgender girl who is the victim of bullying. She's played by trans actress Jamie O'Herlihy. Ironically when the video came out, a lot of people didn't realise she was supposed to be trans.
  • Most of the actors/performers in the video for Mary Lambert's "Know Your Name" are LGBT+, like Sara Ramirez as the love interest.

    Theatre 

    Web Series 

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • Harvey Fierstein plays Karl in "Simpson and Delilah". Karl isn't expressly identified as gay but he does kiss Homer;
    • John Waters plays John in "Homer-Phobia";
    • Scott Thompson plays Grady in "Three Gays of the Condo", "Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words", "Flaming Moe" and "Werking Mom".
  • In The Legend of Korra, Janet Varney, who plays the title character, is bisexual, and in the series finale Korra ended up in a relationship with Asami.
  • Hey Arnold! has Mr. Simmons voiced by Dan Butler though his relationship with Peter is made subtle.

In-Universe Examples:

Live-Action TV

  • Parodied in sketch show Smack the Pony where a sketch involved two actresses who have to play a lesbian scene. The straight actress is queasy about it all and wants to get it out of the way as quickly as possible. But the gay actress keeps inventing excuses for reshoots.
    "No, I'm not happy with the way I did that. sorry! My fault! But can we do just one more take?"

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