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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.

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.

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.

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 
  • In The Birdcage, the openly gay Nathan Lane plays the gay Drag Queen Albert. On the other hand, his Straight Gay partner Armand is played by the straight Robin Williams.
  • In Boy Meets Girl, the openly trans Michelle Hendley plays a trans woman named Ricky.
  • In BPM Beats Per Minute, director Robin Campillo says he made a point of casting queer actors to play queer characters (although the sexualities of the individual cast members are not necessarily known).
  • In Deadpool 2, Negasonic Teenage Warhead is revealed to be a lesbian in this movie. She's played by the actress, Brianna Hildebrand, who is also a lesbian.
  • In Mean Girls, "too gay to function" Damian is played by gay actor Daniel Franzese but he only came out a decade after the release of the movie.

    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 rebooted Star Trek 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 gay actors Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz, respectively.
  • TV's first nonbinary character, Taylor Mason, is played by the openly nonbinary Asia Kate Dillon in Showtime's Billions.
  • Both averted and played straight in Arrowverse 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. Also played straight with Russell Tovey, who plays the gay Ray Terrill / The Ray. 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. Victor Garber plays straight and Happily Married Professor Stein but The Flash (2014) episode "Duet" features an alternate universe where he's married to a man. Gay villain Hartley Rathway aka Pied Piper is also played by bisexual actor Andy Mientus.
  • American Horror Story: Zachary Quinto in Murder House, Sarah Paulson in Asylum, Hotel and Cult, Leslie Jordan in Coven and Roanoke, Denis O'Hare and Matt Bomer in Freak Show, Lady Gaga and Cheyenne Jackson in Hotel, Billy Eichner and Colton Haynes in Cult all share the sexual orientation of their characters with a few exceptions (Lana Winter and Ally Mayfair-Richards are lesbians while Sarah Paulson doesn't label herself and Will Drake identifies as bisexual while Cheyenne Jackson is gay).
  • 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.
  • 13 Reasons Why has Ryan played by gay actor Tommy Dorfman.
  • In Gotham, Oswald Cobblepot is reimagined as gay like his actor Robin Lord Taylor.
  • Instinct stars Alan Cumming who is bisexual as the Happily Married, gay 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.

     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 
  • The show Hedwig and the Angry Inch has the titular character of Hedwig who is possibly a trans woman but could also be a very effeminate gay man. Hedwig is usually played by gay or effeminate males because of this. In fact, when the rather masculine Taye Diggs took over the role he was ripped to shreds by critics.

    Web Series 

    Western Animation 
  • 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.

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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