The subject of our agreement is one Sean Hayes, famous for playing Jack in the long-running minstrel show Will & Grace. Mr. Hayes has always demurred when asked about his own sexual orientation, which is a stance I find defensible, if a bit wishy-washy. It seems The Advocate finally dragged it out of him.
Suddenly everyone wanted to know if Hayes himself was gay and how he felt about playing a gay character. Faced with the very real prospect of jeopardizing his chance at landing straight roles down the road, he started reciting stock answers, variations on what he told the Detroit Free Press early on: “When I play a gay character I want to be as believable as possible. And when I’m playing a straight character I also want to be as believable as possible. So the less that people know about my personal life, the more believable I can be as a character.” And Hayes never pretended to be something he wasn’t; he never walked some pretty woman down the red carpet or faked a straight relationship.
Hayes’s sexuality had become an open secret in Hollywood, but he’d refused repeated offers to be interviewed by the magazine, and the then-editors of The Advocate felt entitled to the real story. Understandably, that didn’t sit well with Hayes. “Really? You’re gonna shoot the gay guy down? I never have had a problem saying who I am,” he states.
“I am who I am. I was never in, as they say. Never,” he insists.
Fair enough, I guess. Frankly, it's not his private life I care about. But then, there's this:
Finally, Hayes gets to his true point: “I feel like I’ve contributed monumentally to the success of the gay movement in America, and if anyone wants to argue that, I’m open to it. You’re welcome, Advocate.”
Over to you, Denis. (Denis is Ms. Smith's assistant, in case you need me to connect those dots.)
"Mr. Hayes appeared for eight seasons on television playing an ignorant, insulting, stereotype of a gay man. The show itself revolved around two terribly disturbed people – Will and Grace – and their sick relationship. The show was popular with straight audiences precisely because "Will" (Eric McCormack) always seemed much more interested in "Grace" (Debra Messing) than in his infrequent boyfriends. "
And while Sean’s character, Jack, was supposedly cute and promiscuous, he was never shown ‘dating’ an attractive man. He was really much more fascinated with the bosoms of drug-addict/alcoholic "Karen Walker" (played by Megan Mullally). America could relax – there were no real homos here! Just a lot of ‘gay jokes.’ This garbage was continually lauded by the likes of GLAAD."
Bingo. (Well, fine. I don't agree that Will and Grace were "terribly disturbed." Just incredibly self-involved, shallow, insecure and increasingly boring as the series wheezed to a close.)
The character of Jack did nothing for real, live gay people. (You wanna know who did all the work Hayes is taking credit for? Ellen.) Instead, he perpetuated a stale, embarrassing stereotype, one that conformed to the worst expectations of the show's audience. Further, somehow he managed to be both promiscuous and totally non-threatening, so America got a view of gay men as sex-crazed without having to see the icky reality of a man actually behaving romantically with another man.
None of this really matters all that much to me, however. Will & Grace actually had some charm in its first season, before the writers (as is so often the case) took the characters' amusing quirks and cranked them to "11." I don't begrudge Hayes either his success or his privacy, and gay rights have moved on independently of him. But let's not kid ourselves that he deserves any credit.