Gina Mei
September 15, 2015 7:40 am

During a press event for Legend at the Toronto Film Festival on Saturday, Graeme Coleman, a reporter for LGBTQ+ publication Daily Xtra, asked actor Tom Hardy a rather unexpected personal question.

“In the film, your character Ronnie is very open about his sexuality,” Coleman began. “But given interviews you’ve done in the past, your own sexuality seems a bit more ambiguous. Do you find it hard for celebrities to talk to media about their sexuality?”

To give some context, Legend stars Hardy as identical twin gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray, who terrorized East End London in the late ’50s and ’60s. While the majority of the film focuses on the twins’ rise and fall in the crime world, it also addresses the fact that Ronnie was openly bisexual.

“What on Earth are you on about?” Hardy responded.

The reporter went on to reference a 2008 interview with Attitude magazine, in which Hardy discussed experimenting with men in his past. (The actor has since said that the comments were taken out of context.) After some back and forth about what exactly Coleman was asking, Hardy said, “I don’t find it difficult for celebrities to talk about their sexuality. Are you asking me about my sexuality?”

“Um . . . sure,” Coleman responded.

“Why?” Hardy asked, before dismissing the reporter with a resolute “thank you” and a wink.

The exchange has received a lot of press, with many sources claiming Hardy was “menacing” or harsh in some way for his response. (Personally, I found him to be his usual amazing self; but feel free to pass judgment on your own.) Hardy is no stranger to fielding personal questions — particularly of the sexist variety — but this exchange is actually more complex than it seems, and it’s important we discuss why.

Let’s start with the obvious: It is never ok to “out” somebody, or to force someone into disclosing their sexuality if they are uncomfortable doing so. If someone doesn’t want to talk openly about their sexuality, that is 100% their choice to make. The choice not to disclose can be a matter of personal safety, and it is incredibly important that we respect a person’s right to privacy — no matter how curious we may be.

A large part of our obsession with celebrity sexuality comes from a societal obsession with labels; with defining people; with putting everyone in boxes. In a way, we feel an added sense of “ownership” over celebrities, by nature of them being in the public sphere: What is mundane in our own lives becomes interesting and news-worthy in theirs. (Stars: They’re not just like us.) There are countless magazines and websites specifically dedicated to this fascination with the famous; and even if we don’t actively read them, the onslaught of gossip is always in our peripheral. This lures us into a false sense of intimacy, and causes us to feel entitled to certain information — but there are certain topics that should be off limits, sexuality included. (I can think of a few exceptions — e.g., if a public figure’s actions in private have effects on the greater good — but these exceptions don’t apply to Hardy.)

It’s true that celebrities relinquish a certain level of privacy in exchange for fame, but that doesn’t mean they sacrifice all of it. Hardy doesn’t have to answer questions about his sexuality — or any other question about his personal life — if he doesn’t want to. Everyone is entitled to keep their personal lives personal.

At the same time, a celebrity coming out about their sexuality—on their own terms—can make a huge impact both in terms of representation and influence.

It’s worth considering why Coleman and the Daily Xtra might have asked such a personal question — and what its greater implications are about the lack of diversity in Hollywood. Recently, Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl and Elle Fanning’s portrayal of Ray in About Ray have sparked a discussion about why trans actors are so rarely considered for trans roles. On a larger scale, the lack of famous LGBTQ+ actors means that straight, cis people end up playing the majority of LGBTQ+ characters on the screen. And while the whole point of acting is that you get to become someone else (duh), it’s still worth questioning why marginalized groups are so rarely given the opportunity to tell their own stories.

The second layer to Coleman’s question, then, isn’t just about how Hardy identifies; but also whether or not he is a straight actor playing an LGBTQ+ role. (Which, again, Hardy is under no obligation to answer.)

It seems like every day there are new statistics that point to the obvious: Hollywood (and just about every other industry) has a major diversity problem. According to , heterosexual characters accounted for 88.9% of lead roles on TV in 2013. According to another report from USC, of the 4,610 speaking roles in the top 100 films of 2014, “only 19 were Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual. Not one Transgender character was portrayed.” LGBTQ+ visibility and acceptance remain as important as ever; and normalizing LGBTQ+ identities in popular media is one of the most effective ways to work towards achieving this. We deserve diverse LGBTQ+ representation in the media, just like we deserve diverse representation of all kinds. But forcing someone into publicly assuming any marginalized identity — no matter what that identity is — is not the way to do it. While our personal lives can inform our creative work, we should all be allowed to disclose as much or as little about them as we please.

Ultimately, it’s not our place to speculate about Hardy’s sexuality, nor is it our place to force a label on him. While Hardy may continue to field personal questions in his career—it comes with the job—that doesn’t mean he has to answer them. And regardless of what he does or doesn’t disclose, we’ll still be big-time fans.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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