The internet has been buzzing recently about comments actor Andrew Garfield made about being "a gay man right now, just without the physical act", because he has been watching RuPaul's Drag Race. Garfield is currently playing the character of Prior Walters, a gay man living with AIDS, in Tony Kushner's theater production of Angels in America, and he made the controversial comments during a panel discussion of the play. Although some have come to Garfield's defense suggesting that he's an ally of the LGBTQ community who was making a joke or misspoke, Garfield's comments are problematic as they perpetuate stereotypes that have long hindered gay men and women.
While discussing how he prepared for the role, Garfield explained that he wanted to do justice to his friends in the gay community and to those he didn't know personally, and that he watched numerous documentaries and did research into what it was like being a gay American. However, the conversation took a turn when he joked about what shows he watched in particular.
"Every season of RuPaul's Drag Race," Garfield said of his efforts to prepare for his role. "Every Sunday I would have eight friends over and we would watch Ru... That's my life outside of this play. I am a gay man right now, just without the physical act — that's all."
Garfield also clarified that he does not identify as gay. The actor explained,
"As far as I know, I am not a gay man. Maybe I'll have an awakening later in my life, which I'm sure will be wonderful and I'll get to explore that part of the garden, but right now I'm secluded to my area, which is wonderful, as well."
Bustle has reached out to a rep for Garfield for additional comment, but did not receive a response at the time of publication.
I personally am a gay man who has never seen a full episode of RuPaul's Drag Race. I absolutely recognize that the show has a large gay fan base, and RuPaul has rightfully become something of an icon among the LGBTQ community. Not watching the show doesn't make me any less gay, though, just as watching the show doesn't make someone gay. And therein lies the problem with what Garfield said — the implication that watching a certain kind of entertainment means you're gay, or that if you're gay you must enjoy a certain kind of program.
Being gay isn't a choice, and there absolutely is not a switch that can be flipped that will turn someone gay. Taken out of context, Garfield's comments chip away at the notion that being gay is not a choice by implying that one can become gay by watching a television program, or that watching it means someone is gay. RuPaul's Drag Race is a show with universal appeal, and watching it definitely won't change your sexual orientation.
Comments like Garfield's are unfortunately rooted in the stereotype that all gay people behave a certain way, whether it be that we all watch the same show, or that we all look or behave similarly. This isn't true. Queer people come in all shapes and forms, and have a wide variety of interests and passions, just like everyone else.
To be fair, Garfield has been a vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights in the past, and I understand that what he said about RuPaul's Drag Race was only a small quote from an otherwise genuine interview. (You can listen to an audio clip here.) But as a cisgender gay man, I can't help but feel disheartened by Garfield's comments.
Ultimately as a straight man, Garfield won't ever fully understand the gay experience. He's unlikely ever had hateful slurs hurled at him as he held the hand of a lover or partner in public, he didn't grow up hearing arguments that he shouldn't be allowed to marry the person he fell in love with, and he probably never had to find the courage to come out to family and friends without knowing how they would react. These are just a few things that a majority of LGBTQ Americans experience in their lifetimes that unite us.
Many have called for Garfield to apologize, and I agree. I definitely don't think that Garfield is anti-gay, but if he truly is an ally of the LGBTQ community then this is an opportunity for him to learn from the response to his comments.