The exchange between LGBT site Daily Xtra’s reporter and actor Tom Hardy, during Sunday’s Toronto International Film Festival press conference, is easily the most awkward thing we’ve seen this whole month.
Hardy was answering questions about his new movie “Legend”, in which he plays a bisexual man, when the reporter asked him: “In the film, your character Ronnie is very open about his sexuality, 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?”
In no time, grainy gifs of Hardy ‘shutting down’ this reporter with a curt “thank you” were sweeping the web. It all happened within the span of a few seconds, but of course, the moment lives on much longer in our newsfeeds. Even Daily Xtra, that feels it has a “responsibility to examine sexuality and the ways in which it’s portrayed on screen,” offered their own comment on the following day. Apparently, other queer and non-queer celebrities have in the past welcomed discussions about sexuality initiated by Daily Xtra reporters. So Tom Hardy was just an exception to a rule, and the reporter he ‘shut down’ was just unlucky.
But let’s look at the other celebrities Daily Xtra talks about. Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood are both out and proud, and have made it a point to clarify or talk about their sexuality with a very specific purpose. Susan Sarandon too, as a vocal LGBT ally, has made it her business to talk about sexuality-related issues. These women have also volunteered information pertaining to themselves and LGBT issues.
Commendable as that may be, we have to remember that not every queer person or ally is comfortable sharing information. And talking about your own sexuality should not be something everyone in Hollywood is expected to do.
Sure, the rationale behind the reporter’s question seems to be that the more celebrities talking about these things, the less stigma and less hate there will be surrounding LGBT identities. But given that Hardy has been ambiguous about his sexuality, wasn’t the reporter’s question just a tad bit intrusive? It was neither well-framed not particularly related to Hardy’s role, and seemed to be pulling towards a more gossipy direction.
What complicates this further is the comments Hardy has made in the past, in reference to experimentation and his discomfort with the gender binary. In 2008, Hardy’s comments to Attitude Magazine suggested that “he wasn’t always one thousand percent heterosexual”. Two years later, the Daily Mail reported him as saying “I feel intrinsically feminine. I’d love to be one of the boys but I always felt a bit on the outside.” These comments alone make him a very interesting figure for contemporary queer culture and politics, but Hardy’s just isn’t interested in talking about these things in 2015.
Discussions about sexuality are pretty sensitive, and need to be approached as such. They should be welcoming and accepting, but they shouldn’t be intrusive. And they shouldn’t place on specific individuals the burden of educating others. Maybe the reporter would’ve had better luck getting the actor’s opinions on the portrayal of sexuality on screen. That seems like a safe-enough, fairly open entry point, right?