Culturally, we are obsessed with sexuality. We want to know who’s gay, straight, bi? Who cheated on their spouse in the bathroom of the Tony’s with some other straight actor but hello! The wife totally knows and doesn’t like it, but what’s she going to say?
I am as preoccupied as anyone; there is no high ground for this Panda when it comes to celebrities. However, in the real world with people I know and care about, their sexuality is none of my business. I have had some strange coming-out situations befall me, but never would I break those confidences to spread around some quick gossip. Even I have gossip standards. Even in high school.
When I was a rising young star on the community theater circuit in North Carolina, there were a lot of boys coming out. I would say almost one close friend per semester. These were rarely surprises. When I heard that Eric McGillis was gay, I was all, “Great, pass the Ranch dressing, please.” I mean, if you have ever been to Ham’s Restaurant in Greensboro, you would know that getting Ranch on your warm, house-made potato chips is much more important than someone’s sexuality.
I forgot all about the hottest gossip (though not about the chips) until I found myself sitting next to Eric at a studio production of Red, Hot, and Cole, a revue of Cole Porter’s life through his music. Before the overture began he nudged me and said, “Did ya hear? He took it out.” I was terribly confused and worried something offensive might be going on out of my periphery, when Eric continued, “God took the gay out of me.”
I was not familiar with this technique, so I asked for more details. He obliged, “I went to church camp and I went into a cabin by myself and I laid on the floor and said ‘God, I’m not leaving till you take it out.’ And after a few hours”, and lightning striking if I’m remembering correctly, “he just took it out. So I’m not gay anymore.”
I wasn’t sure if I was being hit on or just enlightened, but either way, I’m glad the lights went out shortly afterwards to cover the incredulity on my face as I tried to squeak out something like “Congratulations…!” and tried not to feel the palpable irony of what was happening onstage coupled with what was sitting next to me. Apparently, I was quasi being hit on; he told a lot of girls that story.
I have never forgotten that night or the mixture of incredulity and sadness I felt for Eric’s confused heart. Years later, when rallying against Proposition 8 was the thing for young progressive people to do, I was clicking through the photos from my own little hometown’s rally, looking for familiar faces. There was Eric, hugging his boyfriend. As I understand it, they are still together today.