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Let’s Talk About Andrew Garfield’s “I Am a Gay Man … Just Without the Physical Act” Comment

Andrew Garfield, of The Amazing Spider-Man and The Social Network fame, is currently treading the boards at the National Theatre in London in a production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, playing the iconic role of Prior Walter. In a recent National Theatre Platform Q & A about the play, Garfield was asked about how he prepared for the role, and his answers were … interesting.

According to The Gay Times in the UK, when asked if he used outside research materials and resources, or if he discovered the character strictly in rehearsals, Garfield started by leaning really hard into the idea that he totally could be gay, you know? Because he’s super-chill. I mean, he’s not gay, but he could be, and it wouldn’t be a big deal.

His exact words were, “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. I adore it, but a big concern was what right do I have to play this wonderful gay role?”

He’s straight, and he loves the role, but he was concerned that he might have had no right to play it since he’s not gay. Boom. Point made. But like … that’s all he needed to say. All of the “maybe I’ll have an awakening later in life, which I’m sure will be wonderful” stuff? Totally unnecessary, and not even the most uncomfortable thing he wound up saying. Like, we get it. You’re cool with the gays.

In any case, he takes solace in the fact that Tony Kushner, the playwright (who also happens to be a gay man), asked him to play the role, so he feels a bit more at ease about playing this role that is outside his lived experience. To Garfield, taking the role “was as about doing honour, doing justice and knowing my herstory.”

But getting back to the preparation part, the rest of Garfield’s answer was even more baffling.

It started great, saying that the “preparation had begun before (rehearsals began) with a lot of my friends. (The play is) As much devoted to my friends in the gay community as it is those that passed during the epidemic.” Awesome. He went to his gay friends for insight. That’s where one should start if they’re going to learn about something they don’t experience themselves: actual members of the relevant community.

He continued, saying that a large part of his research consisted of … watching RuPaul’s Drag Race.

“I mean every single series of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I mean every series,” he says. “My only time off during rehearsals—every Sunday I would have eight friends over and we would just watch Ru. This is my life outside of this play. I am a gay man right now just without the physical act—that’s all.”

So … being a gay man = sex with men and watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. What?

Obviously, this is a brief Q&A. He was likely trying to sum things up while also trying to be entertaining and funny. But he was using surface traits based in stereotypes in order for the joke to work, and he is not a “gay man right now.” Being gay isn’t just about the physical act of sex, nor is it about watching a gay icon’s TV show. It’s about a history and a culture. It’s about everyday, lived experiences that have nothing to do with sex.

If he were playing a Swedish person in a film, I’m sure he wouldn’t say that he prepared by watching The Swedish Chef on The Muppet Show, you know?

It’s clear that Garfield is someone who gives a shit. I don’t doubt his good intentions. He cares about being thoughtful, nuanced, and doing right by marginalized groups. This is a rare case in which I think he tried too hard to be downusing words like “herstory” and talking about how he could very well be gay in the futureand that led him to saying some stuff that ended up being unintentionally reductive. He was overcompensating to show how okay he is with being gay, which in itself is a way one can “other” someone. As if gayness needed his approval.

To those who genuinely want to be allies: just … talk like a person. Talk about the LGBTQIA+ community the way you’d talk about your own, with respect for its diversity and nuance. In the case of Garfield, I would’ve loved to hear more about what he actually learned from his IRL gay friends, rather than a glib comment about how watching RuPaul’s Drag Race means he’s living such a gay life now, you guys.

(via Entertainment Tonight, image: Gay Times)

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