Why was Ellen Page afraid to come out as gay?

With Ellen Page

At the age of 15, Ellen Page knew that she had a sexual propensity to women, and she thought that she was bisexual until she turned 20, when she became sure that she was gay and embarked on a romantic relationship with a woman, a fact that she kept secret for 6 years until February when she came out in an emotional speech at a crowded Las Vegas LGBT conference, splashing headlines around the world.

When I met Page in New York, where she was promoting the X-Men: Days of Future Past, in which she plays mutant Kitty Pryde, whose powers allow her to pass through solid matter, she said that being closeted all those years was excruciating. “It’s painful to not be able to fully express who you are,” she reflects. “I think it’s really toxic. You think of how 40% of homeless youth in America are LGBT youth. That is staggering statistics and you think of the depression rates and suicide and the struggle. It absolutely needs to change, and now the freedom I experience and what’s been lifted from me is…I don’t even have words for. Every aspect of my life feels better and I feel more excited and creatively inspired than I felt in a long time, so I am nothing but thrilled about it.”

The question is why would someone, like Page and other gay actors in Hollywood, endure so much suffering and go to a great length to deny who they are, in a town that is known for its liberal values? John Travolta and Tom Cruise were furious and deeply offended when Ricky Gervais insinuated that they were gay at the 2012 Golden Globes ceremony, as if he had accused them in committing murder. The following year at the same ceremony, Jodie Foster, who had lived in denial for decades, could hardly spell the words clearly when she made that nebulous coming-out speech.

The truth is that as gay as Hollywood is, it has to pretend that it isn’t. It welcomes and nurtures gay and lesbian lifestyle but goes to great pains to keep its dirty little secret from the heterosexual viewing public, a strict tradition that tinseltown has maintained since its inception. Some cases, however, blew up, like Rock Hudson, one of the biggest stars of the 50’s, whose homosexuality was kept secret until his public announcement that he had contracted AIDS in the mid 1980s.

Surprisingly, The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s had little effect on the secretive nature of Hollywood, inspite of the emergence of movies, like Midnight Cowboy, that began to push the sexual envelope and raise the issue of homosexuality, which was followed over the years with other successful gay movies such as Brokeback Mountain, Milk and Single Man. To this day, Hollywood still operates the same way with many actors’ and actresses’ questionable sexuality splashed across the tabloids as if it was a bad thing.

When Hugh Grant was caught cheating on his girlfriend with a prostitute in Hollywood in the early 90s, his popularity spiked and his image as a ladies man was cemented, because his act squashed the gay rumours about him. But when actors were caught with other guys, like Paul Ruebens or Rupert Everett, their career suffered severely. Hence, no wonder gay actors, like Page, who broke through playing a pregnant teen in 2007’s Juno,  fear facing the world with their true identity.

“I was afraid, which had to do with my career and what you’re told about that you basically can’t, and also your kind of own shame and your own growth what you’re dealing with as a gay person. But recently, I was done feeling like I couldn’t be myself. I was done feeling worried about it and afraid. I was done having to be in relationships and keeping them hidden. Yes, there’s been a lot of progress but there’s still total suffering and inequality,” the 27-year-old star stresses.

Hollywood insiders contend that the majority hetero viewing public won’t be able to relate to their leading men and women if they were gay, particularly when they play romantic roles.

Ironically though, in the last 30 years, straight actors, like Tom Hanks in Philadelphia or Michael Douglas in Behind the Candelabra, who inhabited homosexuals have been rewarded with the highest accolades. Meanwhile, gay actors struggle to get leading straight roles. Until there is a shift in people’s consciousness towards homosextuality, most gay and lesbian actors will probably remain in the closet.

“Hopefully people will continue to evolve and get rid of whatever issue they have with the LGBT community,” the Oscar-nominated actress says. “As a gay person, it’s hard for me to fathom why you would hate me because I am gay, so I hope that the more time goes on, the more people realise that we’re just human beings living our lives and falling in love, which to me is a very beautiful and rare thing, and why would you not want that for someone?”

For the moment the 5-foot actress is flourishing, with X-Men: Days of Future Past opening this month and starring roles in two indies in preproduction, Freeheld and Into the Forest, which she is producing, and a potential Fox studio franchise on the horizon. But the big question is how will Page’s revelation affect her professional standing in the long run?