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"In my film Adam & Steve, Malcolm

"In my film Adam & Steve, Malcolm Gets—who is openly gay, as I am—and I played boyfriends. I've always been out, but Malcolm hasn't been out that long, and I felt almost responsible for him. I was like, 'Do it! Do it! It's worth it!' And so he kept turning to me and was sort of asking, 'How does this work?' It's not easy and it's definitely very nerve-wracking, but the reason I had a career in the '90s in indie films was because no straight actors wanted to play gay. Now everybody wants to play gay, especially after Brokeback. It's a way for straight actors to show that they're cool and brave. So now we have to become producers and keep being creative. Chad Allen and Bobby Gant formed a production company, Mythgarden, and they're going into production in Mexico with Save Me, from a script I wrote. They play boyfriends who meet at an 'ex-gay' Christian ministry."

"I'd never really been in the closet, but my official coming-out coincided with the premiere of Queer as Folk. That made a very big splash: Time, Newsweek, People, The Advocate, Out, you name it. There I was, talking about being a cocksucker. You can't be part of a show like Queer and be in the closet: It was so unapologetic that I don't think I could have lived with myself otherwise. Sure, earlier in my career I had people telling me not to be out, but I always felt that it was more of a problem for them than it was for me.

"At first, when I was offered Emmett, it wasn't the role I wanted to play: 'Oh, great, I get to be the big flamboyant queen.' But then I realized how human he was. The arc of his emotions—like the involvement with crystal meth, or the funny-sad scene of having sex on a plane and the guy dying—made me realize that he was maybe the richest character of all and I was lucky to get him. I was incredibly sad the show ended, because I loved the cast so much, but I'm excited about moving on. I'm at the Sundance Actors Lab, in development with a film in which I play both a female vaudevillian from the 1930s as well as a straight redneck lumberjack—I get to prove my range as an actor. When it comes to casting, I really don't think all gay actors can play every gay role, just as I can also play straight roles. Just because I'm honest about my sexual orientation, I don't want to be deprived of all opportunities and want to be sure that that swings in all directions."

Asked if it's easier now for black actors to play gay—since the time when Denzel Washington advised Will Smith not to kiss any man in Six Degrees of Separation—Patrik-Ian Polk, creator of Logo's hit series Noah's Arc, says, "What it really boils down to is personal comfort levels. I don't think you can point to an existing case where someone's career has been damaged by a gay role. Everyone from Will Smith, Wesley Snipes, and Ving Rhames have done it and been successful. Sometimes we have this perception that it's damaging. My philosophy is, I want to work with fearless actors who don't care about sexuality: A role is a role. Luckily, there's enough of those guys out there, making it easy for me. On Noah's Arc, we have our out gay contingent: Darryl Stephens, who is Noah; Douglas Spearman, who plays Chance; and Wilson Cruz."

"When I was in L.A. in 1997, going up for parts, I always came off as a little tougher than the other actresses. I was always told to 'soften' my look. My hair was down to my shoulders and I had my little dresses—what more did they want? But it was never quite soft enough for them; maybe some tranquilizers or a lobotomy would have helped. Back then, Ellen DeGeneres hadn't come out and the sentiment was 'We know, but as long as other people don't know'—the Hollywood game. There are so many gays in the industry, but there's this gentleman's agreement: 'Just keep that private, not public, for the fans who have the crushes on box office stars. They must never know.' People still play gay characters and go on TV and make some ridiculous dodge from any personal questions. I always find it annoying with people who we're pretty sure are gay. They're such boring interviews because they never talk about themselves, walking on eggshells, trying to get through the interview with some sort of charm, which you really lack when you're hiding something about yourself.

"I did land one major movie without any of that audition weirdness: Sphere, in which I had four lines. It was really a very small part, but I've made quite a bit of it over the years about this film that didn't do very well, and I probably did more for the video rentals than Warner Bros. I talk about it in my one-woman show Los Big Names, which just finished in New York and which I'm touring. I self-produce, like Ani DiFranco, but for much less money. I'm very into technology: There's more opportunity for everyone who's a nonconformist to find an audience. If you have something that's great, you can now protect it legally and get it out to an audience on the Internet and get income from it. I know exactly who I am, who my audience is, and it's really hard when someone gets in the way and jacks up the price, or puts me in a location that nobody's gonna go to."

In the interest of fair play, we talked to a couple of heterosexuals, director Julian Hobbs and actor Jefferson Mays, who have dared to make a defiantly queer film, Memoirs of My Nervous Illness. Now on the festival circuit, it's a portrait of Daniel Paul Schreber, a German man who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and whose 1903 journal influenced Sigmund Freud's theory of homosexuality. Schreber felt he was innately female, and Mays' performance runs the transvestite gamut, recalling his Tony-winning work in I Am My Own Wife. Hobbs became fascinated by the subject and wrote a screenplay about it. Later, he says, "I saw in The New York Times this blip about a play about a German transsexual, so I went on opening night. I handed my script off to a stagehand, and Jefferson phoned me two weeks before we started shooting. I had another actor cast, but Jefferson literally came on board at the last minute."

"In regard to playing gay roles, a good story is a good story. I have no fear of being typecast, not in the least. I'm rather flattered by it, oddly: People can't pin me down. I've always felt like a card-carrying honorary homosexual anyway, because of, for one thing, my love of old movies, Busby Berkeley." After recently performing in Of Thee I Sing for City Center's Encores!, Mays says, "I feel that one could do nothing but musicals and be quite happy. My role was like Franklin Pangborn and Edward Everett Horton—they were my heroes. My God, so many hours with Netflix, watching Swing Time. There's so much of gay culture that I identify with and adore. I was really an only child—my siblings were much older than I—and I would dress up in costumes and parade around the yard by myself. Maybe that led to the one-man-show thing.

"My immediate thought about this movie was, 'I've found my niche: German transvestites of history!' After playing Charlotte von Mahlsdorf in I Am My Own Wife at Playwrights Horizons, my defenses were so down during the three weeks before it transferred to Broadway that I didn't have any hesitation. It was this SAG Experimental contract, an interesting story, and the lead role—my first stab at acting in a film in a part of consequence."

— D.N.

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