Hollywood Lesbians: Harder Now (But Not Impossible) to Stay Closeted Forever

In Hollywood Celesbians: Then and Now, Winnie McCroy at The Edge traces the storied history of Hollywood’s homosexuals, from the era of Lavender Marriages to now, when the proliferation of blind items, crotch shots, and anything-goes catfights among alleged Hollywood lesbians found on Internet gossip sites may leave some longing for the Golden Age of Hollywood-a simpler time when stars kept their dirty laundry hidden, and only studio insiders knew who was gay and who wasn’t.”

Furthermore, pre-Stonewall, coming out wasn’t a viable option for ANYONE, let alone famous people. The so-called Sapphic “Sewing Circle” of early Hollywood included big names like Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Barbara Stanwyck, Isadora Duncan, Mercedes de Acosta and Marlene Dietrich, many of whom maintained serious lesbian lives away from the public  eye. (Recommended reading on this topic: The Sewing Circle: Hollywood’s Greatest Secret – Female Stars Who Loved Other Women — it’s not the best-written book ever but the information in it is seriously FASCINATING).

McCroy explains:

“While these women operated under the radar due to their exotic demeanor and a generally sultry image, others did so with the help of studio executives. Some, like Jean Arthur, managed to keep their female lovers secret by dating unknown women and living on the California coast, outside of the Hollywood scene and pursuant gossip. Other lesbian couples managed to skirt media scrutiny by being seen publicly with male couples, and letting the public come to their own conclusions about who was with who.”

In addition to increased media scrutiny, gay stars today are now encouraged to come out to make a social statement:

“… while there may be more stars today offering more access to their lives, one thing has not changed over the years; the fact that Americans look to their favorite celebrities to lead the charge on important social issues. Although it is generally accepted that rising celebrities may keep their orientation secret until they make it, many in the gay community heap scorn on established celebrities who are consistently linked with same-sex partners, yet refuse to make a public declaration of their orientation in a time when we are stridently seeking civil rights.”

Yet the article points out that despite this, many lesbian stars still prefer to stay in the closet. They quote Gawker’s Brian Moylan, speaking of Queen Latifah, who says, “Some of it is good old-fashioned cowardice, some of it is stars saying they won’t have a career if they come out, and some people just want to keep their private life private. This is ridiculous! You are famous! People talk about you! Sorry Queen Latifah, we’re going to keep talking about you fucking your trainer, and if you don’t like it, then don’t be famous!”

McCroy fingerpoints Jodie Foster and Tom Cruise as well as Queen Latifah. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg — there are heaps of other confirmed homos who will likely remain closeted for the duration of their careers. And even today, it’s really not that difficult to do.

Recently at dinner with my girlfriend and a bunch of older straight people, the name of a popular male actor came up and we remarked off-handedly that he’s gay, ’cause I think it’s funny to yell “HOMO” in a deep voice the middle of a dinner conversation. See, we live in a bubble where this man’s homosexuality is more or less common knowledge & an accepted truth — similarly to how we spoke of Lance Bass, Clay Aiken and Lindsay Lohan before they “officially” came out. Much to our surprise, that offhand comment was met with intense resistance rather than blithe agreement: How do you know that? Why do you think everyone is gay? Do you have proof? Just rumors? Where do rumors come from? It’s just gossip? Who told you?

And there’s the rub, kids: although it can be known within the Pink Mafia and their extended circle of friends, the rest of the world really doesn’t believe us. Why is it so easy for celebs to stay in the closet? Because as much weight as gossip mags are rumored to have, those outside of gay circles are resistant to believing their favorite actors & actresses are gay without “proof,” and homo-sources are discredited for “thinking everyone is gay.” We listen to straights give us the litany of reasons why not — “but he’s married!” “but they have kids!” — and it’s clear that all the closeting techniques employed by these queer superstars are, without a doubt, working.

The gay press in-the-know is encouraged to participate in the closeting game, ’cause outing celebs is:

1) A huge faus-paux, a la Perez Hilton, unless said closeted person is actively crusading against gay rights. And this is totally fair, because it is rude to out people.

2) Outing makes those-in-the-know sound like bitchy cooler-than-thou asshats, “Oh we know all this stuff because we KNOW people who KNOW people, you know, ’cause we’re the COOL KIDS.”

3) At the highest level, you risk major lawsuits, espesh from stars who are using the lawsuit-happy Church of Scientology to protect them.

But we have this theory that most rumors turn out to be true. Do you think celebs have a responsibility to come out? And is it really social justice that inspires fans to clamor for their female crush object reveal her homosexuality?


Desperate Houswives’ lesbian sub-plot debuted last night starring the Senator from The L Word (Dana Delany) as straight-so-far Katherine and Julie Benz as ex-exotic dancer lesbian “Robin.” The best part of the show was not actually the lesbian kiss, which was lame and passionless, but knowing the whole time that “Robin” (gayest name EVER) was a lesbo and no one else suspected it. Though last night was the first time we watched Housewives, our educated gaydars ensured an hour of suspenseful entertainent. Like when Lois from Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman thought Robin was trying to steal her boyfriend, and you could be like, “she’s a lesbian, fool!”

Here’s the lesbian part, lest you be subjected to an entire hour of soapy melodrama when Ice Dancing is on:

Apparently Katherine has just been released from the mental hospital, which’s perfect ’cause lesbians love crazy girls! Although speaking from personal experience, I hope Katherine doesn’t land back in the hospital, ’cause those nurses hover like flies during visiting hours and it’s very hard to maintain a solid girl-on-girl action schedule under such conditions.

Tila Tequila had a “show” in Australia and she sang “Like a Virgin.” She posted the video on her website along with another crazypants blog, which she signs “Ms (soon to be Mrs) Tequila.” That’s right, her and Rum Punch are shacking up.

Lohan speaks to The Sun about her “booze & drugs hell,” her arrests for drunk driving and cocaine, and how she knows her limits now:

“There are certain situations where I have obligations. There’s no reason to (drink) because I don’t want to feel like s*** in the morning… The thing is, at the times I was going out a lot and being seen everywhere, I would have been in college. My brother, who is 18, and his friends go out to bars and stuff till whatever time. That’s what you do in college. Mine was all in the public eye so it was magnified that much more. I’ve now learned my boundaries and I’ve been very good with cleaning house with people who I know didn’t have my best intentions at heart. A lot of people in LA are very self destructive.”

Inspired by Autostraddle’s article on Taylor Swift, YouTube user madinthemoon recorded her own version of Fifteen and it’s totally amazing. Mostly the part where she can’t go to the dance because she wears glasses.

Conversation between Music Writer Stef & Design Director Alex –

Stef: does riese know about this?
Alex: OMG we JUST watched it!
Stef: OMG
Alex: omg.
Stef: taylor swift is going to write a song about how riese was mean to her
Alex: Riese is SO SCARED cause she’s gonna get yelled at all over again.
Stef: oh yeah she’s doomed.

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3198 articles for us.


  1. Madinthemoon, will you marry me? That was the most amazing thing I think I have ever seen ever and also you are supacute.

  2. There is another very interesting book called The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood which traces the lives of closeted lesbian and bisexual actress from the 1920s-1940s. The book analyzes the relationship between Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo and pretty much any other dyke drama that took place back then. Good dirt!

    • I loved that book! It was like a lesbian soapie, and holy crap did Marlene Dietrich get around! They should make a movie of her life, it would have everything – pretty clothes, social commentary and girl-on-girl action!

      • Mercedes DeAcosta is really interesting too, me and my friend Haviland have always wanted to make a movie/play about her

  3. Taylor Swift vs Lady Gaga is like spoiled milk (it may seem good for you on the outside but really it’s rancid) vs Patron (PARTY!!!)

  4. Just bought the Sewing Circle book on amazon. Great rec. I love reading about that kind of stuff. Thx for the rec.

  5. I don’t think celebrities should come out if they don’t want to. Obvs it’s nice if they do because then we get (hopefully) positive role models and everyone can see we’re normal, etc. I think it’s better to do something like Johnny Weir who has never come out but doesn’t take pains to hide his sexuality.

    • it’s interesting that with concealed identities we tend to conflate “gay” sex with gay identity. particularly when politicians hide their sometimes inappropriate sometimes just homosexy actions, a la mark foley. communities on both sides want these individuals to “fess up” to their identities for any number of heavily partisan reasons. but gay sex does not a gay identity make.

      and with hollywood, it’s nearly impossible to come out as just an everyday gay and not have your community (which you may or may not even relate to) want to make a martyr of you. that is to say that, sadly, not all celebrities feel politically inclined, or even inclined toward defending their own civil rights. then of course there’s the issue of responsibility- that we pressure these people to suddenly become exemplars of a community that they may or may not represent very well at all. it’s a sticky, interesting issue.

      • Yeah exactly. It’s like the difference between queer because you sleep with diff people and Capital Q Queer, which implies involvement in Queer Culture – the parties, the pride fairs, the politics, the flamboyance. And some people (famous or not) may not want to be involved in queer culture/politics, and may not describe themselves as queer for that reason.

    • i have no idea what it is either, I just like the way it sounds. i think it has rum in it, and also punch.

      • I come bearing rum punch: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/bobby-flay/rum-punch-recipe/index.html

        And also to say that Tila is supposedly marrying the guy who supposedly got her pregnant because they are madly in love. She is also supposedly adopting a baby from Russia with the help from an amabassador and renting out a room in her house and quitting Twitter at least once a week. *CLARIFICATION FOR ALL*

        Okay, i swear I only know this because I do a thing on Tila’s twitter’s on Fridays, guys, i’m not a totally sad person.

  6. I posted that video on Facebook with the passive aggressive header “Younger sisters, take note.” Here’s hoping that I will no longer have to endure dinner table conversations that include the phrase “Taylor Swift is totally my home girl.”

  7. The best part of that video is that madinthemoon’s voice is exactly as good as TSwift’s. No wait the best part is the Miley/Taylor graphic. Or maybe it’s the hymen stealing. you guys i am so torn!

      • I don’t care about your lame rule of no comment awards for staff members. This is the best comment I’ve read in my life.

        • Speaking of which, are the comment awards even still around? I was so :(((( to see them gone last week.

          • Hmm, didn’t Lola do the HDYSTCs? And didn’t she also do that open TV thread about finding shows to watch and people suggested millions of things, all of which she promised to watch? Has anyone checked that she hasn’t been crushed to death under toppling DVD stacks?!!

        • I lost mine to the metal guardrail I was certain I could walk as a balance beam. Many dreams were dashed that day.

          • Spring Break 1998, I was visiting my (male) best friend from boarding school in Oklahoma… we loved each other and we thought it would be sweet, we went to the movies and saw Wild Things, and then had dinner, and then some boxed wine, and… no? Is that weird? Am I a freak? I am. I’M A FREAK!

          • Horses will steal you hymen just like a 15 year old boy, and then they won’t even buy you dinner or marry you. WHY ISN’T TAY SWIFT WARNING THE NATION?

          • Tay Swift is in league with horses, which are representatives of unicorns on earth. Every time a young girl loses her hymen to a horse (instead of a human), it feeds her magic power, which she needs to continue weaving her spell over the american public.

            This is why she doesn’t warn the nation.

    • That article was, like, amazing! I read through it, and I’m nodding my head in agreement.
      On a different note though, I do realize a major reason why teen girls in my country looove Taylor Swift so much, it’s cultural differences. 19-year-old girls in my country are still like girls and less like young women. Some of my friends actually like her songs because they relate to the lyrics. I’m not speaking for the entire population of 18,19 year olds in my country of Taiwan, but this is what I’ve observed in my college life. A lot of 19-year-old girls and boys, some are even 20, haven’t grown up yet. Maybe that includes myself, too, in some aspects. It’s the cultural background that we grew up in, and by reading articles from like Autostraddle or other websites of foriegn countries, I am seeing very clearly these stark differences.

  8. So, I was having a crappy day, feeling all sad and stuff, and then I came home, and I read this, and I don’t know if it’s that I have a lot of feelings on things like famous people coming out, or that amazing video, or just that it’s awesome here, but I am feeling much, much better now.

    So thank you for brightening my evening. (I did also have a cookie, but I’m pretty sure it was at least 80% this post.)

  9. Not a lesbian certainly, but Wesley Eure is an example of someone who lived an open life all except in the public (read TV audience) view. Everyone knew he was gay from as far back as the 70s when he was with Richard Chamberlain. But, as long as he walked his beard down the red carpet all would be well. He just came out last year and I had trouble, when talking to him, understanding how it could hold any further terror to “come out” – but it did. For him. Now, he’s relieved. But, I don’t think it’s quite the same as being on top of the game like Ellen when she came out – that was just too much for Mr. & Mrs. Middle America.

  10. madinthemoon, i LOVE you. and your wig. and when you-as-taylor realize that romeo and juliet, like, die.

    but i have to say! i heard that song on the radio before i even really knew who taylor swift was (yes, i live under a rock) and i thought it was about lesbians! i think it’s just because i kept missing / having selective hearing about the first line of the chorus, which got me

    “and my daddy said stay away from Juliet, but you were everything to me, I was begging you, please don’t go…”

    so clearly this singer chick is in ANGSTY TEENAGE LESBIAN LOVE with a girl named juliet.

    if only!

    • Aww, man, now I am filled with regret for the missed possibility that was teenagers around the nation singing angsty lesbian love ballads.

    • one of my best friends (straight) thought the song “she wears short skirts i wear tshirts” …and i don’t actually know what song that is.. was gay when she heard it. that she wasn’t cool enough for the girl she liked.

      so just saying it’s not just you.

      (what if taylor’s one of the famous secret closet cases?) that would be funny.

  11. While I do sometimes participate in the fandom slash-writing (and two of my fan men have come out of the closet) I sometimes feel like the “are they aren’t they” quabble tends to assume that you can be gay OR straight. Not bisexual, not asexual, not fluid, not anything else. It’s like if you don’t fit a pigeonhole we’ll stuff you in one.

    Also I find that it perpetuates the idea of queer people acting a certain way. Oh that guy is flamboyant and moves with a sway – OBVIOUSLY GAY. That girl has a short haircut and prefers flannel – OBVIOUSLY LESBIAN. Which then leads to horrible judgements being made against people just based on how they happen to look or act. School bullying, being left out of resources, being prosecuted in a country like Malaysia where gay people can be arrested for _existing_ (almost). It also makes it harder for queer people who don’t fit the stereotypes to gain respect when and if they come out, from either party (like the discussion about the lesbian bars and being assumed as straight).

    People do have their reasons for coming out or not coming out – a lot of it isn’t anything to do with “oh I’ll just spite the media/my fans” but because they keep their private life private. One of my best friends was a media personality for a long while and her policy was that her family and her partner didn’t ask to be famous, so why speculate on _them_? Some may still be in environments where coming out is detrimental. Some are still coming to terms with their sexuality and haven’t made up their minds. Some just don’t think it’s a big deal.

    So hey, until they come right out and tell me what their sexual preferences are, whether it matches their demonstrated behaviour or not, I ain’t gonna expect them to match my assumptions.

    • This. I get that all the time – I’m pretty femme-y, and people tend to be SHOCKED JUST SHOCKED when they discover I’ve been with a girl for almost 9 years!

      More anecdata: I used to work with this kid named Bobby – flamiest kid you could imagine. Blue hair, effeminate voice, loved shopping… you know. The other girls we worked with just thought he was adorable. Well, one day one of the girls went shopping with him and they stopped by Hot Topic. Bobby picked up a shirt that said “You say metrosexual like it’s a bad thing” and he said, “I should totally buy this!” My friend was SHOCKED JUST SHOCKED by even the insinuation that maybe, possibly, Bobby was straight! As one of our other coworkers said, “Kid’s sixteen. HE probably doesn’t know who he is yet.”

    • I couldn’t have put it better!!! I am lesbian and I have short hair, and I find it very annoying when one of my classmates got a very short haircut and confessed to me secretly that she’s afraid other people might mistaken her for a butch lesbian. I mean, WTF!? Short hair is just short hair, nothing is different or weird about having a short hairstyle.
      The sad fact is, a lot of young people in my country are acting like that. Some of them are like 13 or 14, and they masquerade around with their short spiky hair and men’s clothing and practically think that they are so very butch and lesbian. And when they’ve had enough fun, they suddenly grow out their hair and promptly start going out with guys again. These young kids are making the misunderstanding between straights and lesbians ever more complicated.

      • I grew up in Malaysia, and the more lesbian-ic flirtations I got were from very femmey girls! But I was too oblivious to actually notice anything, ahaha.

        But yeah, if you have short spiky hair and are a bit of a tomboy you get “LESBIAN!!” shouted at you. But if you actually were queer, woe betide you if anyone knew, because you’d be in deep trouble.

    • I think that argument would carry more weight if these stars were coming out as bisexual, but they aren’t, they’re making themselves known to be straight. I actually have no interest in anyone identifying themselves beyond “bisexual” or “queer” or “pansexual” or “ambisexual” or whatever, I’m not one of those “admit it you’re all the way gay!” people (cuz i hate it when people say that to me) because no one can know that except that person, and yeah sometimes there is another partner to consider. so I don’t think that assuming that they have to be gay OR straight is the issue.

      • I don’t know about that. Just before Darren Hayes came out people were speculating about him and a lot of fans were saying “but he had a wife!!” as though that meant all he could be was straight. And when there’s still a lot of bi-hate from both the straight AND gay community, when bisexuality is just seen as a “Game” rather than a legit sexuality, when trying to declare yourself as bisexual still gets you “oh, that’s not possible, pick one” – it’s not surprising that celebs just tend to pick one side just to make the whole deal easier.

  12. “Recently at dinner with my girlfriend and a bunch of older straight people, the name of a popular male actor came up and we remarked off-handedly that he’s gay, ’cause I think it’s funny to yell “HOMO” in a deep voice the middle of a dinner conversation.”

    It’s not really in keeping with the spirit of your point, but I’m still like “who? I want NAMES, dammit!”

  13. I’ll be interested to see how they crash a plane into the new lesbian relationship on desperate housewives. Her boobs appear quite capable of preventing any damage.

  14. Pingback: Hollywood Lesbians: Harder Now (But Not Impossible) to Stay Closeted Forever – Closeting

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