Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
July 3, 2001

That's Myth Tom to you.
Author/s: Bruce Vilanch

Wouldn't it be nice if Tom Cruise really were gay and out and living in a nice two-bedroom condo just down the street from the West Hollywood Koo Koo Roo restaurant? God knows, I'd breathe easier. There would be a great echoing emptiness in a lot of other lives, however, judging from the number of people who have spent the past few weeks online and on the phone clucking and speculating and running scenarios. Even Robert Blake's real-life tragedy can't seem to muster enough muscle to elbow Tom to a back burner.

Yeah, it would be nice if Tom would just comply with everyone's fantasy, but I don't think it's going to happen. For one thing, I don't know any man who will claire to have had sex with him, except for one guy who allegedly claimed to and now says he not only didn't have sex with him, he didn't even claim to.

Without being immodest--watch this one--I hear about these things. That's what happens when you've been out and about for an eon. I think it's fairly impossible to be as famous as Tom Cruise and be gay and not have crossed my path. Unless he is the great white praying mantis of the gay world and has managed to kill everyone he has mated with, sooner or later somebody's going to talk.

Of course, they've been talking about Tom since he first danced out in Iris underwear in Risky Business some years ago. And the fact that we have wanted him to be gay for more than a decade has been translated in some minds into the fact that he is gay, which is, in fact, not a fact at all. That's what happens when rumors hang around long enough. They become myth. And myth is often mistaken for reality by a casual observer.

Which is probably why Tom Cruise sued a porno personality for $100 million. To explode a myth. Why now? Well, he's involved in a messy divorce, and nothing piques a divorce lawyer's interest more than a gay angle. I'm purely guessing, but it would seem to make perfect sense to want to short-circuit such a potential maneuver. A nine-figure lawsuit is a pretty strong circuit breaker. You've got to be fairly certain of your own truth to make that kind of declaration--or fairly naive.

What makes this particular declaration interesting and, in my mind, precedent-setting is that it goes beyond the standard "I'm not gay, and to call me gay is ugly and slanderous" rhetoric. It makes no judgment about being gay. In fact, it goes out of its way to say that Tom Cruise feels gay people have a right to pursue whatever sort of happiness they like. But it posits that large elements of the world population do not agree with that position and that they might be disinclined to attend movies starring a gay actor in a heterosexual action/romance role.

In other words, being out is bad for business. There it is. The great unspoken Hollywood fear, codified for the first time. It's the legal version of Jerry Seinfeld's "not that there's anything wrong with that."

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce "homophobiaphobia"--the fear hot of homosexuals but of homophobes. Someone has finally said that being gay can be a commercial liability, to the tune of $100 million. I'm glad someone has finally gone on record. I think it's a breakthrough, and I think it sets the stage for some brave star who really is gay to step out and prove that it isn't true.

Here's a prediction. I think that for this star, actual box office would be the least of his worries. Because he'd also need the support of every gay person in Hollywood, especially those powerful industry leaders who could help cushion the inevitable blows from a noisy rightwing minority.

To do that, we'd have to let go of our own homophobiaphobia--which would be the most positive thing we could do for ourselves. Maybe it would help us shift our focus from gossip to the real enemy, bigots like Jesse Helms who are trying to enforce court-sanctioned discrimination against us. Let's see if we can accomplish the real mission: impossible, instead of just chawing about a fictional one.