Celebrity gossip is a staple in the world of fame. Lately, however, speculating about people’s sexuality has crossed a line.
While not new, it has been happening more and more frequently with high-profile male celebrities. In a time of rah-rah feminism, smashing the patriarchy, and ending toxic masculinity, this act has become particularly egregious.
Engaging in rumors about a person’s sexuality, especially in such a public way, has never been okay. It crosses a line of privacy and can impede someone’s personal journey or their decision of when to come out.
This needs to stop, not only out of respect, but because it’s damaging to the fight for equality and acceptance.
Let’s talk toxic masculinity
At its core, toxic masculinity refers to the ‘toxic’ expectations society places upon men as the ‘more dominant’ gender. These expectations range anywhere from physical violence or intimidation, anger, and policing what kind of emotions boys and men are ‘allowed’ to show.
Toxic masculinity reinforces the gender binary.
It says that women are the weaker gender, defined by their high-level emotions, nurturing disposition, physical weakness, and more, while men are the stronger of the two, and expressing emotions through crying or affection is a sign of weakness.
This is part of why there is a specific history surrounding the discrimination of more effeminate gay men — certain portions of society did not see them as ‘real’ men.
What does this have to do with gossip and sexuality?
All three of the aforementioned celebrities clarified rumors about their sexuality because of how people perceived their actions or words.
For Egerton, it was because he called a male friend ‘cutie’ in an Instagram post. Mendes, meanwhile, admitted he sometimes leans more feminine.
There have been rumors about Jackman for years — because he’s charismatic, clean-cut, and, most importantly, a musical theater guy. It’s perhaps worst for men like Jackman, as the rumor also burden his wife and family.
Benedict Cumberbatch, for example, had to fend off nasty rumors about his wife and children being PR stunts.
Making claims about these people’s sexuality is essentially saying Egerton can’t show affection towards male friends without being gay, or Mendes can’t wear glittery eye makeup with Taylor Swift without being gay.
But that’s exactly the problem, and how people play into the noxious hands of toxic masculinity.
By speculating about their sexuality, we only reinforce toxic masculinity and, in turn, the gender binary. We stick people into boxes and demand they stay there, lest they want to be placed in a different box, but still a rigid box all the same.
We need to express ourselves authentically – and receive acceptance
Toxic masculinity poses real dangers — both to men experiencing it, and the people around them.
When boys learn to suppress their emotions, instead of channeling them in healthy and productive ways, they suffer. When they’re angry, they don’t cry or talk about how they’re feeling. Instead, they bottle their emotions up and in some cases, this can become violent.
Studies have shown women are killed by a romantic or intimate partner at disproportionately high rates worldwide. A majority of these partners are men.
If societal gender dynamics evolved and men had permission to cry, or be emotional in other ways, the statistics could change.
It can also affect men, not just due to consequences from their actions, but internally.
After Mendes gave Swift permission to post the video, he said he woke up in a cold sweat.
‘I was like, “Fuck, why did I let her post that?” I just fed the fire that I’m terrified of,’ he told Rolling Stone.
Accepting people for who they are, like Mendes’ occasional steps into gender fluidity, regardless of his sexuality, makes all of us better.
When we say love is love, we need to mean it unequivocally. We should embrace and celebrate love’s many iterations, whether it be familial, romantic, or, yes, a platonic love between two straight, cisgender men. When speculation takes over, it leads to disastrous consequences for everyone.
It can make those figuring out their sexuality or gender identity nervous to come out or fully accept themselves. It can make others self-conscious about the way they act, including showing affection or emotions, and pressure them to conform to society’s dangerous and limited expectations.
If we’re all about equality, and women breaking into places formally assumed to belong to men, we need to welcome men to ours with open arms — and without conditions.