There’s no shortage of cautionary tales about young hopefuls arriving in Hollywood only to have their dreams dashed by the grinding gears of an industry more likely to exploit them than elevate them to the stardom they seek.
Colton Haynes appeared to be one of the lucky few whose story of moving to the West Coast from the Midwest ended with him landing starring roles on MTV’s Teen Wolf and the CW superhero series Arrow. However, as he revealed in an op-ed for Vulture, his success came at the cost of hiding his true queer identity — and sacrificing his own mental health.
According to Haynes, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting after modeling in New York — which included a shoot with his then-boyfriend for the gay magazine XY. Following a year of hustling and trying to find an agent, he finally booked a meeting with one. In his op-ed, Haynes shared that when he arrived for it, young men were cavorting in the waiting area and poolside. However, when the openly queer Haynes sat down for his meeting with the agent, it was made clear to him that he’d need to make some very specific changes to his affectations. “Why are you using your hands so much when you talk? And your posture is too … loose,” Haynes recalled the agent telling him. “‘We’re definitely going to have to change your mannerisms. They’re a little too … theater.’,” he was told. “Code for gay. I stood up straighter,” Haynes wrote.
This seemingly hypocritical double standard became a pattern, as Haynes conveyed. In the acting classes that followed, he was expected to strip down naked and simulate sex with another male actor. After the performance, Haynes said he was again dressed down for his visible queerness. “Of all the things that had happened to me in my life, I had never felt more demoralized,” he shared.
Haynes also recalled a time that he was paraded in front of an agent in order to “get him interested” in representing the actor. “Tomorrow on your lunch break, I want you to deliver some paperwork I owe him. You’re going to deliver it in a cowboy hat and an unbuttoned western shirt,” he was told. Haynes obliged, and despite the agent’s obvious attraction towards him, his queerness was once again used to invalidate his viability as an actor. “‘I’m sorry, but this isn’t working out. Your voice, your mannerisms — they’re still too … gay,’” the agent reportedly said.
This marked the end of that particular working relationship. However, as he walked out the door, Haynes was handed a card for rentboy.com with the suggestion that it could help if he was hard up for money.
Soon after, Haynes began booking gigs, starting with an episode of CSI: Miami. While he was finally achieving his acting dream, the pressure to remain closeted intensified. Haynes shared how he was encouraged to pretend to be romantically connected to women like Lauren Conrad and how his team worked overtime to try and suppress the XY photos he had taken in his modeling days.
Eventually, the pressure to hide who he was became too much for Haynes. “My mental health deteriorated, and I grew dependent on alcohol and pills. When a doctor suggested my secret was making me sick, I knew he was right. I came out of the closet in an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2016,” he wrote. “I hoped it would set me free, and in some ways it did. An outpouring of support followed. But people also published think pieces saying it had taken me too long; another gay actor implied the way I’d done it was cowardly. And incidentally, the work mostly dried up.”
While Haynes shared that he’s in a better place mentally these days, he also pointed out what a hypocritical place Hollywood is for queer individuals even today. “To be a gay actor in Hollywood, even in 2021, is to be inundated with mixed messages: Consumers are mostly straight, so don’t alienate them. But lots of the decision-makers are gay, so play that game!” he wrote. “Now that I’m older and sober, I’m trying to square who I am with the inauthentic version of myself I invested in for years. I often wonder how different things would’ve been if I was allowed to be who I was when I moved to town: a hopeful kid confident in his sexuality.”
While there’s no way to answer that “what if,” Haynes is continuing to pursue his dream. Next up for the actor is a starring role in the indie comedy Love...Reconsidered.