Some celebs come out on their own terms, in a planned and controlled way, while others are sometimes unfortunately outed against their will. And then some actors kind of inadvertently and spontaneously out themselves. Such was the case for Jake Choi, star of ABC's raucous new hit sitcom Single Parents, when he opened up about his fluid sexuality in a recent interview with men's beauty and grooming site, Very Good Light.
"He just brought it up and I literally answered the question, not planning on 'coming out' or making it this big thing for my own self-indulgence. That's just what I am. And then we talked about it a little bit, and we moved on," says Choi, reflecting on the interview. "It was something that I would say to people when we were having conversations. I'd say to my friends, 'Yeah, that's how I identify.' I just don't feel comfortable or honest when I say I'm straight or gay -- I can be attracted to anybody, regardless of gender."
Though Choi obviously realized he was chatting with a journalist who would then write an article about their conversation, he says he was still a bit unprepared for the media firestorm that followed. When the story, most often tagged with the headline "Jake Choi Comes Out Sexually Fluid," immediately went viral online, the actor admits he experienced some major mixed emotions.
Choi is still processing it all, and admittedly struggling to feel authentic in both straight and queer circles.
"Being an up-and-coming actor and having that come out, I was low-key a little concerned," says Choi candidly as he sips organic CBD-infused green tea on the Sunset Strip. "I didn't plan for it to be a big thing. The article came out right after the show premiered -- and I love David [Yi, the journalist who wrote the article] because he was just trying to tell the truth. I think he did a very good job." But again, Choi says, he didn't expect that portion of the conversation to become a top trending topic the next day.
Vincent Rodriguez, Nico Santos, and Jake Choi photographed by Luke Fontana
"I don't even know if my mom knows," confides the Queens, N.Y. native who was co-captain of his high school basketball team. The first generation Korean-American actor says that although he is "very close" with his immigrant mother (who raised him as a single parent), the two don't always see eye-to-eye due to cultural differences. And he hasn't heard from her about the interview.
"We have not talked about it, and I don't plan on talking to her about it anytime soon... I think if she knows, she's not going to mention it. I don't even know if she knows what 'fluid' is. So maybe she's just like, 'Oh, he still likes girls. OK, cool then!' Then we're not going to talk about it. It's something that I'm still personally navigating."
Other than the precarious and continuing-to-develop situation with Mom, Choi says, "The reception was so positive. Everyone was so supportive. My friends around me, like my immediate circle, were so supportive. My show was supportive. The producers, the creatives -- Erin O'Malley, one of the producers and directors of the show -- she's queer and so she was so supportive. My concerns were dissipated very quickly. I will admit that I was a little worried."
Perhaps a few cynics might argue that Choi was a bit naive to think news of him being sexually fluid wouldn't become a hot topic under today's social media magnifying glass. Though the early-30-something actor (who often plays characters about a decade younger than himself) is hardly naive, there is certainly a refreshing openness and lack of pretension that adds to his infectious charm. This quality is also very present in Miggy, the 20-year-old unexpectedly single father Choi plays in the surprisingly hip and funny Single Parents.
The series is bold new territory for the family-friendly network, which focuses on a tight-knit group of single parents from varying walks of life. The talented, diverse cast and slick, often-racy writing have made the show an instant hit and propelled Choi to a new level of stardom -- and heartthrob status, as evidenced in the popularity of "Jake Choi body" as a Google keyword search. Certainly, the 6-foot, tattooed former athlete with chiseled features is easy on the eyes. Can you blame people for getting a little excited when his dating pool seemingly expanded?
The show's a breakout hit. Single Parents averages 5.4 million viewers, making it TV's number two new comedy this season for adults 18-49, behind only ABC's The Conners. It's eighth among the season's Top 10 comedies, and among women 18-34, Single Parents nearly ties The Conners for the top spot.
Choi's sexy but clueless single dad is part of the allure, but he's no overnight sensation. After a role in the webseries Steel Wulf: Cyber Ninja, he had small guest roles in some of the most popular TV series of the 2010s including Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Lethal Weapon, Mysteries of Laura, Hawaii Five-0, Broad City, and Gotham. He also had a three-episode arc on TV Land's popular Younger.
Choi is well prepped for TV success, but the media landscape might take a bit for him to thoroughly understand. Choi says part of his reservation in discussing his sexual fluidity revolves around the way people who don't completely fall into gay or straight categories are often misunderstood.
"I feel like a lot of people understand it better if you just say 'bisexual,' which is not the same thing, but it's like sometimes when people say, 'Oh, so you're bi?' -- I don't even want to argue anymore. It's just like, 'Yeah -- sure.' I feel like the term pansexual is a little bit closer. With me, I say fluid because it's always changing."
To Choi, being sexually fluid seems to simply mean open.
After identifying as straight without any doubt for most of his life, he says he began to question his sexuality and identity for the first time after playing a gay man in the 2015 queer romantic comedy, Front Cover. It wasn't the role itself but the barrage of questioning from the press about his own sexuality when he was promoting the film that led Choi to do some serious soul-searching.
"I feel like we're all conditioned. There are levels of conditioning. I have to work on myself too. I want to stay flexible... It's a daily practice, sometimes a struggle. I have to sort of fight against it and be conscious of what I'm thinking," says Choi on combatting messaging from his many machismo-filled years playing sports. "If you show any [sign of femininity or queerness], it'll get squashed real quick and shut down. I think that's a problem. I hope it changes, but it's going to be a very slow process."
Choi says he began to realize the power of that conditioning as he started to explore his own sexuality more deeply. He says during moments in the past, when he may have felt a physical or emotional connection to another man, "I feel like a part of my brain was like, Yeah, but shut that down."
Choi is also honest about his fears around bi, pan, and fluid folks automatically being perceived as promiscuous nymphomaniacs.
"Yeah, like, I don't really go out. I don't meet a lot of people, period. So, it's not like I'm going out trying to meet different people, different genders, and trying to date all around. It's like, in my mind, Cool. That's what it is. But in terms of lifestyle, not a lot has changed. I barely date. I just work, hang out with my friends. But now, mentally and emotionally, it's like, Oh, cool. I'm open to more than what I had grown up thinking was 'normal.'"
For fans of the rising star, fear not -- Choi has plenty of upcoming projects in the works to quench your thirst for all things Jake. During his Thanksgiving hiatus from Single Parents, he snagged a recurring role on Netflix's Eastsiders.
"It was great. The role and the series are very different from Single Parents. The role is different too. He's like this older, gay editor for a publishing company. I play one of the love interests to one of the main characters."
On the big screen, you'll be able to catch Choi in an upcoming Warner Bros. film adaptation of Nicola Yoon's bestseller, The Sun is Also a Star, costarring Black-ish star Yara Shahidi and Riverdale's Charles Melton. In the film (out in May), Melton plays a Korean-American teen whose girlfriend is about to be deported to Jamaica, and Choi plays his internally racist brother.
There's also an upcoming big studio 1980s revival comedy (details of which were still under wraps at press time). The work doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon, making this Korean-American actor another boundary breaker: an out, fluid Asian-American actor playing a single straight dad on a top 10 TV sitcom.
He plans to be transparent throughout his career, too. And Choi wants to make one thing clear about his learning curve, how much he appreciates the support he's gotten as he finds his truth.
"I do want to say though -- this is important -- when the article came out, a lot of gay outlets and LGBT outlets were so supportive, and they really took the story and shared it. It was very overwhelming and partly, because I'm so new to the community, there's a part of me that feels like an imposter. Because most of my life, my past, I identified as straight. Just straight. Just very recently, I kind of had to recalibrate like, what's the truth in me. So that's something that I'm still kind of dealing with."