You may be surprised to learn what Rita Moreno thinks about coming out. It’s an opinion she’s developed over nearly eighty years of working on stage and screen. It’s undoubtedly been influenced by everything from a long, tumultuous relationship with Marlon Brando to her recent career resurgence on the re-imagined One Day at a Time, which often deals with queer themes. And she’s telling it exclusively to Metrosource.
Things Have Changed
We spoke with Ms. Moreno, looking gorgeous at the premier of Every Act of Life, a film celebrating the career of playwright Terrence McNally.
“Terrence was always out. It was never a big deal to him. That’s what made him so special. He just was,” said Moreno.
When discussing who’s out and who’s not out in Hollywood, Rita Moreno expressed a viewpoint that is gaining momentum. “I don’t know that it’s an issue still. I think [eventually] people just will say: ‘Oh, God, leave [me] alone. … Why do I have to, you know, make it official?’ I think that they’re right. They should do what they wish. And that doesn’t mean that they’re afraid to.”
“If, indeed, they are out, that’s fine. And if they are not, it’s also fine,” Moreno continues. “It becomes such a big deal. Things have changed now. It should stop being a big deal.”
When Coming Out Falls Short
The idea that there ought to be no need to come out is a more common perspective in Europe. Yes, Europeans see it as important to provide young people with parental and social support regarding their sexuality. However, they are also on the whole less attached to the idea that people need to fit that sexuality into neatly pre-labeled boxes. This is one reason is why the term “queer” is gaining in popularity. It’s the closest thing to an LGBTQ label that is not limiting.
Moreno’s point about coming out is doubly wise. On one hand, we almost always advise young people against coming out if doing so will put them in danger. And on the other hand – in a more forward-thinking way – once being LGBTQ is totally accepted, coming out may no longer seem necessary as a political act.
In Every Act of Life, McNally points out another way that being known as openly queer can be limiting. He points out that calling artists like himself and Tennessee Williams “gay playwrights” can exacerbate how LGBTQ people are marginalized and defined as other. “We would never refer to Arthur Miller as a straight playwright,” he says.
In the same way that it is now illegal in France to collect data about people’s religious and ethnic backgrounds, we may eventually see it as equally invasive to be “counted” as LGBTQ. If everyone is guaranteed equal protection, coming out as LGBTQ may one day seem as relevant as coming out as right- or left-handed.
Counting the Cost
This is not to dismiss those who risked everything to come out. Many experienced ruptured relationships, societal ostracism, disinheritance, homelessness. Some were murdered. Others were driven to suicide. Thanks to their bravery, LGBTQ people’s position in society has improved greatly and fewer people face such consequences.
A number of new films at NewFest show stories that chronicle such consequences continue. One such is Rodrigo Bellott’s Tu Me Manques:
And Arantxa Echevarría’s Carmen & Lola also documents some of the collateral damage:
Coming Out and Family
In fact, a 25-year study on the impact of coming out on mother-daughter relationships found that participants in every relationship (except one) experienced some degree of alienation. Though many families got back on track, not all did. And for some, the fissures only widened with the passing of time.
Statistically – though more people tend to come out to mothers than fathers, it’s also worth noting that mothers tend to be more understanding of gay sons than lesbian daughters. We have personally experienced stories of mothers who refuse to believe it when their daughters come out. Some even attempted to manipulate them into more traditional relationships. Some of these women are clearly re-enacting their own trauma from being forced to conform to the expectations of their own families and peer groups.
When Rita Moreno Met Marlon Brando
When it comes to her own sexuality, Rita Moreno spent eight tumultuous years in a relationship with Marlon Brando, whom she refers to as “the lust of her life.” Sadly, his sex addiction prevented him from building a healthier bond with her. Ultimately, he forced her to abort a child they conceived together, and this plunged her into a deep depression. Moreno says she later learned he did the same thing to two other women the same year.
Friends begged Moreno to never see Brando again. And, indeed, their only reunion (and the only film they made together) was 1969’s The Night of the Following Day. Despite their rocky relationship, one can sense the palpable magnetism between the pair. It makes this film an unparalleled cinematic experience.
In 1976, Brando made some revelations about his own sexuality in the French media, where he knew he would face less censorship. “Homosexuality is so much in fashion, it no longer makes news. Like a large number of men, I, too, have had homosexual experiences, and I am not ashamed.” According to Brando, he bedded a long list of surprising Hollywood names. It was further demonstrating that the studies are correct: most people land somewhere in the middle of the sexuality spectrum.
The Wisdom of Experience
At nearly 88 years old, the ever-spry Rita Moreno is one of only 15 people to win all 4 of the entertainment industry’s highest honors: the Emmy (two actually), the Grammy (two again), the Oscar and the Tony. She’s also got a Golden Globe, a Library of Congress Living Legends Award, and many others.
It’s almost hard to believe Moreno started working in Spanish-language film 77 years ago. Nor does she seem to be slowing down. She has recently been executive producing and acting in a remake of West Side Story helmed by Steven Spielberg. And Moreno has also won wild acclaim starring in One Day at a Time – formerly of Netflix and returning on Pop TV. On the show, she plays the proud grandmother of queer teen Elena (Isabella Gomez).
But even with all this talk about coming out not being a big deal, Moreno recalls when this was not the case. “I remember a time when it was very important [to come out].”
That said, she also admits that it hasn’t hurt her career to be part of the pantheon of larger-than-life female stars who’ve become gay icons like Judy Garland and Cher during that time. “We did The Ritz on Broadway,” she says, remembering the Terence McNally-penned, gay bathhouse-set farce. “Oh my God – that’s where I got my gay following. I mean to this day…”
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Last modified: October 29, 2019