It’s hard to believe that a gay actor on a gay TV series broadcast on a gay cable network would have to remain in the closet, but that’s exactly what Darryl Stephens felt he had to do for the two seasons Noah’s Arc was on the air. Stephens recently published a memoir titled Required Reading: How To Get Your Life For Good, that chronicles his experiences as an openly gay black actor in Hollywood. His time on the hit Logo TV series, as well as other stories about typecasting, self-loathing and acceptance, is detailed in the revealing book.
In an interview with Salon, Stephens discussed how he and his fellow Noah’s Arc cast members handled the press at the time. When asked about the agreement not to disclose sexual orientation with the media, Stephens explained, “When we made Noah’s Arc, every interviewer was asking: Are the actors gay or straight? Now, with Jack Falahee on How to Get Away with Murder, we know straight and gay actors can play straight or gay characters. It’s less an issue for the press.” He went on to reflect, “The culture is changing a lot, and you are seeing 12-13 year-olds coming out. There is no way I could have come out when I was that age.”
Throughout his experiences in the entertainment industry, Stephens found out fairly quickly that “everyone has an idea of what we should look like,” and learned to have a thick skin about the portrayal of black gay men in Tinseltown. This has helped shape his perspective on respectability politics. During the initial debates about Jeffrey Tambor, a straight male actor, playing a trans woman in the hit Amazon series Transparent, Darryl found himself thrown into the fray of the online discussions when he was tagged in a Facebook post by an activist.
“Whatever part of the movement we are engaged in right now, we need to be sensitive to their experience, even if it’s the rich Republican who can afford all this plastic surgery. It’s important not to negate the things we don’t understand because we don’t understand them.” Stephens synopsized, “Ultimately, what I think was problematic with that activist including me on that Facebook post, is that while I’m not trans, I have trans friends, and I have done the work to try to understand that experience.”
The backlash Roland Emmerich is experiencing over his film Stonewall was also touched upon during Stephens’ interview. Seeing both sides of the coin, the actor-writer stated, “A white man imagined a story of a white kid who experienced this moment in history. Why is it always through the gaze of a white man? But we can only represent that which we can see and what we experience.”
Stephens emphasized the need for queer people of color to keep telling their stories.
“It’s the importance of all of us sharing our stories. If the black trans person doesn’t tell their story, who will? It’s hard for Roland Emmerich to tell a black, trans story if he doesn’t know anyone to illuminate the details of that. It’s more about storytellers of color and transgender and female and overweight and differently-abled folks telling their individual stories so they can share in that knowledge. It boils down to the legacy we each want to leave.”