Ian Somerhalder: A Love Letter

somerhalderIan Somerhalder knows how to seduce us. Long before he played the devious and handsome Damon Salvatore on the CW’s The Vampire Diaries, he flaunted his sexuality in a pair of whitey tighties and made out with James Van Der Beek as the openly gay Paul Denton in The Rules of Attraction.

I was eighteen when Rules hit theaters in the fall of 2002, and it seemed like every WB (now CW) actor starred in the film: Jessica Biel, Kate Bosworth and, of course, James Van Der Beek. Actors I recognized not only because of their celebrity and frequent tabloid escapades, but as faces of my generation. However there was one face that was unfamiliar: a porcelain face, with cool blue eyes, dark hair and unnaturally rosy cheeks. That face belonged to Ian Somerhalder.

I had just come out of the closet when Ian flaunted his sexuality into my life. I was in complete acceptance of liking boys; however; the gay world was still this undiscovered frontier that only existed when I snuck into gay bars or met boys off of I was terrified of my emerging lisp and was still dealing with the ridicule I endured from attending a small private high school. At the time there were no Kurt Hummels or Blain Andersons, characters that showed what happened after you came out of the closet, and the revolution one openly gay boy was capable of inspiring.

But then there was Ian, who was a beacon of hope. Ian played Paul Denton as a character who was in complete control of his sexuality. Paul was in college, liberated from bullies and was at the center of his own world. He openly dated men, spent his free time doing yoga on the front lawn of his dorm, and made out with James Van Der Beek (note Van Der Beek played big man on campus “Sean Bateman” in the movie). Van Der Beek was still hot off the Dawson’s Creek fame, and was arguably one of the most profiled leading men in America at the time. To see these two men kiss on screen was jaw dropping, if not groundbreaking.

Ian’s portrayal represented a new world order. The tide was shifting for the LGBT community and we were being integrated into the mainstream media. I didn’t have to be afraid to openly hit on men or practice my downward dog in public. Ian taught me my body and sexuality were beautiful, amazing feats of biological architect, and it was okay to embrace it.

Then I read his comments about the kiss with Van Der Beek:

MCDRUOF EC011“Me and James Van Der Beek making out is not hot, it’s rather disgusting. We both looked at each other and said, “Dude, don’t stick your tongue in my mouth. It’s hot for some people…that’s cool. That’s totally cool. But it is what it is, and that’s what it is.”

The interview eventually led to Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair’s kiss in Cruel Intentions to which he replied, “Yeah, they did, but they are chicks and they can…that’s allowed. That’s very allowed”

I’m not going to dwell on comments Ian made over ten years ago to a now out-of-print teen magazine no one remembers. Since then he explained what he meant and cleared the air as well as some interesting tidbits about the backlash he occurred for kissing another man on screen. He clearly thought at the time being gay was “totally cool” and did not degrade anyone. Heck, the thought of sticking my own tongue down a girl’s mouth makes me nauseous, so it works both ways.

I didn’t see Ian’s comments as homophobic then, and I still don’t. However the comments shattered my illusion of LGBT acceptance in the new millennium. Rules of Attraction was this heavily promoted and extremely mainstream movie with a strong, sexually empowered gay character who wasn’t afraid to go for what he wanted, and here was the actor backpedaling and reinforcing the idea that gay was still counter culture. Ian’s performance embodied everything that made male sexuality appetizing: a naturally lean frame, striking eyes, and a confident personality. He was the ideal man, not an actor trying to make excuses for his craft. I cringe looking back at his comments because it was a missed opportunity for him to be a trailblazer like Jake Gyllenhaal, Darren Criss and Eric Stonestreet.

As it turns out, I was right about him embodying male sexuality because he’s gone on to play the hunky Boone Carlyle on Lost and is currently at the epicenter of the Fifty Shades of Grey casting craze as a contender for Christian Grey.

Now as I watch the The Vampire Diaries, Ian, aged ten years like a fine bottle of Jack Daniel’s, still captivates me. His performance as Damon is different than all the other mainstream fangs we’ve seen: David Boreanaz who played Buffy’s lover Angel as a melodramatic buffoon who was painfully out of touch with women or Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen who dazzled audiences with half-baked dialogue and a bubblegum haircut. Ian’s performance stands above theirs. He’s gritty, raw, and naturally masculine without coming across arrogant or misogynistic.

As this season of TVD comes to an end and Mystic Falls prepares for a ghostly invasion, I want to see Ian fulfill his destiny and become the trailblazer he was meant to be and push the boundaries of sexuality on television. Perhaps a kiss with his debonair costar Paul Wesley to rock pop culture at its core? Well, this boy can dream.

The season finale of The Vampire Diaries airs tonight on The CW.

Don't forget to share: