GAR­RETT CLAY­TON

The Hol­ly­wood heart­throb and for­mer Dis­ney star opens up about his sex­u­al­ity for the first time since com­ing out as gay.

Gay Times Magazine - - CULTURE - Pho­tog­ra­phy Maxwell Poth Fash­ion Gabriel Lan­gen­brun­ner Words Daniel Me­garry

Ear­lier this year, Gar­rett Clay­ton made head­lines when he came out as gay. It fol­lowed years of ru­mours and pres­sure from the me­dia to re­veal his sex­u­al­ity – par­tic­u­larly dur­ing his role as adult film star Brent Cor­ri­gan in 2016’s true crime thriller King Co­bra – and closed out a chap­ter of the ac­tor’s life that saw him hide his true self in the pub­lic eye.

“The de­ci­sion to come out was fi­nally feel­ing com­fort­able as me,” he tells us dur­ing his first ma­jor in­ter­view as an openly gay man. “I just felt like, ‘OK, I’m fi­nally ready to do this’, and I think that’s the most im­por­tant thing to take away from this is that ev­ery­one has to do it when they feel com­fort­able. If you let some­one push you into some­thing like this it can be harm­ful if you’re not ready. That’s some­thing I ex­pe­ri­enced per­son­ally dur­ing King Co­bra, where it felt like a lot of jour­nal­ists wanted me to come out, but I wasn’t ready.”

While most queer peo­ple re­mem­ber feel­ing dif­fer­ent from an early age – many for their en­tire lives – Gar­rett has a spe­cific mo­ment where his sex­u­al­ity be­came ap­par­ent to him. “I was around 15 years old and walk­ing down the side­walk with a friend of mine,” he re­calls. “She was talk­ing about boys she liked, and she was ask­ing what girls I liked. I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘I don’t like any girls, but I think some boys are cute’. I didn’t say it out loud, be­cause I didn’t know how to put it into words and I didn’t fully un­der­stand it. It’s not some­thing they teach you when you’re grow­ing up.

“So that was my first rec­ol­lec­tion of be­ing like, ‘Oh, I’m into guys,’ and it was a bit of a struŠle, be­cause I didn’t come from a com­mu­nity that em­braced dif­fer­ence. I re­mem­ber vis­it­ing high school when I was still in mid­dle school, and there was only one out gay guy in the school – which look­ing back, was still pretty in­cred­i­ble for the com­mu­nity we were in – and ev­ery­one was freak­ing out like, ‘Oh my god, the gay guy is over there’. I didn’t re­ally re­alise at the time how aŠressive and detri­men­tal that kind of thing can be to a young per­son.”

By the time he turned 16, Gar­rett was ac­tively look­ing to em­brace his newly-dis­cov­ered sex­ual iden­tity, and would reg­u­larly make use of a fake ID to soak up gay nightlife on the week­end with an older friend, Ron­nie. He was the first per­son Gar­rett came out to, and played a big part in the young ac­tor’s jour­ney to­wards self-ac­cep­tance.

“We used to go out on the week­ends and I would use a fake ID to get into these clubs and bars,” Gar­rett re­calls. “I was try­ing to learn how to be com­fort­able with my­self, so he took me un­der his wing and was like, ‘Come out with me and my friends, you’ll be safe, you’ll be in a good en­vi­ron­ment, and you won’t have to worry about out­side fac­tors’. He’s al­ways been more com­fort­able with him­self than I’ve ever been, and I’ve al­ways ad­mired that about him.”

At school, he found it hard to fit in, de­scrib­ing him­self as a “very con­flicted” teenager. Like many peo­ple from the LGBTQ com­mu­nity, Gar­rett faced bul­ly­ing from peo­ple who tar­geted his sex­u­al­ity be­fore he even knew how to put a la­bel on it. “I’ve al­ways been a bit awk­ward, but I started to be­come more com­fort­able when I joined the drama club,” he says. “I think that’s when peo­ple started call­ing me gay; I didn’t come out, peo­ple just as­sumed. It was aŠressive in a weird way. I’d have peo­ple try­ing to bait me to get into fights in the hall­ways a lot, and even­tu­ally I ended up get­ting into fights. And while I’m not en­dors­ing fight­ing, I’m happy I did fight back. It’s funny, be­cause peo­ple make fun of the drama kids in high school, but then the drama club kids grow up and get to be in movies and on TV and sud­denly ev­ery­one wants to be their friend.”

He was later outed be­hind his back by one of his best friends, al­though he didn’t find out un­til his grad­u­a­tion party – “It was so non­cha­lant for the per­son I held clos­est at that time to re­veal some­thing that should have been mine,” he says – and though his ac­cept­ing mother was his “ray of light” while grow­ing up, his re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther and brother took a hit af­ter com­ing out at home.

“Be­fore my dad moved to Florida I kind of had a melt­down and told him, and he just hated it. A month or two af­ter that, when I was leav­ing my last day on the set of my first movie – which was a huge step for me, I was so ex­cited – he freaked out be­cause I was late. I came out to the car and he just started scream­ing at me, and it boiled up to him scream­ing at me about how he hated that I was gay, and he didn’t know what to do with me. It was this hor­ri­ble gut-wrench­ing fight right af­ter one of

my first big ac­com­plish­ments.

“My brother re­acted badly when I told him, too. I don’t want to put him on blast, be­cause he’s still my fam­ily, but I do feel that hon­esty in this sit­u­a­tion is im­por­tant. A few years ago, when same-sex mar­riage was le­galised, my brother was fu­ri­ous, and he went on­line post­ing about how the Amer­i­can flag was gonna be a rain­bow soon, like, ‘What’s hap­pen­ing to Amer­ica?’ And I re­mem­ber see­ing that and think­ing, ‘You have a gay brother, you id­iot!’ So I went on his Face­book like, ‘So wait a minute, you’re telling me that there can be some­one you care about in your life, who wants to im­pede noth­ing on yours, and just wants the same rights as you, and you would take that away from them?’ And then he blocked me.” It’s a rift that still hasn’t healed. “If my brother wants to re­con­nect with me, I wel­come it whole­heart­edly. I’m a big be­liever in peo­ple learn­ing from their mis­takes. But not ev­ery story gets a happy end­ing.”

By the time he re­lo­cated to Los An­ge­les, Gar­rett says he was start­ing to feel “pretty com­fort­able” in both his sex­u­al­ity and his own skin, de­spite his neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences grow­ing up. “I love my job, it’s my whole world,” he af­firms, but it was here, on the cusp of be­com­ing a star, that he ex­pe­ri­enced one of the “hard­est” de­ci­sions of his ca­reer: Go back into the closet, or risk miss­ing out on his dream.

“One of the first things some­body who was in­stru­men­tal in start­ing my ca­reer did, they sat me down and they said, ‘Are you gay?’ And I could feel the pres­sure of the ques­tion, so I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m gay, or bi, or what­ever’, be­cause sud­denly I could feel that there was some­thing wrong with that in this per­son’s eyes. They looked at me and said, ‘No one wants to fuck the gay guy, they want to go shop­ping with him, so we’re go­ing to have to fig­ure this out.’

“It turned into this sit­u­a­tion where I’d get calls and they’d say, ‘You still need to butch it up’. I lit­er­ally had to change ev­ery­thing about my­self at that point, oth­er­wise I was never gonna make it. And that was so con­flict­ing, be­cause here’s some­body of­fer­ing you your dream, but they’re telling you that you’re not good enough the way you are. You’re tal­ented, but who you are isn’t good enough. So they had me chang­ing the way I walked, the way I spoke, the way I dressed, the way I an­swered ques­tions. It got as petty as them say­ing, ‘Peo­ple need to see that you’re into sports be­cause they’ll think that’s more mas­cu­line, so why don’t you go buy a sports hat, take some pic­tures in it, and make sure peo­ple see you in it’.”

Un­for­tu­nately, this in­sid­i­ous ho­mo­pho­bia was some­thing that con­tin­ued long into his ca­reer. “There’d be calls af­ter I went into cast­ing of­fices like, ‘Hey, this is how gay cast­ing thought you came across to­day, so here’s what you need to do to fix it’. I even had cast mem­bers scream­ing drunk­enly in the mid­dle of a room, ‘Who here thinks Gar­rett is gay?’ and then yelling at me for not hav­ing come out yet,” he says. It felt “like be­ing back in high school” for the as­pir­ing ac­tor, and the self-suf­fo­ca­tion pre­scribed by those around him in­evitably took its toll, lead­ing to a pe­riod of reclu­sive be­hav­iour and de­pres­sion and, ul­ti­mately, ther­apy.

“I con­vinced my­self that I was the prob­lem, and I got into a re­ally dark place for a cou­ple of years,” he ex­plains. “Then I went to ther­apy for about a year and a half to re­ally sort through all the things I went through grow­ing up and the sit­u­a­tions I found my­self in while in Hol­ly­wood. I got to work through all those con­flict­ing things.”

As well as ther­apy, which helped him get to a place where he fi­nally felt con­fi­dent be­ing him­self, Gar­rett cred­its his long-term part­ner Blake Knight, a screen­writer he met while work­ing as a waiter when he first moved to Los An­ge­les, for giv­ing him the courage to brush off the big­ots and come out to the world.

“It’s been quite dif­fi­cult for us, with all the things I’ve been through, and he has been thank­fully so un­der­stand­ing of that jour­ney. He’s been re­ally up­set in the past with how peo­ple have treated me, and I’ve had a hard time stand­ing up for my­self to those peo­ple a lot. I don’t know if that goes back to me be­ing awk­ward or hav­ing con­fi­dence is­sues or just not know­ing how to talk about it, but I know that it’s some­thing he’s had a huge is­sue with. In the past, he’s been like, ‘Why do you let these peo­ple treat you this way?’ And that was some­thing I had to work through, learn­ing my own self worth, which is im­por­tant.”

In 2016, the for­mer Dis­ney Chan­nel star made one of the biŠest u-turns in his ca­reer by tak­ing on the role of once-un­der­age gay porn star Brent Cor­ri­gan in biopic King Co­bra. The film, which also featured turns from Kee­gan Allen, Molly Ring­wald and Hol­ly­wood’s most prom­i­nent queer­baiter James Franco, told the real-life story of the bru­tal mur­der of adult movie pro­ducer Bryan Ko­cis. It’s prob­a­bly the most ex­plic­itly gay role an ac­tor could take, but Gar­rett wasn’t wor­ried about peo­ple ques­tion­ing his sex­u­al­ity, even though he was still in the closet.

“That never re­ally crossed my mind, it was more the nu­dity I was wor­ried about,” he says. “I wanted it to be tact­ful in the way it was shot, be­cause I think if it’s gra­tu­itous, you’re watch­ing it think­ing, ‘How is this for­ward­ing the plot?’ Like, don’t make peo­ple get naked just be­cause you want to see them naked, that’s ridicu­lous. When I was do­ing that film, I talked to [di­rec­tor] Justin Kelly and the thing we agreed on is that ev­ery piece of nu­dity in the film had to for­ward the plot, oth­er­wise I wasn’t gonna do it. But yeah, I never re­ally cared about play­ing a gay or straight char­ac­ter, I think the fun is in the dif­fer­ences, and play­ing dif­fer­ent hu­mans.”

That brings Gar­rett onto an­other hot topic in Hol­ly­wood; straight ac­tors tak­ing gay roles, and cis­gen­der ac­tors tak­ing trans­gen­der roles. “I’ve had trou­ble get­ting into rooms be­cause peo­ple say, ‘Oh he’s not mas­cu­line enough’, but they’ll have a mas­cu­line straight man go­ing in to play a fem­i­nine gay char­ac­ter. They’ll give him the chance, but they won’t give us the chance,” he sighs. “So I think the whole point LGBTQ peo­ple are try­ing to make – and what I think peo­ple aren’t grasp­ing – is that once the play­ing field is even, and we get the chance to go up for any type of role we want, then it’s fine, we can all play dif­fer­ent parts. But un­til we’re all rep­re­sented, and we get equal op­por­tu­nity, that

“I’ve had trou­ble get­ting into rooms be­cause peo­ple say, ‘Oh he’s not mas­cu­line enough’, but they’ll have a mas­cu­line straight man go­ing in to play a fem­i­nine gay char­ac­ter.”

con­ver­sa­tion isn’t gonna be started.”

Does he worry that he’ll miss out on op­por­tu­ni­ties now that he’s come out as gay? “I’m sure there’s gonna be prej­u­dice out there, but I can only do so much as a hu­man,” he says with a shrug. As far as the next year goes, Gar­rett has a wide-rang­ing set of roles com­ing his way. In Be­tween Worlds, he’s a drug dealer who rides in a crotch rocket biker gang; in new Emile Hirsch movie Peel, he de­scribes his char­ac­ter as a “butch gay cheer­leader”; and his cur­rent project, Reach, sees him play a teenager struŠling with de­pres­sion and sui­ci­dal thoughts. The lat­ter is a role that he was in­spired to take on by two of the most dev­as­tat­ing mo­ments of his life.

“We spoke about the bul­ly­ing as­pect of Reach, but I think it’s also im­por­tant to talk about a fam­ily mem­ber of mine who com­mit­ted sui­cide,” Gar­rett says. “He hung him­self in the base­ment of a house that a large num­ber of my fam­ily grew up in. It de­stroyed us. There are still parts of my fam­ily that we don’t speak to – not be­cause we don’t want to, but be­cause we were all so scarred by it. I think it’s im­por­tant for peo­ple to know this story be­cause of how se­ri­ous these sub­jects are. That’s why I took on this role. I felt like it was my job to tell the story and to make sure it was han­dled with care and with truth.

“The other thing that I’ve never re­ally talked about is my friend who was killed in a school shoot­ing. She was chased by a man with a gun into the arts build­ing and he shot her and then shot him­self. I re­mem­ber at re­hearsals the night be­fore we had talked about hav­ing sim­i­lar dreams and want­ing to be ac­tors. No­body is ex­empt from these things, and it’s im­por­tant that we tell these sto­ries. I want her story told, be­cause she de­serves it. I want peo­ple to see this film and know they’re not alone, and that other peo­ple go through these things. I think it’s im­por­tant that peo­ple see we can get through this if we sup­port each other and if we love each other.”

Love is the over­ar­ch­ing theme push­ing Gar­rett for­ward now he’s joined the ranks of the very few openly gay ac­tors in Hol­ly­wood. The re­sponse since com­ing out has been “over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive” and “so ac­cept­ing” – es­pe­cially in con­trast with his ex­pe­ri­ences grow­ing up – and now he plans to use his voice to in­spire a new gen­er­a­tion of queer youth dis­cov­er­ing who they are. “We’re mov­ing the nee­dle for­wards in Hol­ly­wood with re­gards to LGBTQ peo­ple, but we’re not ex­empt from that prej­u­dice still be­ing out there, be­cause we still have to fight to cre­ate that equal­ity,” Gar­rett says. “I feel like it’s im­por­tant and it’s my job to join that move­ment and fight for that equal­ity, be­cause I don’t want any­one else to have to go through what I went through.”

“By the way, I have had other peo­ple in my life who love me just as I am. I do have that. My mom was won­der­ful. I don’t want you to think that ev­ery­one in my life was ter­ri­ble,” he laughs as our con­ver­sa­tion draws to a close. “But it’s im­por­tant to share the good and bad sto­ries, be­cause you learn from those things and they all ac­cu­mu­late to make you stronger.”

With a sigh of re­lief, he adds: “It’s good to get these things out.”

Groom­ing Si­mone for Ex­clu­sive Artists us­ing Skyn Ice­land and Bax­ter of CA

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