JAKE BORELLI

Hay­ley Kiyoko + Cup­cakKe + Paris Hil­ton + Wanda Sykes

Gay Times Magazine - - CONTENTS - Gray Ham­ner Fash­ion Tyler Cun­ning­ham Words Sam Damshenas

In Novem­ber, Amer­i­can ac­tor Jake Borelli came out to the world as gay after his char­ac­ter on Grey’s Anatomy – sur­gi­cal in­tern Levi Sch­mitt – shared a kiss with Dr. Nico Kim after weeks of will they/ won’t they, which led to Levi ad­mit­ting that it was the first time he’d ever kissed an­other man. “I feel like I’ve been flooded with love from all dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions,” Jake tells us, still over­whelmed from the pos­i­tive re­cep­tion on his so­cial me­dia. “I’ve re­ceived so many mes­sages, I can hardly read them all. I sat there for like four hours and some of them were heart­break­ing, and some of them were filled with joy and ex­cite­ment. It was beau­ti­ful to see how brave all of the fans were be­ing with shar­ing their story. It truly felt like we were do­ing this to­gether.”

The 27-year-old, who joined the Emmy Award­win­ning se­ries in its 14th sea­son, didn’t know this was the story arc for his char­ac­ter when he first joined the show. “I think I, along with the rest of the au­di­ence, as­sumed Levi was straight. That was all the in­for­ma­tion we had, and that’s how I played him for the whole first year, just be­cause I wasn’t given any con­tra­dic­tory in­for­ma­tion.” Ear­lier this sum­mer, Jake was ap­proached by Krista Ver­noff (showrun­ner), who pitched the idea that Levi would ex­plore his sex­u­al­ity in the show’s 15th sea­son. “I took a step back and I was like, ‘Okay, how do we shift the back­story that I’ve cre­ated for Levi, and make this make sense?’ And I think we came up with some­thing re­ally beau­ti­ful and re­ally ex­cit­ing, and it’s a story I would’ve loved to have seen when I was younger. It’s a story that fits right into my own his­tory, and it’s very close to me in some ways.”

Even though Jake has been out in his per­sonal life for al­most ten years, it be­came ap­par­ent to him – after see­ing the out­pour of love from fans – that he had to be au­then­tic to, well, the world. “I re­alised that this was go­ing to be way bi—er than me and my own com­ing out,” he ex­plains. “I ad­mire peo­ple who run with the in­ner story of run­ning au­then­tic­ity and hon­esty, and I knew that at the be­gin­ning of my ca­reer, that I wanted to be one of those peo­ple. Now that I have this new plat­form, I was ba­si­cally like, ‘You know what Jake? You have to be hon­est, you have to be au­then­tic, you have to spread that.’”

Even though Grey’s Anatomy has had sev­eral LGBTQ char­ac­ters through­out the se­ries, most no­tably Cal­lie Tor­res – who boasts the hon­our of be­ing the long­est run­ning queer char­ac­ter in TV his­tory – the show has never had a ro­mance be­tween two men at the fore­front of a sto­ry­line, which makes this par­tic­u­lar story arc so his­toric. The se­ries is still gar­ner­ing over 10 mil­lion view­ers, a re­mark­able feat for any show in its 15th sea­son, which means Levi and Nico’s ro­mance is reach­ing a mas­sive au­di­ence. “It’s a huge tes­ta­ment to how many peo­ple this show af­fects,” says Jake. “I think that is what’s so spe­cial about hav­ing this sto­ry­line on this show specif­i­cally, be­cause it does reach so many peo­ple. Ev­ery­thing we’re do­ing on this show is af­fect­ing, not just the au­di­ence as a whole, but in­di­vid­ual peo­ple, very specif­i­cally in their lives.

That re­spon­si­bil­ity is not lost on me. I’m re­ally hon­oured to be in a place where I can speak to this many peo­ple.”

When his char­ac­ter de­buted on the se­ries, Levi had a one-night stand with Dr. Jo Wilson, Alex Karev’s main love in­ter­est. “I think Jo was one of his first sex­ual en­coun­ters and it was ex­cit­ing be­cause it was that, you know?” Jake con­fesses, before opin­ing that his new­found ro­mance with Nico doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean he’s ex­clu­sively gay. “What I’ve per­son­ally learnt from this process, you prob­a­bly shouldn’t as­sume any­thing about any­body’s sex­u­al­ity be­cause I as­sumed he was

straight. I would say he doesn’t even know yet at this point. He’s still learn­ing, he’s still grap­pling with his own sex­u­al­ity.”

De­spite the in­crease in rep­re­sen­ta­tion on TV (Pose, Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story, Or­ange is the New Black), Grey’s Anatomy is still well-known for be­ing one of the most di­verse shows on tele­vi­sion, hav­ing had nearly ev­ery cor­ner of the LGBTQ com­mu­nity rep­re­sented in some way – and Jake is ex­cited to see how this par­tic­u­lar ro­mance in­flu­ences Hol­ly­wood. “Grey’s has al­ways been this iconic leader in rep­re­sen­ta­tion and in the LGBTQ com­mu­nity in terms of rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and it will con­tinue to do that. I can’t imag­ine other tastemak­ers in the in­dus­try aren’t see­ing this and aren’t get­ting super ex­cited about it, do you know what I mean? We’re crav­ing di­ver­sity and rep­re­sen­ta­tion and dif­fer­ent sto­ries – sto­ries that weren’t at the fore­front of the nar­ra­tive.” Grow­ing up in Colum­bus, Ohio – which Jake de­scribes as a “fairly lib­eral city” – he was hes­i­tant about com­ing out be­cause the city could “run quite con­ser­va­tive”. He knew he was gay from the age of 14, but not know­ing how his fam­ily or his friends at school would re­act to his com­ing out, Jake de­cided to stay in the closet un­til he was 17 – when he chose to come out to his best friend. “Her and I kept this se­cret for ba­si­cally all of se­nior year. I think a lot of what kept me sane and feel­ing not alone in that en­vi­ron­ment was hav­ing her to be a sound­ing board, and to be a very strong force of sup­port in my life.” He also chose to hide his sex­u­al­ity due to the neg­a­tive por­tray­als of com­ing out sto­ries he saw in the me­dia. “Peo­ple came out, and it didn’t work out for them, and those sto­ries scared me, which I think is why I was so ex­cited about this Levi story, that brings some hope into it,” he re­veals. How­ever, Jake cred­its Kris Colfer’s com­ing out story on Glee as some­thing that was “very beau­ti­ful” to him, es­pe­cially be­cause the sto­ry­line aired when he started act­ing pro­fes­sion­ally. “I saw this guy on one of the best tele­vi­sion shows at the time, un­apolo­get­i­cally be­ing him­self.” An­other tele­vi­sion se­ries that had a pro­found im­pact on Jake was the Cana­dian drama, De­grassi: The Next Gen­er­a­tion, which of­ten touched upon top­ics such as sex­u­al­ity, body image and men­tal health. “It was one of the only times I felt truly rep­re­sented. Even look­ing back on it, I’m not even sure what the char­ac­ters were, but th­ese were gay high school­ers who re­ally im­pacted me.”

As well as be­ing able to con­fide in his best friend, Jake was able to meet other queer youth on a chat site called the GYC, which was a “huge and im­por­tant source of sup­port” in his life be­cause he could dis­cuss his own jour­ney with other like-minded peo­ple. “That was life-chang­ing for me, and I know a lot of other gay peo­ple my age be­cause it was a re­source you wouldn’t oth­er­wise have in ru­ral Ohio. That re­ally helped with my re­la­tion­ship to my own com­ing out.”

He also had the sup­port of his theatre group in Ohio and the guid­ance of his gay men­tors, who made him re­alise his sex­u­al­ity was noth­ing to fear. “I’m so thank­ful for the com­mu­nity that I grew up in. I wasn’t out of the closet and I didn’t know what was go­ing on, but to see them liv­ing their lives was some­thing re­ally beau­ti­ful. That to me helped so much more than any­thing I could even ask for.” De­spite this, he wasn’t ready to come out be­cause “there was all this fear wrapped up in it, all of the nor­mal fears of open­ing up and be­ing vul­ner­a­ble and not know­ing the out­come.”

When Jake turned 18 and fin­ished se­nior year, he moved to LA. After four weeks, he re­turned to Ohio and de­cided to come out to his par­ents. “They were so sup­port­ive and I knew they would be,” he tells us, before re­call­ing the events that led up to his com­ing out: “My mom was putting on clothes to go out and gar­den and my dad was lit­er­ally tak­ing a nap with a pil­low over his face, and I was like, ‘This is not the best time to do this, but you guys, I’ve got

“I think the next step is for the au­di­ence at large to be­come com­fort­able with gay ac­tors play­ing straight roles. ”

some­thing to tell you!’” My dad said, ‘Well I think I knew that.’ And my mom was very sup­port­ive. She started cry­ing be­cause she knew how hard it was for me over the past four years. After, I was like, ‘Oh shoot, I should’ve done this three days ago be­cause we could’ve had three days to sit in this love and joy.” He con­tin­ues fur­ther: “A big part of me didn’t tell my par­ents be­cause I didn’t want them to have to keep a se­cret for me, so I thought it would just be eas­ier on them if I didn’t tell them. But in­stantly, I felt the love and sup­port from them, and they’ve sup­ported me ever since.” After his move to LA, Jake pur­sued his ca­reer as an ac­tor, but wasn’t fully out dur­ing au­di­tions, so was never dis­crim­i­nated against for his sex­u­al­ity – but go­ing for­ward, he says this is not a worry to him. “At this point in my ca­reer, I un­der­stand that I’m a product in a way, and some­times when you are open about your­self, it changes the way that one would mar­ket you. I’m at a point right now where my own per­sonal growth and the per­sonal growth of the peo­ple who might look up to me is far im­por­tant to me than how peo­ple are go­ing to mar­ket me.” Jake, how­ever, is ex­cited about where the in­dus­try is go­ing with the in­crease in rep­re­sen­ta­tion and di­ver­sity, and wants to see view­ers be­come more ac­cept­ing of gay ac­tors in straight roles – be­cause if straights can do it, why can’t we? “I think we’re in an en­vi­ron­ment where the au­di­ence is crav­ing di­ver­sity, and the au­di­ence is smart enough to un­der­stand than an ac­tor’s per­sonal life is dif­fer­ent to what they’re por­tray­ing on screen. We have, through­out his­tory, straight ac­tors play­ing gay roles, and I think the next step is for the au­di­ence at large to be­come com­fort­able with gay ac­tors play­ing straight roles.” Jake con­tin­ues: “Right now, I think it’s im­por­tant to per­pet­u­ate the idea that peo­ple are not alone and that ev­ery­one is seen and recog­nised.”

Jake’s been out in his per­sonal life for nearly ten years, but since com­ing out pub­licly, he’s re­alised the great­est as­pect of the LGBTQ com­mu­nity is the sup­port we show each other. “In hard times, we push each other for­ward and I think it’s beau­ti­ful. Grow­ing up in the LGBTQ com­mu­nity is not an easy thing by any means, and when I look at th­ese peo­ple that I share this com­mu­nity with, all I see is strength be­cause they made it through. Ev­ery­day can be a bat­tle. We’re all in this to­gether, and just talking to you, I can see that we are the same.”

But with Tr*mp’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, Jake ac­knowl­edges that the rights fought for us by the older LGBTQ gen­er­a­tion could be di­min­ished. “The last hand­ful of decades, the LGBTQ com­mu­nity has come so far and sac­ri­ficed so much to take such large steps for­ward, and I can’t thank the men­tors and the gen­er­a­tion above me for all the work they’ve done. In this day and age, we’re com­ing up against some pretty se­ri­ous op­po­si­tion that is try­ing to push us back­wards. It’s a very im­por­tant time to be push­ing for­ward, es­pe­cially be­cause of all the men and women, and trans and queer and bi­sex­ual peo­ple who fought before us. We’re not just fight­ing for our­selves any­more, we’re fight­ing for all of the work that the gen­er­a­tion did before us. We de­serve the rights of ev­ery­body else, and we de­serve to love the way that ev­ery­body else does.”

This is pre­cisely why we need sto­ries like Levi and Nico right now, to pro­vide a glim­mer of hope for queer au­di­ences, that we can be rep­re­sented, and we can be heard. But will their re­la­tion­ship end in tragedy, ala Mered­ith and Derek? Surely we’ve (I’ve) cried enough over this show? “I hope that if we cry with this sto­ry­line, it’s tears of joy,” says Jake. “That’s my hope. I can’t prom­ise any­thing, ob­vi­ously, be­cause of the world that this takes place in. I hope that with this new­found awak­en­ing that he’s go­ing through, and th­ese changes he’s go­ing through sex­u­ally and emo­tion­ally, that he gains some con­fi­dence from this.”

Re­flect­ing on his sim­i­lar­i­ties with Levi, Jake tells us: “What I like about Levi is that any time he gets knocked down, he stands back up im­me­di­ately. He puts it all out there, and that’s in­spir­ing to me as an artist and as a hu­man be­ing, that’s how I want to live. There’s been a lot in my life and Levi’s life that has been hard, and I be­lieve get­ting back up on your feet and mov­ing for­ward, and that’s the en­ergy I want to put out into the world.”

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