Although he wasn’t the very first actor to come out, Ian McKellen has helped blaze a trail by revealing his sexuality, finding his greatest success in the likes of X-Men and Lord Of The Rings after that, and being very outspoken about gay causes.
Now he’s being talking about being gay to pupils at Acton Burleigh School in North London, with The Telegraph reporting that he told them that while he ‘always knew’ he was gay, for many years he felt unable to talk about it. He eventually came out publicly in 1988, when he was in his 40s, as a reaction to the homophobic Tory policy Section 28, which forbade the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by local authorities.
He feels that like many other gay actors, his skills as an actor were improved because he spent so many years hiding his sexuality. “There was no Graham Norton on the television at that time,” he said, “No gay MPs, no-one talking about gay rights on the radio. So I dealt with it my trying to cut that part of myself off, to hide myself, to choke a part of me. When you are made to feel you are so wrong for being who you are, that’s what you do.
“I think that’s why so many great British actors are gay – we spent so long pretending to be straight, to be someone else, that eventually we became very good at it.”
However while being closeted may have helped his acting, he added, “I learned that coming out was crucial to self-esteem. And I accepted the argument that people who thrived in society’s mainstream and had access to the media could, by telling the truth, help others in the backwaters whose views were never sought and whom society either ignored or abused.
“An actor is more protected than most. These days I daily make this point to anyone who will listen because, when I eventually accepted it on the BBC, it changed my life forever for the better.”