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Katie Holmes, Beard Like Me?

Wooly Magnetic Beard Toy

Beards are magnetic!

If Tom Cruise is gay as rumors have persistently suggested, then Katie served Tom in the ancient and socially important role of Beard.

When a gay person needs to appear straight, having a straight date, beard-in-waiting or full-on lavender marriage  is a great sleight of hand. It happens more often than you’d think, and mostly because people are looking for a way out of some of the professional, civic, or personal prices of oppression. I’ve been one, and I’ve had one and many other  gay people (and their straight friends)  have been on both sides of the TomKat beard trimline at some point in their lives, at least in a small way.

Maybe you have too. Have you ever been a homecoming date for your gay friend from The Nutcracker so he could enjoy the iconic disco ball with his friends? Gone to a company banquet with a lesbian friend who wasn’t ready or able to come out without losing standing? Gone to a family reunion to help spare your friend from fruitless questions or disapproval from ancient aunts, with kickass potato salad as your only payment?  There are all sorts of motivators from simple social avoidance to the need for protection from serious job discrimination or safety while traveling.  It sad that it’s necessary, and hopefully won’t be for long, but beards are still in use.

The hard work of a brilliant publicist leveraging the beard or lavender marriage works especially well in Hollywood and in the arts. We look there for our stories, but we tend to forget that entertainment is a money-fueled machine battling complex pressures including the audience pressure on our celebrities to subjugate parts of their real lives in the service of our need for suspended disbelief. Ironically, the arts have been a welcoming home for LGBT creatives and contemporary culture is infused with a rich legacy of our work. Folks in the industry are very accustomed to keeping each other’s private lives behind the stage curtain and to leveraging the paparazzi in different ways. Though probably more common in the past, beards are still in fashion in Hollywood, for sure. Even Betty White has served as a beard, for Liberace.

So we are captivated by the TomKat divorce, even though we are pretty sure that something was fishy with that marriage, and it may have been that Tom is gay. The big question for me, and the reason I think we are fascinated by the next chapters for Katie and Tom, is: Did Katie know she was a beard?  I think we are tuned in because something about this fundamental question about truth and identity and complicity resonates for us.  If something was indeed constructed about that relationship, as a fairytale for publicity or to serve as a cover of some sort for Tom, did Katie know the full deal?

Probably she was  in order to fully serve her role, right?  But the public seems to like thinking that maybe she was duped, maybe Tom controlled her and manipulated her. Maybe he lied to her or to himself, and he thought their marriage would help him Scientology-away the gay. And that maybe Katie learned secrets late in the game.  But there are many other theories as well. Maybe she knew the entire deal, signed on for  five years of very lucrative business deal. Or maybe she knew, but was in love with him and thought she could change him, and the marriage was both real to her and fake on some level. Or maybe she herself needed a beard, too, in addition to a career boost. Maybe Katie’s a lesbian, and Tom is her beard. Or maybe they were friends who were very happy while helping each other succeed for the last five years, and we’ll never understand the connection they worked out, and what they did or didn’t work out in bed.

This is not a new puzzle. Rock Hudson’s marriage to Phyllis Gates was a classic lavender marriage constructed right as paparazzi rumors were about to break. She denies that she knew he was gay, but it’s been suggested by reporters that she not only knew the terms of engagement but was in fact a lesbian entering into a mutual beard arrangement.  We’ll probably never know.

I think we’re captivated with Katie and Tom because we are teasing out what all of those possibilities mean, and they all make us very uncomfortable.Because sometimes these issues are very personal, and we know people who have been beards or found out their parents were beards. And mostly because if the marriage had anything to do with hiding sexual identity, we know that it’s a function of oppression, and it reminds us of the people around us who have to hide in any way. We want to blame Tom for this, because if he is gay and he’s wrong to have a beard that would make us feel that things really have gotten better since Rock Hudson’s days. It does get better, but sometimes it’s complicated, and maybe we’re not all the way there yet.

Do you have theories about why Katie and Tom’s marriage and divorce have been fascinating to us, whether or not you think Tom is gay?

Check out my last post on Babble Voices: Coming Out with Anderson Cooper and Megan Rapinoe

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