Skip to content
Who's in the Video
John Cameron Mitchell directed, starred in and co-wrote, with Stephen Trask, the musical film Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001), for which he received the Best Director Award at the[…]

Contending with discrimination and AIDS panic as part of the first generation of “out” gay people.

Question: What’s a situation in which your ideas about sexual rnpreference have been challenged or changed?

John Cameron Mitchell:  Well, maybe, you know, I grew up rnin a military, very conservative Catholic background and certain things rnare considered received wisdom and not to be questioned, and of course rnthat, you know, can be very comforting for some, but it sort of scared rnme.  And I knew I was different, in terms of my sexuality quite young, rnand having sort of an understanding that I probably deal with that rnlater, at some point, it was an understanding, that I wasn’t really rnready to do that until the end of college... which was, was a strange rntime to come out because AIDS had just hit, you know, and it was a rncomplicated time and life and death was involved.

But also I was rnvery excited about entering the world as an adult and a sexual being andrn someone who could actually be loved or love someone. Because I wasn’t rnreally into girls, so I didn’t really have that outlet or opportunity torn feel those things.  So I was like the first generation of people who rncame out, understanding that safe sex was important.  And people just a rncouple years older than me were dying, so, you know, even a year older, rnand it was very strange.  And I was an actor and at that time in the rnearly ‘80’s, you just didn’t really come out, you know, and still it’s rnvery uncommon for actors to talk about their sexuality lest they be rndiscriminated against and people think, oh, well, you’re gay so you rncan’t play straight, though if you’re straight and you play gay, that’s rngenerally a requirement for a major award.

rnSo I thought, it was a strange, you know, intensity about it, it seemed rnstupid to be scared and in the closest, you know, thinking about being rnin the closet when people were dying and Reagan was doing so little and rnit was a, again, it was people who weren’t exactly my peers who were rndying. So it was a very strange, but exciting time to be hitting your rnadolescence at, you know, at that very serious time.

And when rnyou, you know, when you’re young, you think you know stuff and you rndon’t. And about relationships, certainly there’s a, you know, you can rnread about how things are, how things go, and that’s our first way of, rnyou know, or now in a more, perhaps more visual, cinematic way.  You do rnyour research on what you’re supposed to, you know, what you’re supposedrn to learn about love, about life, about everything.  And you have these rnpre-formed opinions, and especially now, in this information age, rnthere’s a kind of false, false wisdom or predigested kind of, "Well, rnwhat do you think?"  You know, and it’s like your comment on the, you rnknow, post a comment on... “Will North Korea attack? You vote!”  You rnknow, and it’s like this sort of false, kind of like, knowledge that rnpeople foist on you and you’re supposed to have it, you know, you’re on rnFacebook and you’re supposed to know your sexual orientation at 13.  rnIt’s like, I, nobody really knows what’s going on at that time and rnpeople seem to, you know, seem to know stuff or they have to act like rnthey do, and they make decisions before they really need to and it’s a rnstrange, a strange thing.

So I did that a bit, too, and then, yourn know, the older you get, you realize the less you know and you know rnsome things.  And I guess the key thing is to... don’t make a decision rnbased on some fear of the unknown.  And I make decisions based on fear rnof the known all the time, I mean, that’s what the voting booth is rnhopefully for.  But if it’s something based on fear of the unknown, it’srn probably a bad decision, that’s the only thing I know.

Recorded on May 3, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen