For many LGBTQ people, Pride Month is not only a celebration of who we are, but how we got here.
Teen Wolf/Arrow star Colton Haynes covers the latest issue of The Advocate and shares a candid look-back on his road to ‘here,’ and how being gay factored in to the highs and lows of stardom.
At the age of 14, Haynes experience two life-changing events: coming out to his family and he was discovered by a modeling agency talent scout.
By the time he was 20, he’d appeared in ad campaigns for Abercrombie & Fitch, JC Penney and Ralph Lauren. He’d also begun making appearances in films (Transformers), TV series (CSI: Miami, The Hills, Pushing Daisies) and music videos (Chemical Romance’s “I Don’t Love You”).
Along the way there were some disappointments like two TV series (Showtime’s Look, ABC’s The Gates) that were both quickly cancelled.
But then came MTV’s Teen Wolf which cast the hunky actor as high school lacrosse player “Jackson Whittemore.” Life soon went into hyperdrive as the series had nearly 2.5 million viewers tuning in each week.
Haynes tells The Advocate the series “just exploded because we went from shooting the pilot to presenting at the MTV Movie Awards, which was insane.”
But amid the heady success, there was the inevitable dark side.
Haynes was still closeted, and he recalls being explicitly told to stay in the closet or it would “jeopardize the show.”
He also found out that, during casting, some teenage pics of him kissing a guy had begun circulating around the internet and one MTV executive was against hiring Haynes.
But the show’s creator, Jeff Davis, became Haynes’ champion telling the network, “If you’re not going to hire this person because they’re gay, then we’re going to remove this character completely.”
Obviously, Haynes got the job but felt he was trapped in the closet.
“Despite the fact that I was gay, I hid my sexuality throughout being on Teen Wolf,” says Haynes. “Everyone knew, obviously, when we were filming but I definitely butched it up and kind of hid it while I was filming.”
Looking back at those early 20-something, closeted years from the perspective of an out 30-year old (he publicly came out three years ago) today, Haynes still feels like the ‘Hollywood system’ didn’t give him a choice if he wanted to be successful.
“In order to be seen as being able to play a leading man or being able to play the roles I’ve played thus far, I really did need to create this persona,” he told The Advocate. “Unfortunately, Hollywood can be very limiting with their choices.”
He added that, while things are getting better, since coming out the only auditions he’s being called for are gay roles.
In the middle of Haynes’s professional successes, though, there were personal, private challenges like living with drug/alcohol abuse and anxiety issues, and the passing of his mother in 2018.
Even while visiting his mother in the hospital (who was there due to a failing liver from her own drinking issues, he told Attitude he drank tequila from a water bottle.
Just months later he found himself in a media storm as he filed for divorce after being married less than a year to florist Jeff Leatham.
He’s since shared publicly that there had been episodes where he would check into hotels and go on weeklong benders of drugs and alcohol.
In March, Haynes told Attitude that when one ‘hotel stay’ left him bruised, partially blind in his left eye and nearly ruptured his kidney, the actor checked into rehab. It was then he took a cold, sober look at himself.
Today, he says he has “no one to blame but myself” in terms of how the press and social media spun his life out to the masses.
Taking full responsibility for the wild ride, Haynes admits, “I was posting every second of my life online. Every positive, every negative.”
“Eventually I became click bait, eventually everything that we all joke about — how I could literally say something online and the trolls will pick it up and spin it into something, that ‘I’m spiraling out of control,” he added. “I did make myself [look] that way, not knowing I was doing that.”
Haynes hopes that, even with possible ‘over-sharing’ on social media, his struggles might help other people.
“I’m still hearing from certain people that have gone through what I’ve gone through,” he explains. “Even though a lot of it isn’t as in-depth as the way that I’ve shared, it helps me to be able to share a lot more because I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m not alone. I’m not crazy. My struggles aren’t just my own. A lot of people go through this.’”
And even though his ‘super-hero days’ appear to be coming to an end as Arrow producers have announced its upcoming 8th season will be the last, Haynes believes we all can be heroes – folks who are “true and authentic” and “really stand up for something they believe in.”
There’s a positive message for Pride, and definitely a hopeful perspective as Haynes looks to his next chapter.
“It’s totally in all of us, and it’s really special. Everyone just needs to tap into it.”