Actor Colton Haynes shares vivid details about the exploitation, homophobia, and sexual harassment he experienced during his early years in Hollywood in an essay written in the first person for Vulture.
Years before he would find principal roles in TV series like The CW’s Arrow and MTV’s Teen Wolf, Haynes found himself earning a living as a phone-sex operator talking clients through “farm scenes.”
“Want me to feed you your food?” he would ask a caller. “You want to get fat for your master, little piggy? You like that? Now oink for me. Tell me how much you love your owner.”
At the time, Haynes was 18-years-old and this was his first gainful employment following his move to Los Angeles from Andale, Kansas.
Haynes shares that his career in entertainment began at the age of 14 when, armed with a fake ID, he would go-go dance at a gay bar in Wichita. He believed his ‘big break’ might have arrived when he got his first modeling agent at 15.
That led to posing with his then-boyfriend for the cover of a gay publication titled XY Magazine. Part of the gig was being flown to Los Angeles for the release party for the issue.
At the release party, he met men who promised “to help if you need anything.”
So, after graduating from high school, young Haynes moved out to Hollywood. It took a year of submitting himself to managers and agents (and phone-sex work), but he finally got a call from a management company in 2007.
Meeting with the man who would become his manager (who he calls ‘Brad’ in the article), things went left quickly as Brad critiqued how Haynes carried himself.
“Why are you using your hands so much when you talk? And your posture is too … loose,” Brad said. “We’re definitely going to have to change your mannerisms. They’re a little too … theater.” Code for gay. Haynes says he instinctively stood up straighter.
The meeting led to being invited to the manager’s acting class. In those “classes” Haynes learned he was expected to strip naked and simulate sex with an acting partner during “sexy-scene nights.” Following the scene work, he was again denigrated for being too gay.
“Of all the things that had happened to me in my life, I had never felt more demoralized,” Haynes writes.
After several months, the manager tried to interest a talent agent in Haynes by having him deliver some documents to the agent wearing a cowboy hat and an unbuttoned western shirt. Haynes swallowed his pride, and did so.
But the agent still wasn’t interested and the manager cut Haynes loose. “I’m sorry, but this isn’t working out,” explained the manager. “Your voice, your mannerisms — they’re still too … gay. You still have so much work to do. We think you will be better served at a different management company.”
Haynes describes tears trickling down his cheeks as he wondered what his next steps would be. As he exited the office, the manager said he knew a place that might be able to help if he was “hard up for money. He handed Haynes a business card for rentboy.com.
Eventually, Haynes began to book acting gigs beginning with a guest role on CSI: Miami. Along the way he was photographed with female celebrities and encouraged to not deny any rumored romances with them. And that XY Magazine photo shoot had become “radioactive” to his career goals.
All of this continued through the early 2010s as he worked on Teen Wolf and Arrow. And the homophobia came not just from straight people, but queer as well.
As Haynes writes, “The call often come from inside the house.” Although, he does take a moment to thank “the handful of gay men who created opportunities” for him: Jeff Davis (Teen Wolf), Greg Berlanti (Arrow), and Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story).
But as someone who felt “confidently queer” when he moved to Hollywood, he says the constant pressure to be closeted led him to pills and alcohol. His doctor encouraged him to resolve his ‘secret’ by coming out.
“I came out of the closet in an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2016,” Haynes wrote. “I hoped it would set me free, and in some ways it did. An outpouring of support followed. But people also published think pieces saying it had taken me too long; another gay actor implied the way I’d done it was cowardly. And incidentally, the work mostly dried up.”
After several ups and downs (including a short-lived marriage), Haynes says his mental health is better today, even if his employment prospects aren’t. He adds that the only calls he gets today are to play gay roles, which are few and far between.
“To be a gay actor in Hollywood, even in 2021, is to be inundated with mixed messages: Consumers are mostly straight, so don’t alienate them,” he writes. “But lots of the decision-makers are gay, so play that game!”
“Now that I’m older and sober, I’m trying to square who I am with the inauthentic version of myself I invested in for years,” he adds. “I often wonder how different things would’ve been if I was allowed to be who I was when I moved to town: a hopeful kid confident in his sexuality.”