Last week, actor Haaz Sleiman didn't so much come out of the closet as much as he eagerly burst through its doors.
Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images.
On Aug. 22, the "Nurse Jackie" star put to bed a burning question the LGBTQ rumor mill had been churning for years: Yes, he's gay.
In Sleiman's unfiltered coming out video on Instagram, he emphatically stated he's a "gay, Muslim, Arab-American man" and prefers "bottoming" during sex.
His candidness sent the internet buzzing. Many fans were supportive, he notes, but his preference for bottoming (or receiving) sparked a flurry of accusatory comments claiming he made the video solely to create dramatic headlines and boost his career. Many media outlets chose that detail about his sex life to focus on specifically.
"Some people are comparing me to Trump," the actor says with a laugh, noting the president's attention-seeking ways. "I don’t know how that happened."
Those critics are missing the point though.
The actor proudly shared his sexual preference for bottoming, he says, to fight back against a form of misogyny that shames queer men who enjoy that position and attaches harmful stereotypes to their identities.
As Jorge Rodriguez-Jimenez wrote for The Advocate:
"Some of the stigma associated with bottom-shaming is indicative of gender roles. How many times have you heard a straight person ask, 'Which of you is the girl in the relationship?' The guy on the bottom is the one being penetrated, which they associate with femininity. In this society, which is more of a handicap — being a woman or being a man who exhibits a trait associated with being a woman?"
Sleiman was hoping his candidness about bottoming would help change that destructive narrative — not garner some free press for a few days.
"It makes me think," Sleiman says of the backlash from other gay men, "do they know that I’m on their side?"
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.
Sleiman is frustrated that much of the reaction to his video has missed the most important part of his message: Anti-LGBTQ violence is on the rise.
"The reason why I made this video and came out now in this manner is — it breaks my heart to know more and more gay people are being murdered," he says. "A part of me doesn’t want the world to forget that they’re gone."
Sleiman began his video citing a report that found 33 LGBTQ people — disproportionately transgender women of color — have been murdered as of August. Last year, excluding the mass shooting deaths at Orlando's Pulse nightclub in June, that figure stood at 26 deaths — for the entirety of 2016.
"When I read that report, I couldn’t stop thinking about it," Sleiman says. "I was obsessing about it."
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.
Like many LGBTQ people, homophobia, transphobia, and anti-queer violence hits close to home for Sleiman.
The actor was born and raised in Lebanon — a country with very few legal protections for LGBTQ people — before immigrating to Michigan when he was 21 years old. While some family members have been supportive of Sleiman's sexuality, many distant relatives in Lebanon have sent him vile messages after coming out, claiming he disgraced the family and asking him to change his last name.
"I don’t think I’m going to be able to go back to my village," Sleiman says. "I don’t feel safe to go there anymore."
Much of the pain he's carried from a burdened childhood will be reflected in a new, semi-autobiographical film Sleiman is writing.
"I could not survive [in Lebanon]; I would have died," he explains of the film's personal nature. The movie, featuring a gay character, will aim to expand minds and open hearts for LGBTQ and straight, cisgender people alike. "Even if nobody hurt me, I would have died. The best way I could put it: I felt so alone."
That's why the actor is speaking out — and speaking out loudly — now.
"Don’t ever forget that you are so powerful and you can do anything," he notes to any closeted person who needs a shoulder to cry on. "No matter where you’re at, no matter what you’re dealing with, keep repeating that in your mind. And you will find a way."
To learn more about and fight back against anti-LGBTQ violence, visit the Transwomen of Color Collective.