By Jeff Walsh
A year before Ellen told a crowded airport of people that she was gay on her hit TV series, Patrick Bristow was out in real life and as Ellen's friend Peter on the show. His character even exchanged wedding vows with his same-sex partner long before Ellen would merit a parental advisory for merely having a girlfriend.
Bristow, who spoke to Oasis during a recent trip to San Francisco for National Coming Out Day, said being a part of Ellen DeGeneres' historic coming out will be an experience that he will never forget.
"It was really amazing and one of the most significant, if not the most significant, experiences in my life in terms of my profession meeting my beliefs and convictions," Bristow said. "It wasn't so much just the one episode. I knew a year ahead of the episode that this was in the works, so I was watching the whole process and watching her fight the good fight and watching the powers that be becoming increasingly nervous and afraid and ultimately having to do the right thing. It was very educational, inspiring and I'm incredible proud to have been a part of it and to know her."
DeGeneres has said in past interviews that Bristow helped her make her decision to come out on both the show and in real life.
"If she said this in an interview, I didn't see it. But a couple of people have referred to this. All I know is that a year prior to coming out, she leaned over to me on the set and whispered 'I'm thinking of doing what you did,'" he said. "And I looked at her and thought, 'What are you talking about? If you come out, that has no comparison to what I did.' Like, hello? I was blown away. If I was at all helpful to her, or dare I say, inspiring, I would be hugely flattered and very moved and kind of confused, because I don't know what I did other than be myself and have fun and try and make her laugh and stuff."
Bristow, who has also appeared in Showgirls, Austin Powers and So I Married An Axe Murderer, said the controversy about Ellen's coming out was not a surprise to him at all.
"I expected it. I didn't go into any of this naively," he said. "When we did the episode where my partner and I exchanged rings, I was very nervous the night that it aired, and I'm glad we did that episode a season prior to her coming out, because it prepared me for doing something a little controversial and out there."
Bristow said that there was negative feedback about that episode on the Internet, but that the important thing is that both sides get to air their views.
"I'm not surprised by [negative comments], but keeping the good voices heard is what's important, like the things you're doing with Oasis," he said. "As long as it's an even dialogue and a fair one and good voices are being heard, I can handle the negative stuff."
Bristow, 36, said the success of Ellen has given him the opportunity to be more selective with the projects he chooses. Up next for him is an independent film, "I'm Losing You."
"I'm just picking and choosing projects I want to do. I have the luxury of being able to do that right now," he said. "So, I'm turning down a fair amount of offers and looking for the next part that can be a breakout for me."
Bristow said he was always open about being gay, despite Hollywood's tendency to prefer gay actors not discuss their sexuality.
"I was kind of never professionally in. I never tried to pass myself off as a straight person," he said.
Coming out, Bristow said, is a process that never ends, though.
"I find coming out is an ongoing, life-long process," he said. "I had a girl in Wal-Mart before the coming out episode stop me and said 'You're the guy on Ellen.' And I went, 'Yeah.' And she goes, 'Oh, I really love the show, but aren't you worried people are going to really think you're gay?' And I said, 'Well, I am really gay, so it's not an issue.' And she discombobulated for a second, smiled and departed. So, after all these years of being out, on the cover of The Advocate, I'm still coming out. We always are."
Bristow is even out about his role in the much-maligned movie, Showgirls, where he had the joy of playing a bitchy gay dance instructor.
"When I first read the script, I thought 'there's no likeable character in here. Oh wait, there is, but she gets raped and beaten up.' It was like 42nd Street, but smutty," he said. "I was like, 'I totally don't get this, but I'm auditioning for it tomorrow.' And then from the script I auditioned with to the shooting script, they introduced all these other elements and it just got heightened and Paul Verhoeven wanted everything dynamic. I felt like I was doing a parody of Dynasty or something, we were bigger than that. I knew we were in trouble when we were making it. But there are a lot of bad movies out there that people love."
Despite the campaign by some people to turn Showgirls into a camp classic, rather than the guilty pleasure it is today, Bristow doesn't think it has what it takes.
"It didn't walk that line of camp. Everything got too intense, too direct, too one-dimensional and it became a comic book," he said. "I think it would be a real camp classic like Rocky Horror if it wasn't for that brutal, really hideous rape in the end. That destroys its midnight movie appeal. There you are at 1:45 enjoying all this over-the-top acting, and then the one thing they do accurately and realistically is this poor black girl getting beaten and raped by her music idol. It just takes all the fun out of it."
But Bristow does enjoy the work he did in Showgirls.
"I'm really actually happy with my work in it, because I would be up nights before shooting saying 'How do I make this sound like I mean it? How do I make it sound like 'she's all pelvic thrust, she's no butterfly'? How do I say that?" he said. "But when I actually saw the film, I thought, 'Okay, I believe that he meant that. It's unfortunate that he had to say that, and it's unfortunate that he meant that, but I believe he meant that.' So, I take away a little secret victory. It was a very educational experience."
Bristow still keeps in touch with Ellen, though. He and his partner of 4.5 years, Andy, recently moved into a new house and are going to have Ellen and Anne Heche over for dinner in the near future.
"She's so busy and I've been busy, and then she changed her number. I send messages to her through Betty," he said. "I actually owe she and Anne dinner. They're coming over the house, but we need to get a few things together because we just moved, so we have to get it ready for them. Lesbians are very picky when it comes to house décor."
To close the article, we thought we'd share with you what Bristow said about coming out to the assembled crowd at National Coming Out Day. As with much of his work, it is a delightful mix of truth and humor, which we hope to see much more of in the future:
Coming out for me and many people is a process. It starts with coming out to yourself, obviously. And it continues through life every time you introduce your partner to someone, wear an HRC T-shirt to the movies (which doesn't necessarily mean you're gay, but there's a 99 percent chance), or ask for a room at a hotel with one bed and you're checking in with your partner. It's telling your family, that's the big one. It's gently correcting a neighbor when they refer to your 'roommate' or 'friend.' But this process has a definite beginning if there's a single turning point, event or date.
After my first year of college, I realized I was resentful and exhausted from trying to pass for a straight person -- you can imagine. My parents were incredible. Mom's a ballet teacher and dad was an actor, so I guess I had a leg up. Not that this assured their acceptance, but they were so unfazed that I was actually almost disappointed. 'You mean I carried this around for two decades and you have the gall to accept me with unconditional love?' I had defenses, arguments, brilliant points to make, and they took away from me my big chance for a dramatic movie of the week moment. Their 'no big deal' attitude gave me the confidence to face the world honestly and if someone has a problem with my being gay, then it's just that, their problem.
Later I had an experience where their problem turned into my problem. I was on a side street in Studio City after leaving a club with some friends and a pick-up truck peeled around the corner and guys jumped out with baseball bats and we instinctively dove into the bushes. Thank God, it was in the early-to-mid 80s and I was in my Melrose Black, which is non-reflective, and I can hold my breath for a good long time. I probably saved my life because of that. After that event, I was out with a vengeance. At the bank, I would be like 'Yes, I'd like to make a deposit, some cash back and I'm gay.' It permeated everything.
So now that you're out, those of you who are coming out, there are some expectations to be met, some expectations to be bucked and some to ask yourself.
Expectations to be met: you now have to have exquisite taste, destroy your black lacquer furniture, throw away the Patrick Nagel prints. Number two, learn show tune lyrics and pick a favorite diva. Number three, raise property values in your neighborhood. And number four, and this comes straight from the Bible, the Book of Leviticus, it says... and you know what I'm going to say... that you cannot mix fabrics. I'm serious, not even linen and cotton. Poly-cotton blends are an abomination in the eyes of God.
And don't feel inadequate if you think you can't meet any of these. I live in the hope that someday there will be a gay finishing school, so when you do come out you can be schooled in these areas.
Here are some expectations to be ignored: Pat Robertson expects you to undermine the family, but since we all have families of our own and love them (or at least try very hard to), it wouldn't make sense. Rush Limbaugh will expect you to demand special rights, and if you don't know what those are as he defines it, those would be life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And then Dr. Laura Schlessinger... oh, who cares what she expects?
And finally, you can expect the joy of knowing you are living honestly and the relief of not having to hide a most integral element of who you really are. In a word, freedom. You can expect new friends who never knew the closeted you to truly love and appreciate you as you are, and old ones to know you better. It can be very nice being out, or as Matthew Shepard found out, it can be hostile and vicious. That's why coming out is so important. Until every American personally knows several gay people of different ages, races, points of view, political views, religions, will the picture become more accurate for them. We are only monolithic in our resolve to secure our rights.
Celebrate your truth and individuality and know that you are part of whatever plan God in his/her wisdom has in mind by creating some of his children gay or lesbian. Then, question God, as to why he allowed black lacquer furniture in the first place.