Andrew Garfield’s ‘I’m a Gay Man’ Scandal Is 2017’s Dumbest Controversy

The ‘Angels in America’ star said he’s ‘a gay man right now just without the physical act.’ It was a stupid, misguided joke. So why are we taking it so seriously?

Danny Moloshok

(Editor's Note: This piece has been updated to include an audio file of Garfield's interview that gives context to the joking nature of his remarks and more insight into the research he did for the role.)

Andrew Garfield said something phenomenally stupid. And only marginally more stupid than the uproar surrounding it.

“Celebrity Misspeaks and the Internet Piles On” is the kind of mob-and-pitchforks genre of writing that has only grown more powerful and more exhausting as the Twitter-and-hot takes culture continues its ceaseless march to domination.

We’ve become gremlins. Writing about funny memes and episodes of Game of Thrones, we seem cute and harmless. But giving us an inane and misguided celebrity quote is akin to giving a gremlin water. Watch us start foaming at the mouths and multiplying, pillaging the blogosphere with our reckless thinkpieces and feral rage.

It’s expected at this point. I barely have patience for it anymore. So little patience that I am indeed writing exactly one of those thinkpieces I was just complaining about. I’m King Gremlin, y’all, and you’ve all given me an entire jug of water. (I really hope everyone reading this has seen that movie…)

Andrew Garfield theoretically meant well. But here we are on Day Two of our stern and stone-faced explanations of why he didn’t.

I can’t. And I won’t.

As reported in Britain’s Gay Times magazine, Garfield told an audience at a panel discussion that he’s “a gay man right now just without the physical act.”

Super dumb thing to say, right? That’s the headline you’ve seen everywhere. Now for the context.

Garfield is currently starring in a London production of Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s two-part Pulitzer Prize-winning epic examining the AIDS crisis and homosexuality in 1980s America. Garfield plays Prior Walter, a gay man who is dying from AIDS.

At the discussion, he was asked how he prepared for the role. Maybe choosing an inopportune moment to respond to a serious question about a serious play with one of those “I’m relatable!” silly stories celebrities like to tell on the Jimmy Kimmel show, he talked about how, on his off time during rehearsals, he would have eight friends over and they would binge-watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. “That is my life outside of this play,” he said. “I am a gay man right now just without the physical act—that’s all.”

Without actually being in London to hear them say this, you can still hear the tongue-in-cheek tone of his comment. It seems, at least to this writer who takes respect for the LGBTQ community and gay culture in Hollywood very seriously, like a throwaway joke. A bad one, but nonetheless a joke.

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(UPDATE: We've tracked down an audio file of the conversation that seems to prove that Garfield was, in fact, joking. His Drag Race comments also come amidst discussion the reading, research, historians, activists, and documentaries he consumed to prepare for the role. You can play it below.)


Of course having gay sex is an integral part of identifying as a gay man.

This is one of those “I’m basically gay LOLOLOL” comments that your annoying straight friends say all the damn time after too many mimosas at brunch while talking about how much they love Carly Rae Jepsen and Glee. You roll your eyes. Couldn’t we have left it at that?

Was it the smartest thing to respond to a question about how he prepared to star in a generation-defining masterpiece about the tortured gay experience and the struggle for acceptance and survival by joking about watching RuPaul’s Drag Race? No. And that’s precisely why Garfield’s comments weren’t worth talking about any further. They didn’t warrant being dignified.

Yet here we are dissecting his entire spiel.

Things started well at the panel. He talked about how his biggest concern playing Prior Walter was “what right did I have to play this wonderful gay role” when he is a straight man and that is not his history to tell. He got to that place by trusting Tony Kushner, and that he knew that he was the right person to tell that story.

Then, perhaps thinking that he was being “woke” by talking about sexuality on a spectrum, Garfield, who has previously dated Emma Stone, said, “As far as I know, I am not a gay man. Maybe I’ll have an awakening later in my life, which I’m sure will be wonderful and I’ll get to explore that part of the garden, but right now I’m secluded to my area, which is wonderful as well. I adore it.”

We groaned when we read it. You should, too. A dumb, dumb, dumb, insufferable thing to say. Keep your seeds out of my part of the garden, Andrew Garfield! (Who am I kidding? Come on over.) But that is beside the point. Something this inane and well-intentioned should not beget the kind of controversy that has been all over our timelines and newsfeeds for the last two days.

Is this the battle we want to wage? Is this the person we want to shame?

If nothing else, Garfield’s idiotic comments show just how eager and passionate he is about wanting to be an ally.

Maybe he got a little too big for spandex after he was celebrated four years ago for comments about sexuality he made while promoting The Amazing Spider-Man 2, recounting a philosophical conversation he had with the film’s director about Peter Parker’s love interest Mary Jane, or “MJ.”

“I was kind of joking, but kind of not joking about MJ,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “And I was like, ‘What if MJ is a dude?’ Why can’t we discover that Peter is exploring his sexuality?  It’s hardly even groundbreaking!... So why can’t he be gay? Why can’t he be into boys?”

A few weeks later at Comic-Con, he was asked about the comment and received raucous cheers when he said, “Spider-Man stands for everybody: black, white, Asian, gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual. To me, love between two consenting adults is love. To me, that anyone would bat an eyelash at what I said is interesting.”

It’s easy to imagine how Garfield thought the sort of broad and rudimentary “love is love” speak he was hailed for in 2013 could translate to similarly cheeky and good-natured, though un-nuanced and not fully considered, comments now that he’s starring in Angels in America.

Culture has evolved, and we are blessedly more judicious (and, sure, more precious) about the way celebrities speak about the gay community. Plus, this is Angels in America, a seminal LGBT work that warrants gravitas and enlightenment.

But also, this is a Hollywood actor who was doing a panel discussion to promote his damn play and just wanted to entertain his audience.

The Problematic Police need to let this one go. Cringe, and move on. Better yet, use this as a reminder to buy a ticket to Angels in America when the production is broadcast in U.S. movie theaters this month. Looks like we all, even its star, could use the reeducation.