Mark Gatiss on being out and in the public eye

Sherlock star says being gay has never affected his career – but that not all the battles have been won

The Sherlock and Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss is happy to be the sort of prominent gay personality who wasn’t there for him to look up to as a child, he has said – but he’s also constantly surprised how many people think he’s straight.

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“A lot of people don’t know I’m gay,” Gatiss told former Radio Times staffer Gareth McLean. “No matter how many interviews I do in which I mention that I’m gay, and that I have a partner, I’m confounded by people’s surprise when they find out. Maybe they’re not bothered.”

Although the actor/writer shies away from being described as a role model, he said he was aware that he’s been a small part of a change in attitudes in recent years. “I have a certain visibility,” he said. “For someone in that position to say ‘I’m a happy gay man’ would have made a huge difference to me as a kid because there wasn’t anyone. There was a series of comic grotesques and desexualised, tolerated personalities: in the Are You Being Served film, Mr Humphries is both a terribly predatory homosexual and totally neutered.”

Gatiss – who has been out as a gay man since before finding fame with The League of Gentlemen – said he hoped homophobia was approaching a similar level of social unacceptability as racism. “Compared to 20 years ago, this country is much more relaxed about everything from race to sexuality – but only in certain ways,” Gatiss commented. 

“This sounds ludicrously utopian but I was in a bus queue the other day and it was so incredibly multi-cultural, it made me think that I never grew up with a single black friend but for this generation, they are just each other’s mates. That will change attitudes, and I’d like to think that as well as for race, that will go for sexuality. Of course, underneath, there may still a seething small-c conservatism and it’s always dangerous to assume that the battles have all been won.”

On how his sexuality has interacted with his career, Gatiss said: “The sort of parts I play, my sexuality doesn’t make a difference and I’ve never been in a position where anyone has tried to mentor me not to be out. But maybe that’s because I was out before I was well-known or because if ever such a thing had happened, I would have laughed in the person’s face.”

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In America, however, Gatiss sees a different set of circumstances. “If you’re a young actor with an eye on Hollywood, it’s something you have to think about. But then, you’re moving into an American sphere and what American agents might advise you to do. I’d be very interested to see what happens to [Star Trek star] Zachary Quinto’s career now that he’s made that step of coming out.”