By Nelson Branco
Degrassi: The Next Generation real-and-reel-gay heartthrob Adamo Ruggiero, 21, wants to send out a personal memo to the closeted pink boldface out in LaLa Land: Coming out has been an absolutely painless, cathartic, and positive experience. And it was all voluntary, thank you very much.
'It was my decision,' he tells Out, of his January gab with fab, Canada's leading gay magazine. 'Simply put, it was time. I didn't come out earlier not because it would cost me external power, but because I had to figure out it for myself. When I did, after coming out to my family first, I told the world. But hey, I'm a young actor, and I don't consider myself a celebrity. I'm on a small series with a big cult following, so there was no rule book as to how it would be received. But I'm happy to say it worked out.'
Now Ruggiero talks with Out about how it felt to play gay before he was sure about his own sexuality, how some fans adamantly defended his straightness, and why it's time to catch up on gay history.
Out: The best part of coming out is you can now answer your fan mail honestly!
Adamo Ruggiero: Yes! I can't tell you hard it was to read fan mail from young gay tweens or teens thanking me for inspiring them to come out to their parents, when I hadn't done the same myself! It was ironic, to say the least. I often felt like a fraud, to be honest. Now I have an open dialogue with my viewership and fans. I'm psyched. Coming out feels good. The hardest part for me to come to terms with was letting go of my fears of becoming a poster boy for a cause. It was tough playing a gay role -- which was something I didn't necessarily sign up for -- but it happened, and now I realize there are no coincidences. I have a voice and it'd be stupid for me not to use it. So I said, 'Stop being a pussy, Adamo.' And that was that. Every so often, you have a fan encounter that stops you dead in your tracks and propels you to use whatever celebrity you do have to make a difference, however clich' as that sounds. But it's what makes dealing with fame tolerable, for me at least.
You were only 14 when Marco came out on-screen, and, at 21, I think you're still the youngest TV actor to do so.
Degrassi isn't Beverly Hills, 90210, which cast 25-year-olds as teens. Had that been the case, perhaps this whole experience would have been an easier road artistically, personally, and professionally. However, the best part of this experience was the fact that as an actor, I was really in the moment because I was walking step-by-step with Marco. I guess you can say that's where the authenticity of my portrayal came in. When he was quivering, I was quivering. The producers hadn't decided that Marco was gay until I came along, so we took this journey together.
What do you think about bloggers who out stars who may be too young to realize they're gay? I call it the Zac Efron situation -- not that I'm implying he's gay, but he's the latest example.
Because I inspired the producers to make the role gay, there was this discord of self-worth. That's when I ask my fans to sympathize with me, because I really wish I could have come out sooner and opened up to everyone. I was just a teenager who never had the opportunity to make my own personal decisions because Marco always beat me to it. I was so involved in playing him that my private life took a back seat. There are moments when you're put in front of the public eye -- and yes it's a blessing -- but sometimes it's an unfair situation. I was genuinely afraid for most of that time, I admit. And, of course, in the acting world, from an artistic point of view, here you have a gay kid playing a gay kid -- some would argue that's not acting at all. So then I would ask: how much of an actor am I?
Thankfully, you didn't live in the bitch-eat-bitch world of Hollywood. You'd be sporting a Mohawk and flaunting your get-of-rehab-free card around a dark alley somewhere!
[Laughs] Thank God I lived in a city like Toronto, where I had privacy and no one was breathing down my neck -- and it's been a blessing. How do people do this in Hollywood? I wouldn't have been able to have a boyfriend. What would have I done? Yes, living in Canada sometimes limits your career in terms of fame, but if you trade your integrity for fame...