For a whole generation of TV viewers, Degrassi was where it’s at. But the show didn’t just change viewer’s lives, as one actor from the series has opened up about how playing a gay role on the show helped him come out in real life.
Adamo Ruggiero, who played gay teen Marco Del Rossi on the hit Canadian TV show Degrassi: The Next Generation recently talked to the AV Club for the show’s 20th anniversary, and he shared how playing the character helped him to come out in real life.
“I was a closeted gay boy, and I found myself on the show, and my life went from zero to 100,” Ruggiero said. “I hadn’t really acted that much before. Suddenly, I was a character that was playing to all my deepest, darkest secrets, so there was a lot of negotiation of my coming out personally and a negotiation of my personally not being prepared to have those conversations because they were drawing to these pains in me.”
He added, “But in a way, I was forced to have those conversations, publicly and globally. That balance was ping-pong, like, ‘Who am I? Am I ready to reveal? I know that this character, whether I like it or not, is going to reveal it for me.’”
Unfortunately, the experience wasn’t all positive. “It was a time that was incredible, but also left some things in me that have taken me some years to negotiate and I'm still negotiating,” he said. “It was a coming-out experience that should not have been that public for me.”
But still, he’s proud. “However, there’s always a wonderful side,” Ruggiero added, “What Marco gave me is a community. In the promotion of the show, I connected with a queer world. He just busted open this door of a world that probably would have taken a lot longer to find.”
Ruggiero also said that he thinks the show could’ve gone farther in having its gay characters discuss gay issues. “We missed opportunities to talk about gay sex, and queer sex and queer bodies. Marco is really kind of desexualized, and I think that was something that maybe networks weren’t ready for at the time,” he said. “Once Marco came out, he always had a boyfriend. But in his relationships, there was nothing about the dynamics of gay sex and safe sex and the sexual culture as a young gay man.”
Actress Lauren Collings, who was also interviewed for the article, and played Marco’s best friend Paige on the show said that she didn’t know Ruggiero was gay until after his character came out on screen.
“I remember when Adamo came out to me, and it was after Marco came out,” she said. “I can’t imagine the struggle and the turmoil that he’d been going through having to act out what he was about to experience in his own life. I think that’s what made the performance so moving.”
Degrassi: The Next Generation premiered on CTV in October of 2001 and ran for 14 seasons.