It was a long trip to the top of the Ferris wheel — 9,280 miles, to be exact. And now that Keiynan Lonsdale is on his way down, he can finally start to take it in.
The 26-year-old Sydney-born actor was still grappling with his sexual orientation when he shot the historic climax of Love, Simon in Atlanta last year. In the first rom-com about a gay teen to debut with a studio release, Lonsdale played the secret penpal crush to Nick Robinson’s Simon, giving young gay and questioning audiences the kind of first-kiss spectacle — between two teenage boys at the top of a carnival Ferris wheel — reserved for hetero couples since the dawn of cinema.
For Lonsdale, it sparked a personal reckoning. He was starring in a groundbreaking gay film, but still confronting the tension between the two attitudes that defined his upbringing: the mega-machismo of the Australian male stereotype, and the culture of acceptance at his performing arts school in Sydney, where he trained as a dancer.
Soon after production wrapped, Lonsdale came out as queer. And since then, he’s left his day job on The CW’s superhero drama The Legends of Tomorrow, playing Wally West, a.k.a. “Kid Flash.” When we chat, Lonsdale is, in a way, coming down off the Ferris wheel again. He and Robinson just won Best Kiss at the MTV Movie & TV Awards a few days ago.
“I just want to say to every kid, you can live your dreams and wear dresses,” he said from the stage, while wearing a gold-embellished trench coat he found at a music festival, a metallic forehead tattoo, and, tying it all together, a flowing, floor-length white skirt. “You can live your dreams and kiss the one that you love… You can live your dreams and you can be yourself.”
The speech came to him seconds before his category was announced when he looked down at his outfit. “I wasn’t nervous about what I was wearing,” he says. “If anything, it made me more confident, because that’s how I wanted to present myself. Because that’s how I felt.” He admits that younger Keiynan couldn’t even imagine his current self on a stage in that ensemble, proudly and publicly queer, and accepting an award for a same-sex kiss. “But secretly he would be happy.”
Lonsdale grew up in Sydney as one of 11 siblings. He was shy and quiet, and admits that he tended to get lost in the shuffle. When he was little, he would try on dresses — a habit he forced himself out of as he became aware of Australia’s gender norms.
To the American eye, Aussie men seem to exist on the spectrum from Steve Irwin wrestling an alligator to Wolverine to the Hemsworth brothers, with their hulking muscles strong enough to wield Thor’s hammer. “There’s definitely that stereotype of the Aussie bloke,” says Lonsdale, who copped to the pressure to aspire to that ideal. “When an Australian guy is put on TV, he’s always represented in this very specific, hyper-masculine way.”
His insecurity about his identity might seem confusing to those aware of Lonsdale’s performing arts past. But as one of a few black male dancers at school, he constantly felt othered and alone, striving to be what he perceived as the platonic ideal of normal.
His first professional gig included a stint in the musical Fame and a role in the Aussie series Dance Academy. When it’s pointed out how cool and transgressive it is that someone who came up through dance would go on to play a superhero, he laughs. “I mean, what about Hugh Jackman?”
While some audiences first caught on to Lonsdale’s star power with Love, Simon, comic-book enthusiasts have been obsessed with him since he donned Wally West’s yellow spandex on The Flash in 2015. Imagine those fans’ disappointment, then, when he announced in June that he’d be stepping back from the role. Being a superhero is fun, sure. But, at least for now, world-saving is taking a back seat to one of Lonsdale’s deepest passions: music.
His latest single, “Kiss the Boy,” came out in March, and, while he doesn’t have a release date set for his first album, the song and its accompanying, queer-positive music video radiate enough heat to carry him to whenever that might be.
After all, kissing boys has worked well for him so far.
*This story is part of our '99 Things We Love About Australia' feature in the August issue of Out.