Gwenlyn Cumyn

Tell us about yourself! What do you do for a living? What are your interests? What are your pronouns/ how do you identify?

Hi! My name is Gwenlyn (she/her), I’m bi, and I work in TV and film. The list of things I do for work is annoyingly long, but I primarily act, write and produce. I LOVE what I do, and luckily it hasn’t made me sick of watching TV and movies yet, which honestly is my main hobby/personality trait. Some recent-ish fave shows of mine are Search Party, Ramy, Work In Progress, and Atlanta. My other interests include eating, non-murderous true crime (accepting any and all stories about art forgeries), reading ill-advised personal essays, and irreverent arts & culture commentaries. 

About how old were you when you came out? How was the climate you grew up in?

The year was 2004 and I was in highschool. The L Word premiered that fall and that t.A.T.u. music video was still making the rounds on MuchMusic. Gay marriage was legal in my province, but not nationwide quite yet (I live in Canada). Boys at my middle school who liked Britney or Titanic just a little too much were definitely getting thrown against lockers, and The Laramie Project was terrifying, but I went to an arts high school and that changed everything. It was the George Bush-era version of a liberal bubble, and I felt (naively) safe to come out at what was a relatively young age. My parents were and still are loving leftist-intellectuals, and I went to a cheap all-girls YMCA summer camp that was chock full of queer female role models. All in all, I was almost as excited as I was nervous to come out, so I was equal parts confused and devastated when things didn’t go according to plan. Without getting into specifics, it was the first time I discovered that the poison of bigotry can still run deep even within liberal circles, and that was a tough truth to learn. Still, I was lucky; I didn’t lose a single friend, and I was never once afraid that I would lose my home, which was a real issue for other people I knew at the time.

Did you make career choices that allowed you to feel comfortable being open about your sexuality? (Are you out or feel comfortable being out at your workplace?)

My career and the people I work with have done more to make me feel comfortable with my sexuality than almost anything else. In 2016 I was cast as the bi character Dorothy Castlemore in the series All For One, and the response from viewers was incredible. I honestly hadn’t considered the importance of specifically bisexual representation before (just thirsty for ANY queer rep!), and the whole experience was very affirming. Not long after, I co-wrote and produced the series BARBELLE and fell deeper in with Toronto’s queer filmmaking crowd. There was a very nice man who I worked with at a bar, and when he found out I was getting involved with film work he warned me about how harsh the on-set environment could be. A real toxic competitive boy’s club. I was able to tell him not to worry, that I have the luxury (for the most part) of deciding who I get to work with, and (more importantly?), who I won’t work with. 

If you could tell your younger self something about yourself that you are proud of today, what would it be?

This doesn’t have anything to do with being queer (or does it?…), but I’m proud of the fact that it turns out I CAN write! I always thought that I just didn’t have the stories in me, and hated creative writing for the longest time. The Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf meets Laguna Beach play I wrote in high school still sucked, but I wish I hadn’t spent so much time believing I was just an empty-headed acting puppet.  

Have you tried to surround yourself with like-minded peers/colleagues? If so, how?

Almost exclusively. There are very few people (if any) that I work with who are not like-minded, warm, considerate humans. As a show-runner and producer, I get to have a pretty big say in who we bring on board for any given production. Being a “boss” (ew) isn’t always a comfortable position for me, but this is one of the biggest upsides. 

Who were your role models growing up? What tv shows/movies allowed you to feel seen?

Problematic as it is, Chasing Amy meant a lot to 2006 Gwen. I was stoked to watch Kissing Jessica Stein, but didn’t like it very much. I loved The L Word (another problematic fave) but I wouldn’t say I saw myself reflected in it. I had Tegan and Sara’s So Jealous album on repeat, and found Willow and Tara’s relationship vaguely inspiring/annoying, but honestly, it was the people in my life who were my biggest role models. The ultra hip queer councellors I had at that summer camp made me feel like not only was it not lame to be bi, but it was actually cool. Through them I learned that dressing/acting like Ellen Degeneres was not the only way to be a queer woman. I could be like Frida Kahlo, or Janis Joplin! (Okay, not a great role model, but you cannot argue with her cool-factor).

Complete the sentence, if I knew that teasing/nagging other people to come out of the closet before they’re ready is not cute (it’s actually harmful bullying), back when I was first figuring myself out, I would tell my younger self to STOP! Stop doing that, Gwenlyn! Everyone has their own path, and pushing people (even if it’s coming from a place of “please come out cause I have a crush on you”) isn’t okay. Listening, on the other hand, is very okay (and so is leaving anyone who puts you back in the closet. Yes, I’m talking about Kristen Stewart in Happiest Season).

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