Although few gay actors have been permitted the luxury of openness, many of them have challenged and helped reconfigure notions of masculinity and, to a lesser extent, of homosexuality.
Lesbian actresses have played a significant role in Hollywood, but their contributions have rarely been recognized or spoken of openly; the "lavender marriage" is by no means a relic of the past.
Although American gay film icon Brad Davis has been described as "the first heterosexual actor to die of AIDS," he was widely known as bisexual within the entertainment community.
Liberace was for many the epitome of flamboyant camp, yet he was also a gay man who steadfastly refused to acknowledge publicly his sexual identity.
Considering the unique set of problems facing lesbians who want to produce erotic art for the enjoyment of other lesbians, it is remarkable that so much lesbian erotica has been produced in so brief a time.
Although sparse in images documenting the gay community, pre-Stonewall gay male photography blurs the boundaries between art, erotica, and social history.
Many gay and lesbian artists who have defied the legal and social prohibitions against explicit or sympathetic depictions of homosexuality have seen their art censored or suppressed.
Handsome, athletic, graceful, and charismatic, actor Errol Flynn was widely rumored to enjoy sexual relations with men as well as women.
Jin Xing, one of the first people to have sex-change surgery in China, has become a Chinese cultural icon. A film star, talk show host, and celebrated dancer, she also serves the Chinese government as an unofficial ambassador of the arts. Her remarkable story will be featured on NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams on April 4, 2012.
As Jessica Hopper and Meghan Frank explain on the Rock Center website, Jin, now 44, danced in New York 20 years ago and has now returned with her company, Jin Xing Dance Theatre. The difference is that now she is a woman.
"When I left New York, I said, 'I only come back [to] New York with my own dance company. I don't even come back [to] visit," Jin told Rock Center's Kate Snow in an interview airing Wednesday, April 4 at 10:00 p.m. Eastern time.
By the age of 18, Jin had won acclaim as the best male dancer in the People's Liberation Army. He was selected to come to America to study modern dance in New York City, where he trained with leading dance companies and emerging choreographers.
Jin found his time in New York liberating but confusing. He began to date men but continued to question his sexuality and his identity as male. He ultimately came to the conclusion that he was transgender and decided to pursue sex-change surgery.
Seventeen years after her transition, Jin Xing is an established film and television star in China. She is also a wife and mother.
While the Chinese government was initially leery of her transition from a leading male dancer to a leading female dancer, they have become more comfortable with her.
"They give me the space to become who I am in China as an independent artist and [at the] same time, I'm getting a lot of positive image [for China] as an artist, as a cultural ambassador for China," Jin said.
She acknowledges that some people come to see her perform because of her personal transformation, but that does not bother her.
"If my personal story can bring [the] public into the theater, I'm already successful," she told Snow. "Because after one and a half hour, they're talking about my dancing, they're not talking about my sex change."
Below is the trailer for the Rock Center episode.