Darren Criss Explains Why He Feels Like He's 'Culturally Queer'

Darren Criss says he’s queer at heart.

The straight, cisgender actor explained why he gravitates toward gay characters during the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo on Saturday, where he told audiences that he has been “culturally queer my whole life.”

At a panel discussion reported on by Entertainment Weekly, Criss talked about getting his start on the turn-of-the-2010s show “Glee,” which broke ground with how it depicted LGBTQ relationships on the small screen.

“It was fucking awesome,” he said of playing Blaine Anderson, a high school a capella singer who was the partner of glee club standout Kurt Hummel, played by Chris Colfer.

“Nowadays, we just call it a relationship on TV,” Criss explained. “But to contextualize it, a gay relationship on mainstream Fox, that’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of.”

“I have been so culturally queer my whole life,” he went on. “Not because I’m trying — you know, actually, I was gonna say not because I’m trying to be cool but I’m gonna erase that, because I am trying to be cool. The things in my life that I have tried to emulate, learn from and be inspired by are 100% queer as fuck.”

Darren Criss appears at C2E2 Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo at McCormick Place on April 27. He talked about being
Darren Criss appears at C2E2 Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo at McCormick Place on April 27. He talked about being "culturally queer" during a panel discussion. Daniel Boczarski via Getty Images

“It was in queer communities that I’ve found people that I idolize, that I want to learn something from,” the star explained. “And I’d say that’s a gross generalization, that’s a lot of things and a lot of people.”

“But I grew up in San Francisco in the ’90s. I watched men die,” he continued. “There was an awareness of the gay experience that was not a foreign concept to me. So, it was a narrative that I cared deeply about.”

While Criss said it’s been an honor to represent queer people on-screen, he made a pledge to stop taking roles as gay characters in 2018.

“There are certain [queer] roles that I’ll see that are just wonderful,” he told Bustle at the time. “But I want to make sure I won’t be another straight boy taking a gay man’s role.”

Criss has won high acclaim for his depiction of queer characters, winning a best actor Emmy for the role of serial killer Andrew Cunanan on 2018’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace.”

He also led the stage musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” playing the titular transgender glam rocker during a 2014 tour and 2015 Broadway run.