You may know Paul Reubens best as Pee-wee Herman, the quirky character he portrayed on screen for over 30 years. Though Pee-wee’s sexuality was always ambiguous, many fans speculated that Reubens himself was gay. As we look back on his life and career after his recent passing from cancer at age 70, let’s explore the evidence surrounding Reubens’ sexual orientation.
Here’s a quick answer:
Paul Reubens never publicly stated he was gay. As Pee-wee Herman, he became a queer icon, but kept his own sexuality private. There were hints he wasn’t straight, like Pee-wee’s homoerotic Big Holiday film and his arrest at a gay theater. But Reubens preferred mystery, never confirming or labeling orientation. To many fans, his sexuality is secondary to his comedic creativity and inclusive legacy. Whether gay or straight, Paul Reubens gave outsiders an accepting place in Pee-wee’s playful world.
The Public Persona
During his decades in the spotlight, Reubens kept quite private about his personal life. He rarely gave interviews out of character or made public appearances as himself. This added to the mystique of Pee-wee Herman – it was often hard to separate the man from the mischievous man-child he played on screen.
As Pee-wee, Reubens projected a childlike innocence when it came to relationships and sexuality. “I guess he’s had crushes, but I don’t think there’s any sexuality,” Reubens told Rolling Stone in 1985. Pee-wee was more interested in being everyone’s friend and having fun adventures.
Paul Reubens Public Statements on Sexuality
|“I guess Pee-wee has crushes, but no sexuality”
|Declined to label or discuss his sexuality
|Coy jokes about queer subtext in Big Holiday film
In his personal life, Reubens preferred privacy and mystery. When asked directly about his sexual orientation over the years, he declined to provide a label or elaborate. “One of the things I’ve never discussed publicly is my sexuality,” he said in a Playboy interview in 1991.
Hints of Queerness
Though tight-lipped in interviews, over his decades in show business Reubens left a few clues that suggested he may not be straight.
Pee-wee Herman became something of a gay icon, especially after the success of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. The show was known for it’s campy aesthetic, colorful characters, and subversive humor. The same could often be said of Reubens himself during public appearances. While he never explicitly said he was gay, he didn’t do much to dispel the growing suspicion.
When making his big screen comeback as Pee-wee in 2016’s Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, Reubens finally included some overt homoerotic action with Joe Manganiello’s character. In interviews he jokingly played coy about the queer subtext, further fueling speculation about his own preferences.
Later obituaries also highlighted Reubens’ contributions to various AIDS charities over the years. While not proof on its own, it hints at a closer relationship to the LGBTQ community.
The 1991 Scandal
In 1991, Reubens’ career came to a screeching halt when he was infamously arrested for allegedly exposing himself at an adult movie theater. He pleaded no contest to charges of an indecent act.
The scandal essentially “outed” Reubens as potentially having sexual inclinations outside of societal norms. Pee-wee was put on hiatus for many years, and audiences had to reconcile that the kooky character had a potentially kinky private life.
Ultimately Reubens declined to justify, defend or explain the incident to the public. But being caught in a compromising position at a gay porn theater certainly raised questions that he was not strictly heterosexual.
Final Years and Lasting Impressions
While Paul Reubens kept the specifics of his sexual orientation private even in death, it’s clear he had special appreciation for his LGBTQ fans. With Pee-wee Herman he created a character that provided many queer youth, then and now, with feelings of acceptance, freedom, and escapism.
Giving Pee-Wee such an unmistakably gay farewell scene with Manganiello in his final on-screen bow suggests Reubens was giving a little wink and nod to those who supported him all along. Though the details remain between Paul and his close companions, his lasting legacy as an innovator and icon among gay communities will never be in doubt even if his preferences stay private.
In the end, why does it matter if Paul Reubens was gay? To many fans, his sexuality is secondary to the laughter, creativity, and inclusivity he brought to the world. Perhaps the playful spirit of Pee-Wee Herman is the part of Paul Reubens that will be remembered most fondly.
1. Did Paul Reubens ever publicly say he was gay?
No, Reubens never officially labeled or openly discussed his sexuality. When asked directly in interviews over the years if he was gay, he declined to provide a definitive answer or label. He preferred keeping his personal life private.
2. How did Pee-wee Herman become a queer icon?
Pee-wee Herman resonated strongly with gay audiences. Pee-wee’s Playhouse, the character’s popular television show in the late 80’s, featured campy aesthetics, colorful characters and subversive humor. This along with Reubens’ over-the-top public persona earned Pee-wee a cult following in the LGBTQ+ community.
3. What were some hints Paul Reubens may have been gay?
Though he never stated it outright, Reubens dropped some subtle hints over the years suggesting he may not be straight. This includes Pee-wee’s Big Holiday film in 2016 featuring overt homoerotic themes, his contributions to AIDS charities, and especially his arrest at an adult film theater in 1991.
4. Why does Paul Reubens’ sexuality seem ambiguous?
As an entertainer Reubens was very private and enigmatic when outside of playing his famous Pee-wee character. Keeping his personal life mysterious added to Pee-wee’s allure, as fans had trouble separating Reubens from the man-child he portrayed on screen. He seemed to prefer letting fans speculate rather than define his sexuality.
5. Why did Reubens’ arrest raise suspicions about his orientation?
When Reubens was infamously arrested on charges of indecent exposure at a pornographic theater in 1991, it essentially “outed” him as potentially having sexual interests outside of societal norms. Though no specifics were confirmed, the scandal made the public re-examine the relationship between Paul Reubens the performer and Pee-wee’s assumed innocence.