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When a teenage Colton Haynes appeared in a suggestive spread in a 2006 issue of underground magazine XY — shirtless, locking lips and in evocative poses with his then-boyfriend — the aspiring actor-model was sure it would help launch his career. Not only that, he was so proud of the shoot that he sold copies for $15 a pop out of his high school locker.
“My teacher caught me and said I couldn’t do that because it was too graphic,” he recalls to The Hollywood Reporter. “I was a senior in high school and I told her that she was being a little homophobic. I was just being a brat and definitely not doing what I should have.”
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What he and his team did a few years later was try to erase the shoot from public view. Haynes, now 33 and fully out since 2016, recounts the swirl in his new memoir, Miss Memory Lane, detailing how it came back to haunt him while he was trying to make a name for himself as an actor. Living in Los Angeles and auditioning regularly, a member of his management team revealed to him that the shoot nearly cost him his breakout job on Teen Wolf (which premiered in 2011). “’The head of MTV almost didn’t hire you because of that XY photo shoot we’ve been working our asses off to extinguish,’” he writes, recounting a conversation with his manager, who, working in tandem with a high-powered team of lawyers, sought to scrub the images from the internet through cease-and-desist letters as a way to shield his sexuality. Asked if his team that was helping keep him in the closet at that time included gay people, Haynes says, “100 percent for sure.”
“When I moved to L.A., I was basically told that I needed to change everything about myself,” he says. “I had to learn how to be the way that I looked, which was a square-jawed douchebag, cocky athlete. But when I first started working, [the images] started popping up on blogs. My team acted almost like a firing squad.”
It worked and, as a result, Haynes was able to stay closeted. (Despite a studio head wanting to drop him due to the spread, Haynes says the showrunners fought to keep him by saying if he was let go, they would take the character out of the show completely.)
That’s not to say the road has been easy.
Haynes admits that “it’s been hard for me to get those opportunities anymore since I’ve been out of the closet.” He adds that even some of his close friends suggested he stay in the closet to protect his career. “Even old friends said things like, ‘Don’t [come out] because it will change your career’ — and it did — but I needed to because it was killing me,” says the now-sober actor, who is also open in the tome about his issues with substance abuse, which led to an overdose and hospitalization.
Haynes makes it clear that the book is by no means a tell-all and any punches thrown are directed at himself. “If anything, this book is a smear piece on myself. It’s not a book that goes after other people for what they did. I’m going after myself for what I did and taking my part in it.”
And that includes the XY spread. “I was told there was everything wrong with that kid who was showing his sexuality or being the way he was, and I felt like I was doing a disservice to the young me who just wanted to be loved, wanted to be seen and have the option to pursue his dreams,” he explains, adding that he’s fully come around on what the spread represents in his life and career. “I’m so proud, and I love that photo shoot. It really captured a young, free queer kid who was just so happy in his body and expressing himself.”
He also feels regret for the message that suppressing the XY shoot sent. “What I was doing was — I was telling everyone else who was gay or whoever wanted to come out that they couldn’t unless they acted how I was and that was such a hard thing to realize. I was sending the wrong message out there and that’s definitely something i’m still upset with myself about.”
His heart swells a bit, too, over early responses he’s fielding from Miss Memory Lane readers. “It just feels so very heartwarming to know that the reviews have been positive. When people read it, a lot of them are surprised. They think it will just be a book about modeling and about me being gay, but it’s so much deeper than that. And when people tell me that they either relate to my story or that my story helped them, it means the world to me.”
Haynes’ memoir, published by Atria Books, is out now.
Courtesy of Atria Books
A version of this story first appeared in the June 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.