When Katie Holmes filed for divorce from Tom Cruise in 2012, gossip media speculation paired Cruise’s involvement with the Church of Scientology with persistent rumors of homosexuality. Cruise did little to dissuade the perpetuation of these twin divorce catalysts as he hurriedly agreed to Holmes’ terms—Us Weekly suggested Holmes knew Cruise would do anything to keep her quiet. Cruise has long displayed desperation to control his image—as Anne Helen Petersen points out, he appears unable to navigate and/or accept the terms of celebrity culture in the digital age. He has lodged several successful lawsuits against people and publications for alleging that he is gay, claiming defamation and potential lost wages, explicitly declaring a heterosexual identity as a moneymaker. At the same time, he proudly promotes Scientology, though much of the inner workings of the Church and his involvement within it remain a mystery.
Recently, the Church of Scientology has come under increased scrutiny for homophobia (most notably, its support of California’s Proposition 8), leading to high profile members like Paul Haggis leaving the Church. Suggestions that the Church also seeks to “cure” homosexuality do nothing to quiet rumors about Cruise and fellow Scientologist John Travolta. South Park’s 2006 “Trapped in the Closet” episode plays on the multiple levels of Cruise’s performance of heterosexual masculinity, both for Hollywood audiences and for the Church of Scientology. Upon learning that Stan is the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard, Cruise shows up in Stan’s bedroom and asks how he has enjoyed his films. When Stan replies dismissively, Cruise takes refuge in Stan’s closet, setting in motion a satiric commentary on rumors about Cruise’s sexuality in connection with his devotion to Scientology. In South Park’s typical “irreverent” style, the episode opens itself up to multiple readings—most prominently a critique of Scientology. Yet the running joke imploring Cruise to come out of the closet also invites the homophobic slurs that show up in the comments on South Park’s website, and reinforces the claims that Cruise’s potential earnings (as well as his position in the Church of Scientology), are wrapped up in heterosexuality.