On Glee, breakout star Darren Criss is the first real love interest for the show's openly gay character, Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer). Although Kurt's crush is unrequited (so far), Criss' character Blaine—a prep school kid with an angelic voice—is proudly gay. In real life, Criss, 24, is just as comfortable with his sexuality as Blaine is... except that Criss happens to be straight.
"I think it's more empowering to everybody, including myself, if I'm articulate about identifying myself as a straight male playing a gay character," the actor says in the Hollywood issue of Out magazine. "Ultimately, that's more powerful for both communities."
When Criss first got the role of Blaine, he admits that he wanted to deflect questions about his sexual orientation, giving reporters answers like, "It doesn't matter if I'm gay or straight." But he decided that it was better if he was just honest and straightforward. Besides, he explains, he owes a huge part of his identity to gay role models.
"The real cool thing is I was inadvertently raised by the gay community," says Criss, who was performing in musicals in his native San Francisco from the time he was 9. "I was staying out much later than most kids after shows, going to restaurants... I was friends with older guys—they were who I looked up to. It wasn't until later that I put together that they were gay."
So we know that Criss is straight, but we also know that sexuality is complicated—and that's a lesson that his Glee character Blaine is about to learn. In Out, Glee creator Ryan Murphy hints that Blaine may find a love interest besides Kurt... and it might be a girl!
"Blaine will openly question whether bisexuality is real," says Murphy. "I think that some people will love that discussion and some will not love it."
So will Kurt's dream of being with Blaine ever come true then? Murphy jokes that his job is "to keep them apart as long as possible" for the sake of drama.
"When that moment comes—if it comes," Murphy says, "I want to treat that relationship like we treat all the other relationships on the show. I want it to be as flawed and as exposed as everyone else's."
And as Criss points out, the relationship between Blaine and Kurt is special, even if it doesn't turn romantic.
"The most important thing to convey to those watching is for Kurt to have someone he can relate to," Criss says. "This is the first time he has a young out male friend, a support system, to show that that's possible."
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.