Ronen Rubinstein was anxious for his family and friends back in his native Staten Island to watch the second episode of “9-1-1: Lone Star.” He told them he was playing Rob Lowe’s gay son on the Fox procedural, but he wasn’t sure what they’d think of the very steamy encounter between his character, T.K. Strand, and his future police officer boyfriend Carlos Reyes, played by openly gay actor Rafael L. Silva.
“Carlos and I have a huge make-out scene where we, like, burst through the door, and we’re ripping our clothes off,” Rubinstein says. “It’s super hot and it just goes on. It just doesn’t stop. We’re, like, crashing against the walls, and then we end up on the couch. I warned my parents and my friends for months. I said, ‘Listen, I understand if you guys don’t want to watch it, I understand you probably might say some really ignorant, close-minded stuff or you just might not want to watch it and I get that too.’ ”
In the end, it didn’t matter what they thought because T.K. and Carlos were a hit. As soon as clips of the scene were released, fans of the drama series, produced by Ryan Murphy, crowned the couple “Tarlos.”
As much as the series is fiction, there was something very real happening for Rubinstein. The 27-year-old actor found himself coming to terms with and accepting feelings that he had suppressed for as long as he can remember.
“I fully identify as bisexual,” Rubinstein says in an exclusive interview over Zoom from his Los Angeles area home. “I literally just got goosebumps saying that. It feels so good to talk about it, it feels so good to finally be comfortable with it.”
Rubinstein called his awakening “a journey” that was enabled by his work as an actor.
“The biggest thing for me is where I come from, it’s like people like me and people who have identified as bisexual or gay or as any part of the community, you’re just not welcomed. It’s as brutally honest as that,” he says. “It’s either you faced insane amounts of profanity, like the F-word was thrown around all the time or you would get your ass kicked if you were gay. So there was definitely a fear of sort of embracing how I felt. I was definitely more aware of it in high school. I was aware of my feelings and how I started looking at men, but I couldn’t talk to anybody about it.”
“Tarlos” paved the way to today. “The fans, especially the Tarlos fans, it’s one of the biggest reasons that I finally felt safe and comfortable to talk about it and to finally embrace it and be happy about it,” Rubinstein says.
For support, he’s turned to “9-1-1” co-creator Murphy, Silva and, yes, his girlfriend Jessica Parker Kennedy.
“She’s actually one of the first people that sort of respectfully called me out on it,” Rubinstein says of Kennedy. “She’s like, ‘Is there something we need to talk about?’ And I said, ‘Maybe.’ I didn’t know how that conversation would go. And it went probably as good as it can go. She definitely encouraged me to be vocal about it, just to live my truth. She’s like, ‘I love you for who you are, your full self and people will love you for who you are and your full self.’”
His relationship with Kennedy hasn’t changed since coming out as bi. “She just sometimes jokes, ‘Just don’t leave me for Harry Styles,’” Rubinstein says with a smile. Rubinstein says he approached me with the idea of coming out as bisexual in an interview with Variety because he wants to help queer youth who may be struggling. “I want people to know that this is a hopeful and a happy story,” he says. “I want people to know that they’re not alone and it’s definitely okay. Trust me, I know that it is not easy. My path has not been easy at all, but it’s just one more thing that I can share with people to help them and let them know that I’m here for them.”