Sean Maher: How Firefly’s Simon Tam Came Out

By Rick Gonzales | 9 months ago

Sean Maher

For the longest time, actor Sean Maher made a conscious decision to remain in the closet. It served him well early on, as he nailed role after role without issue. His decision, which should have had no bearing on the direction of his career, was influenced by others and was during a time where perhaps it was a wise career choice. Hindsight is 20/20 though.

Here’s where Sean Maher has been and where he’s at now, since making it big on Joss Whedon’s Firefly.


Sean Maher’s start in Hollywood was fast. His first starring role was as the lead in the TV series drama Ryan Caulfield: Year One. He was a rookie police officer on the Philadelphia police force learning the job the hard way. The series was short-lived, only lasting seven episodes. But it was a good start for a true Hollywood rookie.

Maher was next seen on the series Party of Five in a recurring role and then found the lead in another series The $treet. Unfortunately for Maher, this series was also short-lived.

Sean Maher
Sean Maher on The $treet

These roles, though, led him to the remake of a classic football film, Brian’s Song. In it, he played Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo (who was played by James Caan in the original). For those who don’t know the story, Piccolo was teammates and best friend of Bears legend Gale Sayers (who sadly recently passed) and the two inspired each other, Piccolo helping Sayers rehab his knee injuries and Sayers when Piccolo was diagnosed with embryonal cell carcinoma, an aggressive form of testicular cancer that took Piccolo’s life at the young age of 26.

Sean Maher On FIREFLY

Simon Tam on Firefly

Sean Maher continued to remain silent about his lifestyle as his Hollywood career continued to blossom. He appeared in the TV movie Hostage Rescue Team before he jumped over to a new TV series, the much talked about, often revered, and cult favorite Firefly.

In Joss Whedon’s creation, Sean Maher played Dr. Simon Tam, a top trauma surgeon who is forced to go on the run after he breaks out his sister River (played bu Summer Glau) from a government research facility. The rescue of his sister came at the expense of a promising career and once aboard the Serenity, he continues the care of his sister while trying to find his romance groove with Kaylee (played by Jewel Staite).

Sean Maher on Firefly

Again, unfortunately for Maher and the rest of the Serenity crew, the series lasted but one memorable season. Sean Maher was able to jump into Simon Tam’s boots once more when the cast and crew came back for the Serenity movie. Since then there has been frequent talk of a Firefly revival, but so far nothing has happened.

Things pretty much moved on for Sean Maher after his short time on Firefly and Serenity. He found time on Ghost Whisperer, Drop Dead Diva, The Mentalist, Human Target, and Warehouse 13. He also found roles in the movies Living ‘til the End and Wedding Wars. But it wasn’t until he grabbed the role in the series The Playboy Club that Maher decided it was time.


Playboy Club

A person’s journey is their own. The how’s and why’s can be hard to explain even you have not lived a day in their shoes. And though people try, it is not up to us to tell a person how they should live their journey. For some, coming out of the closet can be as simple as waking up in the morning. For others, this decision could be as bad as getting a root canal. Painful, but sometimes necessary. It’s hard to imagine, especially in this day and age, that making such an announcement could be that devastating to a career. But then again, how many have walked in Sean Maher’s shoes?

Sean Maher came out in a 2011 interview with Entertainment Weekly. His first comments were, “I was nervous coming here today because I’ve just never talked about it. But, it’s so liberating. It was interesting to be coming to have a conversation that I was always afraid to have.” And then he added with a smile, “This is my coming out ball. I’ve been dying to do this.” It was and he was.

“I’ve never discussed it publicly,” he said. “I’ve never been asked about it publicly, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t paint a different picture.” And by “different picture” he talks about how he was told by a publicist from his Ryan Caulfield days that he should keep his girlfriend on the side so they and he could appeal to the female demographics.

Sean Maher
Sean Maher on Make It Or Break It

They had no idea he was gay. “At that moment, I didn’t think to say, ‘Oh, I’m gay,’ because right before I left New York [where he went to college at NYU], I had my manager tell me: ‘You need to get a girl on your arm or people will start talking.’ I remember telling him: ‘I’m gay.’ He had no idea. And he said: ‘All the more reason to get a girl on your arm.’ My agent was also like, ‘It’s best if you keep your options open. Maybe bisexual?’”

Fear was what kept Maher in the closet.  “I kept thinking, this is my first show, I don’t want to get fired,” Maher confessed. “I’m thinking, what is the potential that if they caught wind that they had cast a gay lead actor that they would fire me? I was young, I was 22. I didn’t know anything. So that sort of started the idea of, okay, well, I’m working a lot, I guess I’ll just keep that gay part of my life on the back burner for now. I went so far as to sleep with women a couple of times. It was a very confusing time for me.”

Maher goes on to explain this confusing time. “It was so exhausting, and I was so miserable,” Maher says. “I didn’t really have any life other than work and this façade I was putting on. So I kept my friends from college [where he was out] separate from my work friends, and that was very confusing. I just kept going on and on painting this picture of somebody I wasn’t. I didn’t have time for a personal relationship anyway. And you just don’t realize that it’s eating away at your soul.”

Now, though, Sean Maher is out and proud.


Now 45-years-old, Sean Maher is a happily married to Paul and the couple have two children they adopted: a daughter born in 2007 and a son.

Neither Sean Maher’s busy family life or his coming out party nearly ten years ago has not slowed down his acting career, despite all his fears. He has gone on to other TV series such as Make It or Break It, Arrow, Con Man, Eastsiders, 9-1-1, and in 2019 reuniting with his Firefly costar Nathan Fillion on The Rookie. Maher has also provided the voice of Dick Grayson/Nightwing on many occasions for Batman/Teen Titan movies.

Sean Maher on The Rookie

Sean still gets together with his old Firefly friends, from time to time…

Hats off to Sean Maher for turning his fear into his strength.