According to Clay (”Don’t Touch Me!”) Aiken, it is a big gay world out there. And that’s what the press wants you to believe. From my viewpoint, as a fuchsia card-carrying gay alpha male, every few years there’s a boondoggle in gay stories in America: the Supreme Court said OK to sodomy in Texas; Iowa in the heartland says OK to gay weddings; Richard Chamberlain (Richard! Chamberlain!) claims he’s a homo; while finally (my favorite) MTV said OK to the airing of a band (t.A.t.U.) that portrays itself as being “all lesbian, all the time.” The mega-ratings grabber Tia Tequila featured a bisexual lady of indiscriminate taste, but I’m not sure if she’s into sex as much as she is into showing off her inanity.
Yawn, digress. Is all this really the series of huge breakthroughs the media are suggesting? Because it sounds to me like just a lot of hype to sell a bunch of dying papers. Truth is, we’ve seen this all before. As I clamor for someone to just enact a single bold headline: “He’s Gay, So What?”
A generation and a half ago, Rock Hudson came out to the world on his deathbed because of complications from AIDS, smack-dab in the middle of Reagan America. At that point, a scant few years before the Supremes said no to sodomy in Georgia, the mass media talked a good game and asked Americans to be a lot more compassionate in their dealings with their gay brothers and sisters.
Then we waited for 24.5 years — past noise like “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” past Barry Winchell’s horrific death from homobashing Army boys, past that shady Defense of Marriage Act and doe-eyed Matthew Shepard, to, finally, a gay bishop happening upon the scene somewhere up north.
So the big news now is that it’s OK to be gay. Of course, it isn’t entirely OK. The media message of the moment notwithstanding, Bill Frist, once the Republican leader of the U.S. Senate, reacted to gay movement forward by grandstanding that he’d like an amendment to the constitution that gay marriage be disallowed. That is progress with a small “p.” Not gay with a capital “G.”
So how can we explain this dichotomy? Perhaps the public isn’t really so much more accepting and the culture isn’t really that much different — just as it wasn’t back in 1985, when Rock died. Perhaps the reality is that the media have grabbed onto this story line more because it’s a sellable one than because it’s the truth.
Let’s go back to Chamberlain, who has been an icon much longer than Aiken (and take Lohan, please…). Chamby’s story says a lot about why people were going “Senator Craig?” (who cares; just go away) last year. Chamberlain’s publicist insisted breathlessly that he should get a big “wow!” for his act of boldness. He should? For 40 years he played dull and, oh yeah, straight. Then he got exciting and on the cover of People magazine for telling the world that he’s gay. Really? And, oh yeah, he happened to have a book for sale.
Which I’m sure is just a coincidence. Much like Liz Smith, who also conveniently came out in what very briefly became a must-read memoir. But don’t get me started on Liz Smith.
One day after Richard’s big moment, I stood in a trendy Santa Monica video store and spotted the original Bourne Identity, which was remade last year with the straight (well, today!) Matt Damon. Chamberlain played Damon’s role in the first version, which no one remembers now, since Damon has turned this into his role. I had to laugh at the laboriously butch face Chamberlain was making on the box. He hasn’t had that kind of fame in years, and his new efforts — retired and notoriously gay — reek of a last-ditch effort to gain a buck off fame.
To make matters smellier, the old boy told Dateline at the time that he is “not a romantic leading man anymore and [no longer needs] to nurture that public image anymore.” Did anyone in the press ask about his implicit suggestion that his fans are total idiots? What Richard Chamberlain’s old-world PR people were pulling was very 1950s: let’s tell the world he’s gay to get some more attention. Right. Ask Rosie O’Donnell how far being queer’s gotten her, really. Certainly not the lead of Price Is Right or a punditry on MSNBC. Chamberlain is an actor who has been downgraded to his generation’s Larry Storch. You know, another TV actor who has had to pay the rent by appearing in, say, cheaply constructed bus and truck companies of My Fair Lady. Now that he’s gay — I guess this goes for Clay–maybe people will pay attention to him.
I’m the author of 2011: Trendspotting. Essays like this fill the damn thing.