I’ve been out from day one, unless you include my messy attempt to have sex with a female, way back when I was a college student. Barring that embarrassing stab at “normalcy,” I’ve not only been openly gay, but I’ve forever been screaming that everyone else should join me in the wide open spaces of honesty, where dissembling can be shed and progress can be made.
So it was extra bizarre when I ended up dating a closet case several years ago.
He was tall, attractive, and nice, though his background proved to be something way beyond what you’d find in run-of-the-mill boyfriend material. It turned out that Pete was a slow bloomer in terms of accepting his gay sexuality. In fact, he’d been married to a woman for about a decade, and they even had a grown child! Pete didn’t consider himself bisexual, but rather someone who’d taken a long time to garner the courage to break out of his ill-advised married life (five years before I met him) and accept who he is—a gay man.
That was wonderful (though the wife and offspring weren’t speaking to him anymore, feeling deeply betrayed). The problem is, I soon realized that Pete was still acting like a married man who was sneaking around on the side. In his old school way, Pete was only openly gay to a certain extent. Having lived a pretend-hetero life for so long, he wasn’t exactly going to be the Grand Marshall of the Gay Pride Parade. In fact, he didn’t appear to be out to his coworkers and friends at all, and I quickly noticed that I was never introduced to a single one of them! I had welcomed him into my life and introduced him to virtually everyone I knew, while he kept me behind stained glass, not wanting to acknowledge me to anyone he worked or dealt with. This despite the fact that we ultimately broke up because he wanted me to be his life partner, and I wasn’t looking for that at all!
Perhaps understandably, middle-aged Pete was still taking baby steps into being out, and I have to say I was touched when he grabbed my hand one day when we were walking around uptown and said, “This is the first time I’ve ever held a guy’s hand in public.” It was also lovely when we went to clubs and acted demonstrative with each other, Pete’s awkwardness dissolving in the woozy, gay-friendly environment. I knew these were big moves for Pete, who had lived in the deep closet for so long, afraid to bust a move. And obviously I was getting more open treatment than a previous boyfriend of his, whom he told me he dated for four years (before breaking up with him because the guy didn’t want a life partner, etc.). Obviously in all those years, he’d never once held the guy’s hand in public!
But being kept on the outskirts of Pete’s everyday life had a dispiriting effect on me. I felt soiled that I was urging famous people to come out on a regular basis, and yet I was hypocritically involved in a relationship that depended on secrets, evasions, and limits. They were all his, but still, I was enabling all that by continuing to participate in this precipitous pairing.
So what do you do when you’re an out queer and your boyfriend isn’t? Well, I have to admit that, like Pete, I was too wussy to even bring the subject into the open. I was reluctant to blurt it out and address his closety-ness, and besides, I knew from experience that whenever serious relationship topics came up, he’d usually dismiss them, then later call me drunk and screaming, with not always focused views about what was happening. And something told me to not rock the boat, deluding myself that maybe a fulfilling relationship could be had by just being open between ourselves and my circle of friends.
But it can’t. The disparity gnawed away at me, and ultimately, his utter lack of activism wreaked havoc on our romance. By time Pete was smashed and yelling a litany of complaints at me on the phone, I knew it wasn’t worth working all those issues out, not only because he had misdiagnosed the truth, but because he hadn’t flaunted me like the jewel I’d fought in the trenches for years to become. After all I’d been through as a gay writer and activist—fighting for LGBT issues and battling the powers-that-be in the process--I wasn’t going to be someone’s back-door Johnny, a loved one to hold on some occasions and push away on others.
Of course that’s just me. If you find yourself trapped in a similar setup, I don’t necessarily feel you have to bolt, especially if you sense that there’s hope for change. Don’t assume that his reticence can’t melt with time and encouragement. If you have the patience to lure your boyfriend out of closed doors, then please do—and kindly hold hands everywhere you go. But if it seems like the lock isn’t pick-able, I’d say don’t put up with it. Dating a closet case can really wear down your gay nerves, especially when there are plenty of other hands to hold—like mine! Say “bye bye” until he says “toodles” to his closet.
Pictured: Viktor Belmont
HUSTLE WITH YOUR MUSCLE
The only closet cases at Rentboy.com’s annual Hookie Awards at BPM nightclub on Friday night were the older men lurking in trench coats around the corners of the room, lol. Drag Race’s Alaska Thunderfuck and comic Brad Loekle were saucy and delightful hosts, Loekle promising, “You’ll see and hear things that would have made the baby Jesus throw up in his mouth.” And sure enough, Boomer Banks won Best Dressed/Style, but he’s apparently not so bad undressed either. In fact, Loekle commented that, “Boomer’s dick is so brown and beautiful, if it had a bowl cut, it would be Dora the Explorer.” But Banks didn’t win Best Cock, as it turned out. I happened to present that very honor to tattooed stud Rocco Steele, who proceeded to show the crowd why he won. (“It’s like Groundhog Day,” remarked Loekle. “It casts its shadow. Six more months of fucking!”) But there were some seriously inspiring moments too. Best Newcomer was a tie between Patrick Michaels (who gave a simple but effective speech: “I’m available”) and Viktor Belmont, the first trans man to be nominated for a Hookie. Belmont thanked all the sugar daddies in San Francisco for the honor to thunderous applause, as Loekle declared, “We’re living in the future!”
FIT AS A FIDDLE AND READY FOR LOVE
The present’s pretty grand, too. Tony Yazbeck has done fine work in revivals of A Chorus Line, Gypsy, and (currently) On The Town, but I wasn’t prepared for the awesomeness of his 54 Below act, which I happened to catch last week over steak and sorbet. The sincere and amiable singer/dancer put on a show that was honest, personal, connected, and full of rhapsodizing rhythm. In my many years of reviewing cabaret acts, I’ve never seen anyone dare to dance on those relatively small stages, let alone turn them into gigantic recital halls by the sheer force of will and talent. But Yazbeck tore into some extraordinary moves (with guest stars) in between singing about the hopes and dreams of someone praying life will be like an MGM musical. Admitting that his idea of spending a day in Coney Island involves a dream ballet, he opened with a jazzy, old-time medley, coming off like a cross between Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Eddie Cantor. Joined by his On The Town costar Clyde Alves, he ripped into “Moses Supposes,” which involved a fab tab duet that kept growing and surprising. He brought up Melinda Sullivan for a fun “I Won’t Dance”—and then they did, going from tap to ballroom (with “Cheek To Cheek”) with unbreakable elan. Yazbeck also delved into the pop songbook for a heartfelt “Both Sides Now” and brought up his wife to sing on another song, explaining that they met, all too perfectly, while appearing in Singin’ in the Rain.
Yazbeck’s childhood stories of rehearsing in the basement as mom banged from above and yelled “Keep going!” were priceless, as was the anecdote about going from a newsboy in Tyne Daly’s Gypsy to Tulsa in Patti LuPone’s (“Patti won a Tony,” he related, “and stopped the show—sometimes literally.”) Well, I’m glad to have seen this because I feel like I’ve won a Tony.
SHE IS WOMAN, HEAR HER ROAR
Tony contenders keep pouring in, like the revival of Wendy Wasserstein’s 1988 play The Heidi Chronicles, which follows a young woman through her search for fulfillment starting in the 1960s, as she navigates a world full of men who don’t seem quite right for her and women who don’t always make her proud. On the road to feeling betrayed by the women’s movement, Heidi strikes bonds with an upwardly mobile magazine editor who ends up marrying a bland Memphis belle, and a “dyspeptic,” campy gay pediatrician who sardonically chants “No more master penises,” but becomes poignant as his circle of friends increasingly dies of AIDS and he notes, “My world gets narrower and narrower.” Going from all-female consciousness raising groups (“You either shave your legs or you don’t!”) to nirvana via adoption, Wasserstein’s work is witty, winning, and wise, like a New Yorker cartoon pumped up with real feeling. And Pam MacKinnon has directed a lovely revival, with Elisabeth Moss potently searching as Heidi, Jason Biggs strong as the editor, and Bryce Pinkham scoring as the brittle queen with a heart of gold. A civilized piece with lots on its mind, Heidi spans a quarter century of women’s awareness issues, and the result is not just about art produced by women, it is art produced by women.
Andy Karl and Kristin Chenoweth in On the Twentieth Century | Photo by Joan Marcus
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOXY
Out of Broadway’s closet of underappreciated gems comes On The Twentieth Century, the operetta-like screwball musical comedy that debuted in 1978 in a production with John Cullum, Kevin Kline, and Madeline Kahn (who was replaced by Judy Kaye). The delightful Comden/Green/Cy Coleman show is based on the Hecht/MacArthur play which became a 1934 movie classic with Carol Lombard as starlet Lily Garland and John Barrymore as washed up producer Oscar Jaffee (who happens to be her ex), trying to lure her into a project in order to save his own ass and rekindle their romance.
Well, this time around, Kristin Chenoweth has a part tailor made to her talents (a relief after she was miscast in Promises Promises) and sinks her wondrous talons into it. From Lily’s humble beginnings as awkward accompanist Mildred Plotka to her current state as a fiery star with a hankering to play Mary Magdalene, Chenoweth is hilarious and inspired and sings all the trills with unquenchable brio. As her nemesis/paramour, Peter Gallagher shows no sign of the vocal strain that caused him to drop out of previews; he’s robust and grand, matching Chenoweth in highfalutin’ shtick and theatrics. Andy Karl is a riot as Lily’s narcissistic himbo of a boy toy (He uses her as a barbell, to her delight) and Mary Louise Wilson is a scream as the holier-than-thou wacko who’s complicating everyone’s lives on that 16-hour train ride to New York. Michael McGrath and Mark Linn-Baker strike deft notes as Oscar’s lackeys, and the four tapping porters serve perfect punctuation whenever they enter to do precision numbers like “Life is Like a Train.” This is the rare musical without much of a heart and precious little soul, but those qualities aren’t missed at all because it’s so cleverly written, and with fizzy direction by Scott Ellis and top-tier choreography/sets/costumes, it’s a breezily entertaining trip worth paying top dollar for.