Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Doo Wop at the Stonewall -- or Not

So exactly how gay-owned is the new Stonewall Inn anyway?

While reviewing and updating my piece about being pounded on by an inebriated, supremely hideous straight guy at the not always gay-friendly Stonewall, something clicked in my mind about the name Bill Morgan, who is one of the co-owners of the Stonewall (as well as the primarily straight Duplex Inn up the street.)

I recall a few years ago there was a guy named Bill Morgan who sang and worked in the Duplex and other bars in the West Village area. He would occasionally poke into the Five Oaks and sing, and he was bartender there for a brief time (perhaps he was just filling in for someone). I only saw him in the mixed bars, never in the out and out gay cruise bars for hungry men such as Ty's and Boots and Saddle, and I really had no reason to think he was anything other than straight (and still don't for that matter). Morgan seemed perfectly pleasant and more or less gay-friendly, but I never did get to know him very well. I had a gay friend at the time who was a little smitten with Morgan -- I don't think poor Morgan quite knew what to make of him -- but Morgan was not my type and I had no particular interest in ferreting out any hidden truths about his orientation, assuming there were any. All I can say is that he specialized in a kind of "doo wop" kind of singing, that I have no appreciation for, and whenever he came on at the Five Oaks (I didn't go to the Duplex very often, and when I did usually went to the gayer bar upstairs) I figured it would be a good time to go to the rest room. I've no doubt he did Doo Wop as well as anyone, but I'm not surprised he didn't make a career of it. Can anyone make a career of Doo Wop these days -- who knows?

I read that after working at the Duplex for many years, he became the co-owner of that bar along with Tony DeCicco. Writing about their acquisition of the Stonewall Inn in 2007 (along with Kurt Kelly, who now manages Stonewall), most reporters assumed Morgan and DeCicco were a gay couple, but it is quite possible both are simply heterosexual business partners. On his "My Space" page Morgan mentions how he owns both bars (he does not mention either co-owner) and on the list of personal statistics says that he is "married" and "straight." Oddly, while there are several photographs on his page, there is none of his wife -- there doesn't even seem to be a mention of her. (I'm assuming there is or was a wife because he says "straight" and "married.") Morgan does not mention being married on his page on the Duplex web site, but DeCicco mentions his "lovely wife Donna" and his two children on the same site.

Now let me make it clear that I am not saying that this is the case, but wouldn't it be bizarre -- and a little funny/sad considering the bar they co-own -- if DeCicco were Morgan's "wife?" If Morgan and DeCicco were gay or bi but say they're strictly straight when they co-own the bar that ushered in the whole modern-day Gay Rights Movement? I'm not saying this is the case -- and frankly I hope it isn't -- but remember it was in the Stonewall Inn that I met young Mike, the bartender who told everyone he was straight with a girlfriend but confided in me that he also "fooled around with men" (but couldn't even go so far as to identify as bisexual). So who the hell knows?

Now if both Morgan and DeCicco are actually straight -- which they may be (and with a wife and children DeCicco is clearly living a straight lifestyle, but this doesn't necessarily make him a married homosexual) -- they get points for not going out of their way to point that out in all the interviews they gave on their acquisition of the Stonewall. They could be two cool straight guys who know there's nothing wrong in being gay and don't really care if some people wrongly think they're homos. Or do they get points? Perhaps they only let everyone assume they were gay and didn't correct them because they didn't want everyone in the gay community to know that the ol' Stonewall was still primarily straight-owned, that it was two straight businessmen who were taking over a spot that meant so much to the gay community. Which may explain why the place hasn't fulfilled its promise to become a great gay bar for the whole community and has just turned into a bland (gay and straight) mixed cocktail lounge that might as well be called The Duplex II. They downplayed their hetero status, played up that house queer Kurt Kelly would be co-owner (of how big a chunk, one wonders?), and made him manager, even as all three men made statements about how the previous owner of the Stonewall had done such a lousy job because he was -- you guessed it -- a straight guy (with a gay staff and probably gay manager, so what's the diff?)

I'd be willing to bet that the two straight guys are really calling the shots at the Stonewall Inn, and that they bought the place not to preserve it for the gay community but to eventually turn it into just what it's become, the Duplex II. They brought in prominent and gullible gay and lesbian investors for cash and appearance's sake, all the while knowing that most of the younger bar-happy gays in the city didn't remember and in general couldn't care less about the Stonewall Rebellion. If the straight overflow from the Duplex drove the gay customers away, why should Morgan and DeCicco care? That's ultimately just what they were hoping for, and that's just what's happening. If some gay groups who aren't in the loop occasionally hold a function there, so much the better. The bar will continue to hold on to some form of gay pedigree, and gay tourists with a sense of history will inoocently wander into the place and buy drinks -- although they probably won't stay very long.

I have to say I'm troubled that on Morgan's MySpace page he has a photo of himself with good buddy Danny Bonaduce - I think I'd be embarrassed to be a friend of Bonaduce's -- and lists one of his favorite TV shows as Hardball with the virulently homophobic host Chris Matthews! Also on his MySpace page Morgan has one "moving" photo of himself standing in front of the Stonewall. Jeez -- the camera pans down over his basket as if its some gay code or something. I'm not saying there aren't some gay people who might find him attractive but he's more likely to find them across the avenue at Boots and Saddle or down at the Dug Out -- well, maybe not, he's not exactly a macho bear-type -- than at the Stonewall, which seems more welcoming these days to drunken straights than it is to Out and Proud Gay Men.

But who knows?

All I know is that the slogan of the Stonewall Inn is "Where Pride Began" without the word "Gay." And I also know that a straight man (no matter how presumably gay-friendly or gay-supportive) -- or possibly a gay/bi man who says he's straight on his MySpace page? -- is probably not going to have much of a vested interest in making The Stonewall Inn the living homage to Gay Rights, and the Great Gay Bar, that people like me were hoping it would be.

Personally, I think the gay community was taken for a ride.

But then, The Stonewall Inn is all about money and has nothing whatsoever to do with Gay Pride. And anyone who doesn't realize it is a fool.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Stepford Husbands at the New York Times

A couple of weeks ago [4/27/08] The New York Times ran an article in their Sunday magazine section about gay men in their twenties who are getting married ["The Newlywed Gays!"], contrasting them to gay men years ago who --while they may have entered into long-term relationships -- weren't neccessarily interested in the whole white picket fence, monogamy, supposedly straight boilerplate marriage contract business (not that straight marrieds are necessarily monogamous! I'll have more on this whole business in a future post.)

Looking at the somewhat grotesgue cover (pictured) I didn't expect much from the article; the supposedly liberal Times has published some surprisingly homophobic stuff in the past. However, I actually thought the article -- written by a Benoit Denizet-Lewis (I swear) -- was rather good and interesting (with some reservations), but I could have done without the idiotic photographs that accompanied it. Although the piece and some of the men interviewed tried to debunk a few gay stereotypes -- such as the stupid notion that in a gay male marriage one man is the "husband" and the other is the "wife" -- the kitschy, silly photos seemed to be trying to undermine it all (and I don't care if the photograher, Erwin Olaf, or the prop stylist, Jeffrey W. Miller, may be gay or not; I have no idea). The photographs seemed to be mocking the very men who were profiled in the article, making them seem like dizzy, infantile clones -- the unbelievably old-fashioned image of gay men as backward children. The poses were ridiculous. In a photo inside the magazine one poor guy was made up to resemble some kind of Stepford Wife (no, he wasn't in drag; again it was the pose).

It just seems that when it comes to gay men some people just can't get past the "camp," silly "fashionable" gay-men-are-boys (or, worse, girls) aspect no matter how many butch bears come out of the closet.

There were some aspects of the article itself that gave me pause as well. [I started my Ask Gay Dr. Bill online column for the very purpose of countering the dumb things said and written about gay people even by other gay people.] Deniset-Lewis writes that "like most gay men my age and older" he grew up thinking "happy gay men in a long-term relationship is an oxymoron." Why on earth should he think this when there have always been long-term gay couples, even in pre-Stonewall days and certainly after? The only conclusion I can reach is that he assumes just because he's had trouble maintaining a solid relationship that all gay men must be having the same problem.

Which says more about him than it says about gay men.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Of Hollywood, Gable, and Gays

It always used to bug me the way some critics, readers and fans would cry out in a decidedly homophobic manner if a biographer dared suggest that one of their favorite film stars was gay or bi. It always seemed especially egregious when the star in question was some supposedly "macho" sort who couldn't possibly be gay, as if it never occurred to these people that Hollywood was all about illusion and image.

So I applaud the fact that some biographers are no longer being coy when it comes to their subject's sexuality. People can complain that it seems as if just about every dead star -- and a few living ones -- are being outed, but the fact remains that Hollywood has had its fair share of closet cases, probably more than its share when one considers what was at stake. And if that's a problem for some people, too bad.

But I have to say that books like David Bret's Clark Gable, Tormented Star, don't help the situation. Author James Robert Parish intelligently wrote about Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in his book on the former, employing key facts and educated speculation to formulate what he posits about their sexuality, but Bret (and others like him) seem to simply pass along a lot of unsubstantiated gossip. This only provides aid and comfort to those who would deny that this or that star was gay, and who can point to books like CGTS (Clark Gable, Tormented Star) and chortle that it has absolutely no source notes and many of its conclusions are just thrown at the reader without any solid foundation to back them up. The book has virtually no interviews as well.

Now I'm not saying that Clark Gable wasn't gay or bi. However he saw himself in his own mind, I believe he had sex with men. But not because of anything I read in Bret's book, but in others written by those who were around at the time or at least had spoken to people who were first-hand observers. And because a very good friend of mine -- now in his eighties -- has a lot of inside information about the goings-on in Old Hollywood. Many people reading Bret's book will just roll their eyes and think "how does he know any of this?" Bret isn't old enough to have had sex with Gable himself (mind you, I'm not saying Bret is gay; I have no idea).

There were some things I liked about the book. Bret points out how ridiculous it was for people to assume a hairy chest meant a man had to be heterosexual, and other "Gay Lib"-like zingers along those lines. He tries to expose the hypocrisy of machismo and the studio system, the foolish belief in a star's image above all and everything that went with it. But because the book never substantiates any of its claims about Gable himself, this bio will hardly convince any of the many Doubting Thomases. This is the right book by the wrong author.

Bret, who writes many books about gay/bi celebrities and has a wife, seems to have recreated Clark Gable as a kind of super-bisexual for the 21st century, but this is possibly just as phony as the image of Gable as super-straight. He doesn't deny Gable's numerous homosexual liaisons, nor that not all (according to him) were for profit of one kind or another, although he first suggests that Gable was "gay for pay." [Having homoerotic liaisons for cash does not preclude the hustler being gay himself, even if he's closeted or sees himself as being straight.] Gable used men and women right and left, but Bret feels that the true loves of his life were all women. This despite the fact that Bret makes clear that Gable became more and more closeted (that is, less sex with men; he was always in the closet) the more famous he became. Bret accepts Gable's marriages, such as to Carol Lombard, as serious love matches despite the fact that Hollywood is full of homosexuals who marry one woman after another (Cary Grant comes to mind), and indeed Bret even refers to one fellow, a non-actor, as a gay man who had four wives.

Yeah, maybe Gable was bisexual, but he also could have been a homosexual man who did everything he could ( some of it mentioned by Bret) to run from his true sexuality and distance himself from any perception by the public that he could have been queer. (That he was bisexual in the technical sense, involved with both men and women like many married homosexuals, I do not doubt.)

But then, in Bret's apparent world-view, going by what I read in CGTS, everyone but everyone (except perhaps the aforementioned gay guy with four wives) is bisexual. George Raft, George Brent, this one and that one, virtually everyone named in the book, no sources ever given, practically all of Hollywood does it with both men and women. There is no talk of internalized homophobia or anything along those lines -- all these people are just swingin' happy bi's. So why exactly was Gable so "tormented" then, as the title suggests? Fear of exposure, even though his wives and affairs with females would have put paid to such stories in that gullible era? Was he tormented and conflicted by his sexuality as he got older? Bret doesn't know or write about it at all. Maybe the real love of his life was Ben Maddox, the writer/reporter he (allegedly) had an affair with (who was -- of course! -- also bisexual).

Gable would not have been the first homosexual (or bisexual) man to dump a male lover of his youth to stick with women for the rest of his life. Nor the first to make homophobic remarks both as a cover-up and as an expression of self-hatred. You can talk about sexual fluidity all you want, most guys who do this are sticking their asses in the closet -- it doesn't mean they've gone straight nor that they're essentially hetero. In any case, even stories in Confidential about Gable's gay involvements would probably not have been believed by the public then (or now). And money and fame can do a lot of ease a person's "torment," be it over his sexuality or his (by now legendary) halitosis.

There are some stupid moments in the book, and despite all the bed-hopping and bisexuality, it's not really a particularly good read. The book even becomes comical at times. One passage goes: "[actor John] Hodiak was a volatile individual who had recently emerged emotionally scarred from a torrid affair with Tallulah Bankhead on the set of Hitchcock's Lifeboat -- to take up with Lana [Turner] while shooting the ironically mistitled Marriage is a Private Affair, and all the while married to Anne Baxter. On the rebound, Lana ended up in the arms of Tyrone Power, separated from his French actress wife, Arabella -- and also involved with Cesar Romero, who had recently ended a relationship with John Hodiak!"

Don't get me wrong. There were a lot of gay goings-on in Old (and New) Hollywood, and a lot of bed-hopping to the point of in-breeding. Maybe somebody told Bret about Hodiak being with Romero who was with Ty Power, who was with .... but, if so, who was it who told him? I'm all for letting people know how many people, famous or not, engage in gay behavior and love affairs, but if it's not backed up by solid journalism or at least some good interview quotes from people who were there or have credible inside knowledge, what good does it do?

As for the great love affair between Gable and Joan Crawford? For all we know that could be the case of a woman who was essentially a lesbian being "in love" with a man who was essentially a homosexual, no more serious than the Great Love Affair of Tracy and Hepburn.

But who knows? Unless that proverbial fly on the wall shows up and spouts off, we may never know.

As for Gable, I never quite understood what all the fuss was about. He's never been of much interest to me. He may have thrilled millions of people, male and female, in his hey day, but I never found him especially appealing either as an actor or a sex symbol.

Not even if he'd had the freshest breath on the planet.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

TV's Superficial 20/20

In late April 2008 20/20 ran another segment of their "What Would You Do?" series in which hidden cameras record reactions to various events. One of the events on this episode was a same-sex couple kissing and being affectionate in public. The show (separately) used one gay male couple, and one lesbian couple -- yes, just four people -- in a grand total of two locations, one in the South and the other in a more liberal Northern state. While the program recorded some distinctly homophobic reactions and did make a brief mention of gay-bashing incidents, 20/20's conclusion was that most people didn't give a damn. The show seemed to contradict itself, first saying that older people were more likely to be repulsed by same sex PDA (Public Display of Affection) then saying at the end of the report that it didn't seem to matter how old people were, most thought it was no big deal.

Now this would be great news if this had been a truly scientific -- instead of an absurdly superficial -- study conducted by ABC news man John Quinones and his 20/20 crew. I threw up my hands long ago and rarely expect -in-depth reporting or serious journalism from these "news entertainment" shows, but this was really ridiculous. My problems with this 20/20 report were as follows:

1.) Only two couples in two locations. It is ludicrous to jump to any conclusions on such a slender body of evidence.

2.) Although the men were a bit borderline "queeny," they were not that stereotypical and were attractive. The women were also non-stereotypical and attractive. In fact a group of straight men reacted as if they were "babes" and some (presumably) older straight women thought the two guys were "eye candy" and therefore could move in "next door" if they wanted.

Now, wouldn't the results have been very different if the two men had been screaming queens, and not so good-looking? If the two women had been stereotypical "dykes" with absolutely no "babe" appeal. Quinones seems to think that the fact that some straight guys got turned on (as many straight guys seemingly do) by the two sexy women kissing means that they are totally supportive of gay rights -- give me a break! Would these fellows' reaction have been so supposedly positive if the two lesbians were mannish, obese, and not so sexy? [Not to suggest most lesbians are like that, but straight people do tend to react more negatively to stereotypes.]

There was a hidden camera-in-a-cab sequence where some passengers let out their full homophobic feelings, but although 20/20 showed it they seemed to completely gloss it over. That plus the fact that some people might not have wanted to admit being homophobic (or racist or anti-Semitic) on camera.

I applaud that the piece was done at all and was essentially gay-friendly. But as a journalist -- and a gay man -- I was pretty much appalled by its utterly simplistic approach. Our lives and our fight for equality reduced to a few sounds bites and a silly "experiment."

Even here in New York City I do not see gay couples walking hand in hand all that often. Frequently when I do I can see the wary look on their faces -- yes, even in the Village and Chelsea -- as if they're wondering what comments or actions they might draw from the crowd passing by. I don't believe it is improbable that a gay couple could embrace on the corner of 7th Avenue across the street from The Monster on a busy Saturday night and have pejoratives hurled at them from cars driving by -- or worse.

A study on this issue could and should be done -- but not by the "journalists" at 20/20.