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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Manilow, McKellen and Me: just how stupid and vicious was the Age of #MAGA?

Here's a couple of interesting stories vibrating the internets, and my tangential connections with them.

As part of its 20th anniversary, the BBC World Service series Hard Talk features Sir Ian McKellen today, talking about his life as an actor: before and after coming out at 49.

The interview will be online for a month.

In it, McKellen discusses life when coming out made one liable for forced mental health cures and criminal prosecution:
During the wide-ranging conversation, McKellen said he believes he might have had more success as an actor earlier on in his career if he had come out sooner. 
The openly gay star only publicly spoke about his sexuality in 1988, 22 years after it was decriminalised. 
He said: "Friends now say 'Will you stop talking about being gay?' But I do it because for so many years I felt like I couldn't. So I do it for the kids who feel like they can't. 
"I wasn't the only one who took a long time. I was only the second person to be knighted who was openly gay. 
"I think I probably would have been a better actor younger (if I had come out earlier).
"Life becomes better in every possible way because it's honest and that clearly affects your work. 
"My work deals with the truth of human nature so would have been more convincing.

"Friends and colleagues say overnight my work took on more depth it hadn't had before." 
However, discussing why there has never been an openly gay best actor Oscar winner, McKellen said he does not believe a campaign equivalent to the current push for gender equality is the way forward. 
He said: "You shouldn't look to Hollywood for social advance. 
"Hollywood and the movies we love are a fantasy, that's why we love them. It's not the real world. 
"There are plenty of wonderful films being made about the real world but they don't come out of what we think of as Hollywood. 
"My campaign is all about allowing people to be themselves whatever label they put on themselves. 
"When finally it was agreed Moonlight was the Oscar film of the year, with a strong gay storyline, that comes out of gay people and in that case black people wanting to tell a story and people should be given the freedom to do that. 
"A campaign to say we must have more openly gay actors, I don't know if that will get you very far."
The Telegraph also picks up a story from People:

For years he kept it a secret, fearing his fans would be disappointed if the truth was revealed. 
But on Wednesday, at the age of 73 and at the end of one of the longest and most successful careers in show business, Barry Manilow finally announced to the world that he is gay. 
The music legend also confirmed that in 2014 he had married his longtime manager, Garry Kief, in a ceremony at their home in Palm Springs, California.

Although a small group of fans and friends were aware of the marriage Manilow’s sexuality was not widely known, until now. 
"I'm so private. I always have been. I thought I would be disappointing them if they knew I was gay. So I never did anything," Manilow - the voice behind countless hits, such as Mandy, Copacabana and Looks Like We Made It - told People magazine. 
He says keeping his sexual orientation a secret caused him stress and anxiety and for many years he remained fearful of the public reaction. 
"When I met Garry, that was even more of a reason to keep my life private,” said Manilow, who has long been known for jealously guarding his private life... 
Manilow has been with his Kief, who is also President of Barry Manilow Productions, since the couple met in 1978. He said of their meeting: "I knew that this was it. I was one of the lucky ones. I was pretty lonely before that."
This is what the powers that be in America want to tighten the screws on today.

The Trump Administration pulled the LGBT section of The White House website within an hour of the President taking office, and the 70+ days since have seen a steady drip of withdrawal from federal court cases, revocations of administrative policies, appointments of anti-gay activists (the lead attorney defending North Carolina's HB2 is now head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division), and even action to not count LGBT Americans in the next census.

McKellen's and Manilow's stories are the stories of my generation and the ones before me, when you tied yourself and your life into a skein of knots.

You became one of the flickering figures in Plato's Cave, a dimly apprehended collation of bits that were true and bits that were lies. Many- me included- strove like madmen to succeed, collect honors, do the things others wanted to keep them from turning you out, or on you: employers, clients, families.

And if you happened to find happiness with someone, it was a life as secretive as that of a foreign intelligence mole, outside the law, and fortified by thick layers of secrecy, mistrust, fear and more lies, endlessly chipped away at by stress and disapproval.

And even then, it was like spending half a century or more surrounded by funhouse mirrors. You might not know your best friends were also gay. I didn't, over and over and over. Here's a bit from Ian McKellen's coming out, that illustrates just how fucking weird it could be:
The great revelation was, in fact, unplanned. McKellen was being interviewed on the radio by Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, and Worsthorne kept referring to gay people as 'them' apparently, if this is possible, with perfect courtesy. Finally, McKellen told him quietly: 'I am one of 'them'.' Ironically, both were knighted in the same honours list in January 1991. 
McKellen's statement put an end to a lifetime of public, if not private, deception neither his stepmother nor his sister (his parents were dead) officially knew he was gay. The Observer library still holds cuttings of the yellowing interviews in which McKellen felt obliged to lie to protect his reputation. He told an adoring Daily Express journalist in 1971 that: 'I couldn't marry or take on the responsibility of being a father at present. I'm always aware that I have to give a performance.' And that is exactly what he did for decades both on and off the stage. 'It was no inconvenience to me in interviews,' McKellen claims now. 'The question of whether I was married, or those intimate questions, were easy for me to dodge.' 
But they weren't always. One of the two times that McKellen got really angry during our interview was when he mentioned the young diarist [gossip columnist] who used to follow him round with the vague idea of outing him. 'He would approach me on public occasions if I was with my boyfriend at the time and he would be terribly friendly to us. And I found out he worked for the press and was with the William Hickey column. And I remember I wished something awful would happen to that person because I didn't like his attitude to me. Which appeared to be very friendly, but wasn't. And,' McKellen continued neutrally, setting his coffee cup on the floor, 'he was blown up by the IRA.' 
By the IRA? Good God. Was he pleased? 
'No, of course, not. But it's difficult to remember what my feelings were about it. (It is quite clear it made him furious). But I think it was annoying to me that people would write about something which I wasn't prepared to talk about. If he'd actually come up to me and said, 'I want to do a piece about your being gay,' or, 'Are you gay?' or something like that. But nobody ever did say that.' 
But he wouldn't have admitted it. 'Well, then I would have considered the question, and who knows what I might have done.' 
(Later, I found out the diarist was a 24-year-old called Philip Geddes. An Oxford graduate, he was blown up by the Harrods bomb in 1983 while doing his Christmas shopping; he was identified by his dental records.)

As it happens, Phil Geddes was an Oxford flatmate of mine. I visited with his family north in Cumbria, and he with mine in North Carolina. But he never told me, and I never told him. And when I had dinner in London with my then-partner and another Oxford friend he introduced me to- afterward we three walked over to Harrod's to lay some flowers at the plaque on the side of the building in remembrance of the IRA bombing that killed Phil.

He is also remembered by a scholarship an annual lecture at his college.

Nearly all of my family and friends, and professional colleagues, and damn near the whole world, was either an enabler of, or complicit, in the maintenance of a world in which even the most successful and talented feared the revelation of the truth. We were as complicit as they: they convinced nearly all of us we deserved no better. They liked it then and they miss it now. With the levers of power, they have set their caps at making America antigay again.

I drew a line on all of that in February, after attending a memorial service for my mother. I smiled and nodded and thanked mourner after mourner who came over to tell me how proud my mother was of me, and how often she spoke of me.

They assured me she was settled in Heaven with my dad. I wanted to ask, "In spite of, or because of, they way they treated me?"

None of them knew she shunned me for twenty years. But I learned that, even during all that time walled off, I was a useful trophy almost to the end, kept shiny in the image of what I was supposed to be behind glass in a case.

There'll be no more of that. I came out in 1995, but I have still tied myself in too many knots to try to save my job, friendships, and family relationships, and all to no good result whatever.

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