Robby and Me

So 31 years ago this month I spoke to a guy I didn’t know on an actual landline.  No, it wasn’t like that.  He was a friend of a friend who was new to town and he had the soft, sexy voice of a young Robby Benson.

For those who don’t know – Robby Benson was a big film and TV star in the seventies with great hair, impressive acting chops and endless boyish charm.  Extremely smart and fun loving with a talent for playing often troubled though never irredeemable characters.

NOT ROB LOWE. #better

Anyway, I agreed to take Robby’s voice to a party because It/He didn’t know many people in town and when he came to my door I was taken aback.  He not only looked a little like Robby, by way of Italian heritage, but was smart, fun-loving and far LESS TROUBLED than any of the people he played.

This was Robby as you wanted him to be.   Or so I thought.  And it turns out I was right.  That night turned into that morning and more than three decades later here we are, his voice still intact and my crush now my husband.

and they lived happily ever after #AWWWWWW

It is important to remember Robby my husband and I met in 1987 in the height of the AIDS crisis.  The idea of finding a person with whom you could survive with 31 years later seemed…well, no one was thinking that far ahead.  About a week or two was all you could manage, and even that was pushing it.

We were ending the horrible Reagan years where gay people were branded nationally as diseased sinners whom the public at large needed to be protected from.   It wouldn’t get too much better in the four years of George H.W. Bush, though one of my favorite political moments of that time was when a former boyfriend gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention nominating Bill Clinton that chastised Bush, Sr. for willfully ignoring so many of the sick (nee gay) members of his (Note: Bush, Sr.’s that is) American family.

That boyfriend is long dead but his words linger in my mind.  I think of him and so many others often, though not in tragic terms.  I wonder – what would they make of Ellen coming out nationally?  Will and Grace and the return of Will and Grace 15 years later?  Could they have imagined RuPaul would not only have a high-rated show but win an Emmy and spawn a nationwide trend towards EVERYONE workin’ it 24/7 by simply being your true self?

Preach Ru

This is to say nothing about gay marriage in the age of Grindr, gay parenting, #ItsGetsBetter, gays in the military and, well, pretty much gay everything, anything and in any way possible if you so choose.

Exhibit A  #heyantoni

That does not mean there are now zero consequences from family members, neighbors and the world at large for one’s choices.  But pretty much every choice we make has consequences.

The fact that there is even this much of a level playing field felt like a quaint pipe dream in 1987.   Kind of like your parents saying you were not even a twinkle in your mother’s eye five years before you were born.  (Note:  Okay, maybe my family were the only ones who spoke this way but nevertheless the star metaphor feels apt).

It is in this context that I tuned in NBC’s The Voice this past week and saw a gay male couple in their 30s – one African American, the other lily White but both super hot – talk about meeting, singing together, falling in love and forming their own singing group.

They then discussed their parents and siblings, families who were finally face to face for the first time at this about-to-be televised audition.  Amidst all this we were also told they had an upbringing steeped in the church, information that would have been the whole point of their appearance even a decade or two before.  Assuming, that is, they would have even been let on TV as their true selves, which they wouldn’t have been.

Never mind that I thought their musical act was kind of corny, albeit sweet – sort of Up With People trying to mix with vintage Temptations music.   What was being broadcast here was in PRIME-TIME NETWORK TELEVISION.  More than their music, their story had reduced their four heterosexual vocal coaches/International music stars to sighs of admiration and tears.

YES IT IS LISA #exceptyourlips #help

It was also pre-determined by a corporately held network, owned by a conglomerate, that this would similarly tug at the heart strings of America’s heartland. Why else make them the lead off act in the 8:00pm family friendly time block?

Heck, I wondered, what does my sometimes still stuck in the eighties self make of that?  What would any of my friends, particularly the musical ones and specifically those who were long gone, make of it?

Answer – most of us around these days don’t think of it much at all.  Those not around couldn’t think of it as real.  At least that’s what I and my husband concluded.

None of this is a reason to pat ourselves on our collective backs and break out in cheers as a nativist movement sweeps the country and the world, imperiling minorities everywhere and even thumbing its nose at some MAJORITIES, nee WOMEN.

OK OK Stay with me!

It is only to say, sometimes one has to look at where they came from as well as from where they started in order to gain perspective and energy about where they are now and in what way they are to proceed.

This year there are dozens and dozens and dozens of LGBTQ-themed films already or about to be released.  Click here for a list

Sure, we are still a niche audience but so is pretty much EVERY audience these days.  In 2018, it’s all about niche music, niche TV, niche radio, niche….don’t get me started.  So much to catch up on, so, so little time.

I’m sorry Sarah.. there is literally no time #AHSApocalypse #netflixIguess

But ultimately it’s more about subject matter and the lens within that niche.  In the seventies and eighties it was acceptable for straight male characters to make “fag” jokes without retribution.  The notable major LGBTQ crossover releases in 1987 were Maurice and Prick up Your Ears – two period pieces about a time when gay meant sick and in the shadows, and lesbian love or BTQ existence were barely an onscreen flicker.

It would be five years before Neil Jordan pulled off an international gender hat trick in The Crying Game.  This was 23 years before TLC aired its first episode of a reality show focusing on a transgender teenager, I Am Jazz.

We’ve learned that the point is the lens from which something is viewed.  We are offered the travails of a white suburban gay kid coming out in films like Alex Strangelove and Love, Simon (Note: L-O-V-E) and the oppressiveness but ultimately unapologetic victories young gay protagonists can have when their parents try to convert them to straight in movies such as The Miseducation of Cameron Post and the upcoming Boy Erased, all of them 2018 releases.

YAS. YAS. YAS

This doesn’t erase the tragic last days of Oscar Wilde in Rupert Everett’s The Happy Prince, now out at theatres.  As its star, writer and director, Mr. Everett effectively reminds us that this literary giant served TWO YEARS hard labor for engaging in gay sex (aka sodomy) with the man he loved at the turn of the century and was damaged beyond repair, not to mention shunned by society, in the few years he had left after he got out.

Yet in 2018, it’s an openly gay artist telling the story about an iconic gay artist from the past to a world that in the great majority, at least in the U.S., are on HIS side.   If that weren’t the case, you can bet Sony Pictures would have NEVER picked up the film for distribution.   

We’re not exactly to Avengers level, but good on them.

Nor would a gay Black man co-write the screenplay to his own autobiographical story, Moonlight, and then watch his story become 2016’s surprise best picture Oscar winner.

So as we all deal with the Trump America of it all, the international Nativism that could be our ultimate destructions, not to mention the latest U.N. report on climate change and the tragedy of global warming that threatens the extinction of the human species, it’s nice to remember history, progress, regression, revolution, resistance and more progress is our legacy.

It’s a roller coaster of emotions, dear.

History can turn on a dime, either way, and many of us have lived through periods where all fights seemed in vain and the best we hoped for was simply getting through.

What we didn’t know was that the future could be brighter than we imagined, BLINDING so DAZZLINGLY as to be rendered un-seeable, with only inevitable dollops of dark.

And that dream Robby Benson can appear at your doorstep just when you thought there was never a chance.

If this last thought seems too LGBTQ Hallmark, check out what one member of our new generation just unabashedly posted on his YouTube Channel.  Colin O’Leary you are 2018 Robby – reincarnated.

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The Way We Are

When you love someone, from Roosevelt to me, you go deaf, dumb and blind.

That’s a line from one of the great Hollywood love stories – the 1973 Barbra Streisand-Robert Redford film, The Way We Were.

It is said by the very blonde, flawed and handsome Hollywood screenwriter Hubbell Gardner to his much more passionate and intelligent wife, the unabashedly ethnic Katie Morofsky, as a roundabout admission that he’s cheated on her.

The reveal of his sexual antics was bad enough after years of her unwavering belief in him. But what made it worse was what it represented – the latest of a long string of lies that undeniably proved the person she knew all these years was not a person at all. He was merely a mirage she created for herself.

A mirage… with insanely good hair

The real guy, in fact, was someone much harsher and uglier – someone indifferent to all sorts of immorality in not only others but in himself. Someone she did not really know at all.

In light of that —

Here’s a partial list of recently exposed, accused and extreme sexual predators in the entertainment industry with multiple victims and/or accusers:

Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, James Toback, Brett Ratner, Jeremy Piven, Ed Westwick, Steven Seagal, Louis C.K. and producer-writer Gary Goddard. 

Yes, I’ve limited the group to the most RECENT and the most FAMOUS. Certainly, there are more. A lot more. And a lot more to come.

I need a drink… or 12

Here’s a similar list in politics:

Electoral College POTUS Donald J. Trump, Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore, Fox’s recently deposed Bill O’Reilly and Fox’s recently deceased leader Roger Ailes, journalist and former MSNBC commentator Mark (Game Change) Halperin, famed New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier and former NY Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Note: I’ve also left out former POTUS George H.W. Bush from the list because he’s 93, wheelchair bound and his accusers have so far limited his violations to recent ass-grabbing and sexual innuendo from his wheelchair.

Uh, yeah, this IS where we ARE at the moment.

#SAD

The Way We Were screenwriter Arthur Laurents was writing about Hollywood and the glittery protective wall that shields many of its most lauded inhabitants all those many years ago. This was long before I got here. As did people who came before him like F. Scott Fitzgerald. And so on and as far back as the industry existed.

Yet here I sit, a writer with nowhere near their credits, about to say what they and others described, a lot more directly.

Be careful about whom you admire and be careful before you agree to meet them. If they are in the handful of the top three or five you most admire they can’t help but disappoint you – and sometimes most grandly. Because what any of us admire in a public figure in any field is not about WHO they are but what they’ve ACHIEVED in their individual fields.

Many of us, including myself at times, like to say one’s achievements are a part of them – like kindness, a great sense of humor or looks. Sadly, that’s a lie.

Talent, a mastery of a subject and glaringly high-level success, is a marker of work not personality traits. Most certainly, they are not markers of a great person, a bad person or even, in the end, a mere average person. They are outward achievements that vault an individual into the public eye and provide those old-fashioned values like fame and fortune.

But they say little to NOTHING about who that INDIVIDUAL really is at his or her core – or whether they are even a guy or gal you’d choose to hang out with, much less call a friend, role model or even object of adoration.

What they only are is produce – from that person.

Living in the ruins

Certainly, this is confusing and downright un-American. Not to mention, it’s disheartening as far as popular culture is concerned. This is why I don’t tell my students about the evening I spent in the eighties with one of THE greatest and most famous artists of the 20th century. Or a work experience I had years later with one of THE great music stars of the last five decades. Or the several months in which I was paired with that renowned and supposedly sensitive writer-director-producer some time after that on some other project that will go unmentioned.

Disasters, all of them, and not because I wasn’t trying. Yet each was horribly disappointing (if not horrifying) in their own way and to this day I still can’t understand how three so brilliantly talented individuals whose work I admired that much could be so downright……ugh…well, I’ll let you fill in the blank.

Remember this formula! #keepexpectationslow

Which then left me with a small but personal dilemma I suspect many of us are going through at the moment with the above names and those I left out. How do we look at their work now? Do we boycott them for political and/or personal reasons? What is the line for boycott – accusations, convictions, suspicion, personal opinion or just a general mass zeitgeist feeling?

Well this was a bad idea from the start…

If you eschew one of them do you eschew them all?

How long do they have to be in the doghouse? For life? Maybe so. Especially for the most egregious.

But is there any room for reparations among the lesser crimes? Or can any of these crimes even be lesser? And how much do apologies really mean?

Certain apologies are enough to get you that Iron Man money

Also – Do we get special dispensation for the ONE artist whose work has helped us through hard times or served as a creative guide for our entire professional lives??? Why not? Or…why???

This is easy for me given the present list of all of the newest offenders mentioned above. I can easily live without their work. And for that matter, I still don’t understand why Hollywood has forgiven the sexual abuse and anti-Semitic rantings of Mel Gibson not that many years ago — so much so that they cast him in the current Paramount mainstream comedy Daddy’s Home 2??? Though perhaps that’s punishment in itself.

What she said. #flopflopflop

On the other hand, I still watch Woody Allen movies and have gone to see numerous films Roman Polanski has directed. One of these guys has been accused by his daughter of childhood sexual abuse and the other fled this country in the 1970s for giving drugs and alcohol to a 13 year old and having sex with her.

So yeah, there’s all of that for me to NOT be proud of. In fact, the complicity feels even worse when I write it and read it over. Though I fear if I only watched the work of people in the industry who I knew and morally approved of, it’d either be a very short list or I’d keel over in boredom. Maybe both.

I swear if there is a Tom Hanks scandal I will scream #teamRita

This is not to say there are not all kinds of cool, moral, wonderful and faaaabulously talented artists I’ve both met personally and have yet to meet that are at the top of their games creatively and who never cease to bore you – or me. And plenty enough of the opposite to bypass.

It’s only to admit that we now live in an age where the behavior of artists will be inexorably linked to their art – which will in turn determine how, where and by how many people it will be consumed.

Well, that should be interesting. Or not.

Soft Cell – “Tainted Love”