A Torch Song Named Desire

Rufus Wainwright plays the most dangerous game: devotion to a man

In life, however, Rufus has not been so discriminating.

At 14, he was picked up by an older man who took him to a park and began ripping off his clothes. "I wouldn't put it on the same plane as rape," he says, "because I sort of went willingly. I had just come out and I wanted to have sex with everyone. Besides, I got out of it quite well. I pretended to be an epileptic and started shaking violently, so the guy let me go."

The incident scared him into abstinence for five years, but he insists on seeing it as a positive experience. "It was a godsend, really, because of the AIDS epidemic. It probably kept me alive." Still, it stamped him with an abiding sense of precariousness, a feeling liberation is supposed to have rendered obsolete. "This might seem tawdry," Rufus says, "but I still believe being gay is not easy. Men are tougher than women to deal with. They have real walls around them— especially straight men."

"I still believe being gay is not easy. Men are tougher than women to deal with— especially straight men."
photo: Robin Holland
"I still believe being gay is not easy. Men are tougher than women to deal with— especially straight men."

That's an insight gleaned from his four-year crush on Danny (which ended when the guy got married and moved to Nova Scotia). Though their affair involved nothing more than "lying around and kissing," that was enough to mark Rufus to this day. He's had a few flings since then, "but everything relates back to Danny, and I know in foresight that it won't work out because it has that same tinge." There's enough rage in him to write a line about awakening with "a hard heartache," but, as with his rough-trade initiation, Rufus gives his amour fou a positive twist: "I got an album out of it— a whole album of songs."

Of course, you hope he will find an "appropriate love object" (or at least someone who makes him clean his room). In the meantime, there is art, the ultimate arena for the lover who loses, where one gives form and meaning to the unachievable. "In any great love affair, you can always see the end at the beginning," Rufus reflects. It's a line the Princess Kosmonopolis could have delivered, wafting hashish through the potted fronds. So perhaps this is the connection between Rufus and Tennessee. They both know the implacable tragedy of love and loss in a distinctly gay way. And they both understand the importance of hanging a Chinese lantern on a bare light bulb.

Rufus Wainwright will perform a set of new songs at the Knitting Factory, 74 Leonard Street, August 27-29.

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