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It's Gay Pride Month, tra la, but President Bush refused to proclaim it as such because he "does not believe in politicizing people's sexual orientation." That's funny—Dubya certainly used his to get into the White House, arguing that his solid relationship with wifey made him a supremely noble candidate worthy of your butterfly ballot.

But what the fuck—Gay Pride without Bush's endorsement is like Earth Day without an oil spill. And whatever the official word is on our right to be openly proud, being gay in 2001 New York still has its undeniable joys and intrigues, along with the usual headaches, all of which I've personally experienced just from watching Showtime.

It's a life filled with contradictions, beginning with the fact that our adulterous mayor is on a phobic spree that includes closing down anything sex-related that isn't a $100-a-pop Broadway show. Of course there are ironies within the gay community, too—like Andrew Sullivan's high-tech sex outing, whereby the conservative critic of gay promiscuity was revealed to promote himself on barebacking Web sites as a wanton studmuffin who likes to turn tricks with his bum. This saucy scandal showed that we're all torn between our intellects and our dicks, though only some are able to yell at gay men for being too stereotypically hedonistic while also screeching, "Give it to me, you hot, tempestuous pig!" In the midst of the uproar over Sullivan's travels, one onlooker commented that the most fun to be had was calling up the guy's personal Web site and seeing the phrase "downloading Andrew Sullivan."

Out and about: nuzzling up for a month of Gay Pride
photo: Brian Finke
Out and about: nuzzling up for a month of Gay Pride

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Naturally, showbiz is what I milk for juice, and it pays off, providing a glitzy reflection of society's absurd responses to queer life. For each step forward lately, there's a giant one back, with every Barbara Walters daring to "go there" paving the way for a Ricky Martin shaking his bon-bon at inaugural festivities (did he really need the exposure?) or a Madonna righteously defending Eminem's verbal carving of gays as refreshingly un-p.c.

And the absurdities keep on coming—like the fact that we're still not allowed to marry, but the law fully permitted Barry Diller to tie the knot with Diane von Furstenberg, their wedding seemingly attended by more gays than last year's Pride parade. On the bright side, our parents probably don't have much sex either. At least these two like each other!

But the biggest, kookiest gay story of the year involved divorcé Tom Cruise suing a gabby porn star, stating that the gossip the guy was spreading was erroneous and could devastate Tom's career. And why? Because, Tom's lawyers explained, our star needs to be convincing as a hetero action hero and doesn't want to lose the sizable chunk of his following that's antigay! Funny, I don't remember Tom Hanks threatening, "Don't tell anyone I like women—I'm starring as a homosexual in Philadelphia and I need people to believe me." Cruise has also never been mad about being called straight, even though such reports could conceivably diminish ticket revenue coming from gay audiences and hetero bashers. Yes, Cruise has a right to sue for what he deems are untruths, but he shouldn't have fed into that old bull that gay talk—in an obscure French magazine yet—is deeply detrimental and vicious (though of course he added that there's nothing wrong with being gay, blah blah blah).

Tom used to focus on suing anyone who said his marriage to Nicole Kidman was a sham, but now that their union's as shattered as Tom's Oscar hopes, he's had to vehemently chase down other targets. On DataLounge—my favorite Web site, filled with bitchy, opinionated postings—someone put up a mock article titled "Tom Cruise Sues Long Island Man for Masturbating to His Image." But the real saga was even more fascinating. Nicole was suddenly announced as having been pregnant—this via the man she was on the verge of breaking up with! (Sadly, she miscarried.) And after the split, the tabloids quickly had Cruise dating another woman, Patricia Arquette—a false story later exposed as a case of mistaken identity.

If Tom somehow is worried about losing his gay fan base, he should relax; Rosie O'Donnell still gushes about him on her talk show! But who can keep track of her love life? Soon after she said, "I love you, Kelli!" at the Daytime Emmies, Rosie explained that Kelli's just a very close friend, and later raved on her show about a hot-looking man she'd spotted at a movie theater. Maybe he'll take her mind off Tom—if not Kelli.

On nighttime TV—well, cable—we've had a phalanx of gay characters humping and bumping, but all the progress instantly dissolves whenever Queer as Folk actors run to the press to blather about how they washed their mouths out with Listerine after kissing scenes. If these people ever played murderers, I'm sure they wouldn't bother to hold press conferences saying, "By the way, I was deeply repulsed, never having killed anyone in real life." But playing gay? Eeew.

Thank goddess that Gale Harold—who stars as Folk's hot-to-trot Brian—showed great enlightenment recently when a TV interviewer asked if he was afraid he might lose jobs as a result of playing a gay character. "I wouldn't want to work for homophobes anyway," he said as thousands cheered. Yay—someone saying the right thing! I love you, Kelli—I mean Gale!

Such clarity of thought is extremely rare these days, especially since in the media, we're still pretty much the last frontier of legitimized prejudice. (Even last week's American Fashion Awards ceremony dabbled in fag jokes.) As is now legend, John Simon complained on The Charlie Rose Show that, while fellow critic Ben Brantley likes "the homosexual play," he doesn't, adding that some dramas carry hidden gay messages that he finds especially repellent. Couldn't your gay skin just crawl? It's so true, Mr. Simon, they're totally taking over—homophobes, that is.

The gay-panic defense turned up again when the Post ran a lighthearted gossip item about a scribe who's "quite the jokester." At a restaurant, this happy douche bag made a big scene banging his spoon on the table and shouting that he deserved a discount "because I'm the only one here who isn't a fag." This was all presented as if it were the height of levity and wit, which would never have been the case if the punch line had led to the N- or K-word.

Adding anguish to injury—if we can get to the real horror—AIDS turned 20 this year, an unthinkable landmark accompanied by reports that infection rates have soared (though Andrew Sullivan denied them at length and partied on). Despite medical advances, the plague is still a guillotine-like reminder that not only are we second-class citizens, but we may be doomed anyway. Recently, I told Poz magazine that, as the epidemic has dragged on and on, so have my grief, fury, anxiety, bouts with denial, and annoyance that gay life's become a terrifying sci-fi movie. Today I'm stunned to still be forced to care about this hideous cosmic joke. Happy birthday, AIDS, you fucking freak.

And happy Gay Pride Day, all! I hope I haven't depressed you.


For more on Pride, see the the Village Voice's Queer Issue.


Bonus!

Author-prankster J.T. LeRoy may have pulled off his ultimate stunt. The 21-year-old ex-hustler, who says he's not sure of his gender, made a splash last year with his novel, Sarah, and is now cagily promoting his new book, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things. In order to preserve a sense of mystery, LeRoy generally does interviews by phone and rarely allows himself to be photographed. That's why it was so startling when photographer Mary Ellen Mark managed to capture him for the current Vanity Fair—or seemed to. The problem is, LeRoy is telling folks that the person Mark shot is actually not him at all; it's a female friend of his who purposely showed up for the session in a wig and mask. (When contacted for comment, Mark said, "It was J.T. His saying it wasn't is just his humor.")

Then again, LeRoy's been known to spread similar stories. He admits to having once circulated the rumor that a publicity photo of himself wasn't really him. Or was it?


Related articles:

"The Cult of J.T. LeRoy" by Joy Press


musto@villagevoice.com

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