NY Mirror

Being gay in 2002 means we might not necessarily be able to marry, adopt, or join the armed forces, but honey, we are in every sitcom! We're a regular riot, girlfriend, our flouncy gestures and bons mots providing a cathartic giggle for the entire TV-watching populace. We've got a place at the table, all right, even if it's only a fictional table that's dismantled at 10 p.m.—and by the way it's usually not even remotely adjacent to the bedroom unless the show is on cable.

Am I sounding an itsy bit bitter? Well, as Gay Pride Day approaches and the nipple clamps tighten, I'm going to throw off all negativity as if it were a Century 21 shawl and appreciate what progress we have made, even in the land of neutery second bananas and laugh tracks. Take Saturday Night Live—take it all. For decades, the show wallowed in homophobia and stereotypes—and I'm sure it still will—but now that queerdom is the new navy blue, it's been pushing a way more gay-friendly agenda to the sound of cash registers ka-ching-ing. Back in March, guest host Jon Stewart made yay-gay remarks that straight comics once would have run from, holding their crotches and screaming. And just a week later, Sir Ian McKellen did a bracing comic monologue, saying he felt much more welcome on the show than at that morning's Saint Patrick's Day Parade—"they don't seem to mind the priests, though, do they?" Sir Ian climaxed his appearance by planting a big, old, juicy smooch on Jimmy Fallon while in full drag. (Too bad so many cynics pounced on the esteemed Brit for having such a hot young boyfriend in real life that he stopped being photographed with the guy. This happens all the time with gay celeb relationships—the threatened media and public race to declare them horribly corrupt.)

Anyway, the week Sir Ian did SNL was the most gay-licious one ever, especially since it was the same week that Liza Minnelli married David Gest! Also flaming up the airwaves were no less than two Matthew Shepard TV movies (if you're gay, it helps to murder or be murdered to get a film project green-lighted), plus the sight of daytime darling Rosie O'Donnell finally coming out, eventually calling me and Michelangelo Signorile "morons" and "gay Nazis" for trying to push her there. I could handle that, but I had more of a problem with Rosie's refusal to admit that she'd been cagey all those years, and for careerist reasons. Instead, she insisted she'd never misled her audience and claimed her Tom Cruise shtick was not meant romantically. (Please—even a promo for her final show, while acknowledging how gay it was going to be, trumpeted an appearance by her "dream man," Tom.) But Rosie could be an extremely positive force, and she's getting more sensitive by the minute, even dropping her argument that Ellen DeGeneres was "offensive" in the way she came out. (How—unapologetically? Though sadly, Ellen herself has felt the need to recant, telling Next magazine, "I think [Rosie] just studied what I did and learned what not to do." Tellingly, in her latest comedy appearance, Ellen didn't do a single gay joke.)

illustration: Yuko Shimizu

In another case of "better late than never," Frasier's David Hyde Pierce went to the Emmys with his partner—how semi sort of bold of him—but the tabloids are still filled with your ambiguous performers who, the second rumors pop up, make sure to get caught licking whipped cream off female strippers at some paparazzi-laden hooch bar. Methinks the ladies doth protest too much.

The coolest public figure around has been Mike Piazza, who didn't avoid questions about his sexuality when the issue cropped up due to some very slippery reportage. With a refreshing sense of calm, the comely Mets catcher simply said he was straight, but it wouldn't matter in the least if he weren't. The directness and affability of his response made all the other people screaming that Piazza's name had been "dragged through the mud" look a bit foolish.

Alas, we're striking out in movies, kids. As prevalent as we are on the small screen, that's exactly how invisible we are again on the large one (except for the smash Spider-Man, which couldn't resist a piece of homophobic shtick). For any kind of representation or safety, you have to stick to the theater, where the line between blue-haired matinee lady and onstage male talent blurs by the minute. On Broadway, the big attraction once again will be queer pioneer Harvey Fierstein prancing about in drag (in the musical Hairspray). In the last three decades, Harvey was right about everything—from the way the world was noticing us as a result of the devastation of AIDS to the importance of gays' adopting—and if he now wants to sing and dance in a housedress, I say let him.

Of course gay adoption still has its critics—stay with me, folks—one of whom is a New York Post columnist who vehemently feels children deserve parents of both sexes. Alas, her kids can't enjoy that exalted situation, since their father's in jail, and he and the columnist are divorced anyway! (As Liz Smith wrote about the woman, "She has been struggling to liberate herself from an unhappy and old-fashioned lifestyle.")

But the whopper issue, naturally, has been Sacrament-gate—you know, the dangerous lives of altar boys—a crisis that became an excuse for the church to bash gays one more time with a sledgehammer made out of crushed rosary beads. As the situation turned into a modern-day revival of The Crucible—but with most of the screaming accusers telling the truth—officials in gowns reacted by targeting homosexuality (and the media) as evil, forgetting that their own intolerance, denial, and insistence on the closet may have fanned the flames of hell. At one point, the Vatican went so far as to suggest that gays shouldn't be allowed into the clergy anymore—as if that wouldn't lead to an empty cathedral. Excuse me, but while there are many self-loathing offenders here, gay doesn't equal boy-snatcher any more than church always equals accepting. One thing's clear, though: When it comes to policies and priorities, the church needs an even more massive overhaul than the FBI.

Things got even more absurd when, at the height of the insanity, the Vatican put out an edict criticizing stars like Cher for wearing jewel-studded crucifixes. Shouldn't they be thrilled that celebs are making the holy image massively visible? Publicist Liz Rosenberg shot back brilliantly with "Why don't you tell the pope to clean up his own house?" I guess John Paul II wants to pick and choose exactly who can wear the cross and with what outfit. Not surprisingly, he hasn't exactly gotten behind the campaign to canonize Father Mychal Judge, the 9-11 hero who was gay and apparently not ashamed of it. I suspect even I'll be named Saint Mychal before he is.

But the real martyrs continue to be people with AIDS, and though the accepted line these days is that the illness is more manageable, you should go tell my friend how manageable it is—the one who keeps having to be rushed to the hospital with all sorts of infections and disabilities. Go tell all the people with sunken cheeks, their facial wasting acting as a banner that screams, "I've got it." When it comes to AIDS, it's still 1981 in too many ways.

Oh, we may not live an unhappy and old-fashioned lifestyle, but we still have a long way to go, people—and the best example of that is the fact that I've barely mentioned lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, and the intersex community. "Hello, kettle! It's pot!" (Laugh track, please.)

Happy Gay Day.


musto@villagevoice.com

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