Alien vs. Predator

What the McGreevey mess means for closets, corruption, and casting couches

McGreevey can take comfort in the fact that he's no more alone in his double life than Scott Peterson is the only guy with a murdered pregnant wife. Public figures are constantly driven into surreptitious love by the way society's underlying disapproval of gays fuels their own self-doubts. In fact, the same day "I am a gay American" became the hottest catchphrase since "Shove it!," the California Supreme Court routinely invalidated 4,000 or so marriages. The hilarious result is that Rosie O'Donnell is now living in sin, but McGreevey's marriage to his beard stands by law! (That's good news for him, since he's possibly sticking with it.) Adding yet more ironic texture, McGreevey himself helped fuel this very climate by arguing against gay marriage (though he did sign Jersey's Domestic Partnership Act). I guess hypocrisy is not the exclusive domain of the Giuliani-Gingrich-Limbaugh-Ryan-etc. party after all.

And sex scandals, as we know by now, are not the exclusive domain of any group. When it comes to the proverbial casting couch, the effect is always corrosive, whether the couch is from Seaman's or Ikea. Deliciously enough, on the very page after its McGreevey story last Friday, the Post reported that Bronx state senator Efrain Gonzalez had given a longtime gal pal a cushy job. (Obviously Golan Cipel wasn't available—probably busy launching the inevitable handbag line.) Well, unless Gonzalez gives a weepy "I am a straight American" speech and steps down in shame very soon, I'm moving to Canada.

With all these lurid layers wrapped around the McGreevey story like a Dolce & Gabbana suit, the gay pundits are having a foofy field day. Reaction has been impassioned and mixed, from out Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank (who survived his own escort scandal in '89) welcoming the closet flinging to Chelsea bar patrons pontificating over sour apple martinis, "I never realized McGreevey was so cute!" (Or that Cipel was so straight.)

Illustration by Cliff Nielsen; photographs by Peter Foley/SIPA (Jim McGreevey); Getty Images (Golan Cipel)
Illustration by Cliff Nielsen; photographs by Peter Foley/SIPA (Jim McGreevey); Getty Images (Golan Cipel)

Choire Sicha, the blogger-turned-overseer, told me he loved the spectacle of Anderson Cooper and Shepard Smith having to roll around in the story on camera. But what does the whole squalid soap opera represent? "You can read it really traditionally," said Sicha. "This is why J. Edgar Hoover used to say the CIA wouldn't let gays in. They could use it to blackmail you!" Especially if you're fully gowned like Hoover. But just as traditional was McGreevey's claim to have had an affair with one man. "Like, oh right," smirked Sicha. "A man this week."

Conversely, author-Barneys creative director Simon Doonan feels McGreevey was too forthcoming. "With his wife standing there," Doonan told me, "he could have at least said, 'I'm bisexual.' It really elbowed her out of the picture big time, which made him seem a bit less than charitable. Gay people are usually a little sweeter than that."

Charitable gay person Michelangelo Signorile—the godfather of outing and a talk show host on Sirius Satellite Radio's OutQ—has his own problems with all the McGrievances in the air. "What I hate," he told me, "is that in every one of these stories, there's always an evil queen doing something horrible." Or two evil queens? "Well, there are several possible scenarios here," he offered. "One could be that Cipel is telling the truth and he just wanted to work and McGreevey started harassing him. I've written about harassment—it's so typical of closet cases.

"Or it could be the complete opposite, where Cipel's been extorting McGreevey from the get-go. How do we know his jobs were not based on maybe one sexual romp in Israel and the next morning this nut says, 'I have pictures of this. I want a job'? The reality is probably somewhere in the middle."

Either way, the upshot is that the carefully chosen words "I am a gay American" have been resonating beyond all the pulp-fiction details of the story. "A lot of people will find sympathy with that," says Signorile. "People are beginning to distinguish between the fact that he's gay and these other issues. In that sense, it's a good thing."

And you certainly have to find sympathy with the fact that, as of last Friday, channels were still showing the suddenly riotous commercial for New Jersey tourism that has McGreevey and his family cavorting on a beach (no, not in Fire Island) as the shark-mouthed gov urges, "Come out and see what's new in Jersey." Thanks, honey, but I came out and I'm staying right here.

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