Alien vs. Predator

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

I'm a gay American—applause, applause—so I've been especially mesmerized by McGreevey-gate, the most sweeping allegory about the dangers of the closet since David Gest was allegedly brutalized by flying pieces of Halston furniture. By his own admission, New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey has been a poster child for duplicity, finally forced by a legal wake-up call to come clean while wearing a patterned red tie that would have outed him anyway.

The gay revelation was a momentous event that, sadly, could have only happened out of shame, not pride. Even more so than showbiz closets, political ones are generally so airtight that it takes flat-out blackmail (or at least a possible sexual harassment suit) to fling them open and a smoking butt to keep them that way. The days when a married pol announces "Yep, I'm gay" just because he feels like it are as far away as Michael Jackson begging the FBI to chaperone his next date.

Still, even if only because he had to, the wandering-eyed Jerseyite spoke out and did so with enough rising-against-oppression authority to make you feel, yep, he must be gay. In his August 12 speech saying he'll step down into Garden State ignominy, McGreevey seemed as dignified as his administration was unpopular and as well-intentioned as his reign was called corrupt, failing to register as any kind of stereotypical gay psycho killer or colorist. At least that's how it all seemed at first. When the pixie dust cleared, it became more obvious that the Drumthwacket-eer had played the lavender card and blinded us to the fact that he'd apparently put gayroll on the payroll and used taxpayer money to fund dubious jobs for what was basically a glorified trick, whether real or imagined. "Sexually confused" is what the press first came away with, all misty-eyed, but by the next day they were thinking "jaw-droppingly sleazy," and that hasn't helped the gay cause any more than McGreevey's last scandal helped fundraisers-don't-hire-prosties-to-entrap-their-brother-in-law awareness.

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)

In his statement, McGreevey insistently portrayed himself as a survivor of hormonal bewilderment, not a gleefully flaming queen who's been cruising for a bruising for years between dutiful ribbon-cutting appearances with the wife. He looked heart-tuggingly contrite as he declared, "It was wrong. It was foolish. It was inexcusable." What, his marriage? No, he meant cheating on his marriage, though he neglected to add that it was with a not unattractive, overage rent boy/underqualified employee whose only apparent terror advising was in advising himself to be a terror when scorned. Adding fuel to the flaming-queen flames, the guy, Golan Cipel, then swore he was the victim of predatory advances and horny vindictiveness, and by the way he isn't gay, no matter how close he lives to Don't Tell Mama! (Not that it matters if people call him gay, blah blah blah.) By the time that item leaked, there was more confusion and blame flying around than in the Queer as Folk episode where Justin discovered that Brian didn't go to Ibiza.

I'm not buying into theories that the guy (who's straight, by the way) must be some kind of soigné Mossad spy, but I am still amazed by Golan's heights of nerve. His accusations, seemingly right out of Gore Vidal's dirty-politics drama The Best Man, couldn't come at a better time for Republicans, who, led by gaydar-activating Christie Todd Whitman herself, are demanding that McGreevey step down immediately, presumably so one of their own illustrious, sexually unconfused ranks can get voted into the job.

And speaking of confusion, the biggest shocker of all is that McGreevey's gay-gay-gay revelation has somehow spelled unemployment for him but so far not anything resembling marital termination. In fact, right after the admission, the scandalized politico and his missus went away for some quality time together. Where—to the Fire Island "Meat Rack"? What's it gonna take to break up this arrangement? The whole point of a fake marriage, people, is to keep it going only until people find out it's fake. And you certainly wrap it up when the wife finds out it's fake!

But—someone's gotta say this—Dina's no dummy and he's no genius of discretion. She had to have known! Everyone else, from reporters to Web posters, had buzzed about the supposed liaison for years, so how could shenot have gotten the memo? Despite the anonymous source running around claiming that Arianna, I mean Dina, was homo-clueless, I bet the McGreeveys have a de-lovely, we-know-what-it's-about situation and enjoy sharing a home base, even more so when power is tasted. Did you see wifey's face at the press conference? This was no Mrs. Kobe Bryant–type squirmer. The woman almost looked proud! She practically seemed at peace with his having gotten a piece! Maybe this is the marriage of the future—one completely open in its duplicity.

Lord knows McGreevey's first wife, Kari Schutz, seems to know the score. Last week, The New York Times asked Schutz if she knew before their divorce that McGreevey was gay, and she tellingly replied, "I'll leave it at that." But funny, the next day, when the New York Postand the Daily News trotted out the very same question, she shrieked, "I didn't know!" Clearly, Schutz had been visited by the same checkbook-wielding angel who contacted Kevin Federline's suddenly ecstatic dumped girlfriend.

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.)

Choire Sicha, the gawker.com 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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