A Gay Senate Candidate Revealed!

Double-wide-eyed by an opera trailer at Carnegie Hall and by a Senate race out North Carolina way

But might Elizabeth Dole be every bit as rotten as Limbaugh—I mean Helms—was? "She's not as polarizing in terms of her stance on social issues," said Neal. "Jesse Helms will be remembered as being a very polarizing, mean person. An old-line party activist in North Carolina named Betty McCain said, 'Helms is so mean that when he was a boy, his mother had to tie a pork chop around his neck so the dogs would come play with him.' " "I thought that was to keep away the Jews," I remarked, saucily. "There aren't any!" replied Neal, laughing.

Well, there is at least one gay. Has Neal's out sexuality become an issue in the campaign? "You're the first person who's asked me that casually," he said, as my gay jaw dropped. "It's been very awkward for journalists. I've been all over the state like a junebug and no one has asked me once about my sexual orientation!" I guess even in our Jerry Springer society full of raucous revelations, nervous nellies would rather brush gayness under their pink carpets. (You hear that, Claymates?) Neal said a couple in a restaurant did once ask what his stand is on homosexuality. "I said, 'I'm standing on it,' " he related, "then I shook their hands and walked away. I still don't know if they got it!"

I doubt it—they probably just got the pork chop—but back to my question, junebug. Has it become an issue? "I was aware it would be of issue to some," said Neal (who doesn't frequent airport bathrooms), "but I sure as hell didn't get into this race for kicks and giggles. I'm in to win. I'm not running because I'm gay, but I'm certainly not running away from it!" Especially since it took him some time to embrace it. "Yes, I was a breeder," he confessed. "I was married to a woman whom I love very much. Like many other people, I spent a lot of time lying to myself. I was clueless. I knew how I felt about men, but I convinced myself that that was perfectly natural. When I did meet someone and fell in love with him, call it an epiphany or whatever, but I couldn't live with myself any other way than who I am!"

And this little well-groomed identity-accepter—who's been with his current partner for five years—sounds to me like a dream Dem. He fights for the little guy, feels we need to get out of Iraq quickly, but in a safe, measured way, and can be forgiven occasional David Mamet–type utterances like "The African-American community is so real." So come on, everyone in North Carolina: Please vote for Jim Neal and help kill Jesse Helms! Better he goes than Joan Fontaine.

musto@villagevoice.com

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