The Marv Albert case has given the media one more chance to equate kinky with criminal, and they’ve seized it with their hands lubed. Taking their lead from the prosecution, the press have put the sportscaster on trial as much for wearing panties (“perverse” and “sordid,” they cry) as for the assault, battery, and biting he should be held responsible for. Just as they rushed to label Andrew Cunanan “the gay serial killer,” the dailies have mixed up Marv’s sexuality with his pathology even more than he has, blurring the line between his panties, his “raven-haired” drag lover, and even his toupee on the one hand, and the nonconsensual acts he’s admitted to engaging in on the other.
No one seems willing to entertain the possibility that Marv’s female undergarments reflect a healthy sense of fantasy (one that admittedly went awry without enough direction). Rather than expand their sexual vocabularies, opinion makers can’t resist dredging up that tired image of the bi-curious, cross-dressing psychopath from old Hitchcock and DePalma movies. Once their initial sympathy for Marv turned sour, he became a menacing cliche of a self-gratifying sicko in high heels.
While “the accuser” was victimized by Marv, he may well have long been victimized by society’s distaste for his apparent fetishes–the kind of distaste that sends one into a shame spiral. Sexual mores these days are best encapsulated by the members of Jenny Jones’s lynch-mob-like studio audience–all above criticism, I’m sure–who rail against guests who’ve cheated, had unusual sex, dressed “slutty,” and so on (I know this because I watch the show every night). Perhaps Marv–faced with this society of disapprovers–became more frenetic and closeted about his tastes and began demanding more from his partners until he crossed the line of propriety. Now, perhaps, he’s earned the lynch mob response.
But, as reprehensible as Marv’s sexual abuses are, most Downtown folks agree that the garter belt look is by far his most fabulous one yet; it’s a “Yes! Yes!” And is anyone rushing to give him a VH1 Fashion Award? No–Marv will never nab the accolades Dennis Rodman’s gotten for cross-dressing, because in Marv’s case, the gown comes with a sexual (as in homosexual) edge, not to mention criminal charges. He threatens people in a real, libidinal way, whereas everyone knows Rodman’s in-your-face flamboyance is mostly a promotional shtick that’s only sequin-deep.
Lee Brewster, who owns the renowned transvestite boutique Lee’s Mardi Gras, has some compassion for Marv Albert; he sees his ilk walking through his doors every day. “Half of my clients are respectable-looking businessmen,” says Brewster, “very normal, but they know better than to present that side of themselves. The world always becomes shocked when these people become human. But then, why do they criticize Marv for being secretive [about his sexual habits]? What do they want him to do–flaunt it? He’s damned if he flaunts it and damned if he doesn’t. Believe me,” adds Brewster, “he’s not the only one who likes to bite people, all the way up to our president.” He laughs, then insists he knows nothing–it’s just a joke.
Down at the East Village fetish fashion store Body Worship, owner Arjan Khiani didn’t even flinch when he heard about Albert’s predicament. “Everybody we get,” he says, “from Wall Street to the entertainment industry is wearing ladies’ underwear. It’s freedom of sexual expression. They want push-up bras, corsets, dresses. I sell more women’s clothes to straight men than to the drag community. And increasingly they’re a lot more open about it.”
But few people are open to hearing about it. Outraged masses have come down on Marv because, as lawyer Barry Slotnick told the Post, “This is biting, backbiting, panties…Not family values.” Well, maybe he is a twisted sister, but let’s not forget how often “family values” have proven to be shields for really warped behavior. In fact, a lot of the people who object to Marv’s underwear are probably dressed like French maids and flogging their wives with feather dusters as we speak. They must be mad at Marv for putting the stigma back into fetishwear.