THE BACK PAGES

Lucky for Mahmoud, he’s not alone

There’s another fantastical place we know where there are no gays. It's called Hollywood.

ROSALIND MILES October 15 2007
THE BACK PAGES

Lucky for Mahmoud, he’s not alone

There’s another fantastical place we know where there are no gays. It's called Hollywood.

ROSALIND MILES October 15 2007

Lucky for Mahmoud, he’s not alone

fame

There’s another fantastical place we know where there are no gays. It's called Hollywood.

ROSALIND MILES

There are no gays in Iran: that’s official. Just like Hollywood, then. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, making this pronouncement on a recent visit to New York, has much in common with the U.S.A., where film, TV and showbiz have always been notoriously nervous about any deviation from the American Way. Remember The Brady Bunch? There were no gays there either.

In a world without gays, accommodations have to be made. In the old days of Hollywood, confirmed bachelors like Rock Hudson, living happily with their houseboys, not only had to be cast as hot-blooded heterosexuals, they had to marry, too. MGM scored a neat double when they hitched Robert Taylor to Barbara Stanwyck, comfortably stilling gossip about both stars’ sexual preferences.

Iran takes a sterner line. While denying a situation enshrined in its penal code as a capital crime, Iran pursues the brilliant wheeze of curing gay men by turning them into women. Iran has more sex-change operations than any other country except Thailand. If that doesn’t work, they hang them.

It’s different in the West. While k.d. lang and George Michael seem to romp unchallenged through their lives of fame, they are still subject to the Hollywood code which regulates acceptability, rules laid down by the movie moguls of yore. When Sam Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer held sway, actors like James Dean and Marlon Brando had any hint of gayness overlaid with a smouldering sexpot or super-hunk image, exuding maleness from every pore. The moguls, short and ugly to a man, and as Eastern European Jews often in flight from racial persecution besides, nevertheless, like Ahmadinejad, imposed their reality at will. Recent victims of the cult

of the macho gay were the tiger-taming duo Siegfried and Roy, one of whom almost got mauled to death living their superman fantasy, and who only recently came out.

Gays also win acceptance through the old vaudeville technique, “make ’em laugh.” From Liberace dripping with diamanté to Elton John’s frocks and wigs, gay entertainers learned to exaggerate an over-the-top form of sexuality that is already a caricature. They become court jesters, literally so in the case of Noël Coward in the 1950s, shielded from Britain’s then-savage penal code by the patronage of the Queen Mother herself.

While gays can now play gays (Rupert Everett in My Best Friend's Wedding), they still can’t take romantic leads. One producer told Everett the American public would never accept him as a leading man. Hollywood’s message to modern gays comes through loud and clear when it makes movies like the AIDSepic Philadelphia or Brokeback Mountain, and casts notably straights in the lead.

Throughout the world of fame, alpha males still can’t be gay. Like Iran, most sports don’t have gays: Britain’s first prominent gay soccer player, Justinus “Justin” Fashanu, was tormented by derision and finally killed himself. Billie Jean King prepared the ground very carefully before coming out, and only at the end of her career, while Martina Nav-

ratilova’s more open lifestyle meant saying goodbye to any major endorsement deals. Lesbian TV star Ellen DeGeneres earned abuse as “Ellen Degenerate.”

Back to The Brady Bunch. In the U.S., notionally the freest country in the world, it was “giant news” last week, glowed a People magazine editor, that actress Maureen McCormick, formerly Marsha in the squeaky clean series, purportedly had a lesbian affair with actress Eve Plumb, her TV sister Jan (a rumour that was quickly denied by the publishers of McCormick’s new autobiography). Why would this still be news? Haven’t things moved on?

Not a lot. The world of celebrity is driven by those whose deepest interest lies not in fame or success, but in money and power. They gain both by tapping into the wistful fantasy that somewhere, over the rainbow, there’s a world as it ought to be. Trading in illusion and delusion, they are kings of the dark art of remodelling reality by disappearing all the bits they don’t like. Like Nelson, who was famously depicted putting his telescope to his blind eye and announcing, “I see no ships,” Ahmadinejad sees no gays. He sees no Holocaust either. Some irony, then, that both he and the moguls who made Hollywood share the same urge to command and control. The level of denial and destruction this entails was pinpointed by one of the world’s leading experts in the field. After all, as Hitler observed, if you’re going to tell a lie, make it a big one. M