Wealth and fame have always had their privileges, like, for example, misbehaving with impunity. Perhaps nowhere has this been truer than in the gay demimonde. Historically, the gilded enclave of Hollywood has always been rife with homosexuals. Icons such as Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Montgomery Clift, and Rock Hudson all lived double lives, trysting secretly with each other or with handpicked groupies, all the while hiding their sexual proclivities behind their blinding public image.
Meanwhile, less fortunate gays, who were forced to frequent dive bars just to escape crushing ostracism, incurred the wrath of phobic hoodlums and the indignities of police brutality. Since then the climate has improved for most queer plebes. Tolerance is seemingly on the rise. Yet despite the change, Hollywood has remained clandestinely queer. While posing as limousine liberals, most of today’s movie stars have shirked their responsibility to come out of the closet. There’s no excuse. The consequences of coming out are few these days and infinitely less severe than they once were.
There is, after all, no lavender scare in Tinseltown, no purple baiting, no blacklist. And even if, for argument’s sake, we pretended there were, why is the gay cause less laudable than the erstwhile Communist one? At the height of McCarthyism, Lillian Hellman, like other luminaries, took great pride in defending the civil liberties of Hollywood Reds, declaring to the House Un-American Activities Committee that she would not cut her conscience to suit that year’s fashions. So why, in this comparatively benign day and age, don’t gays, whose civil rights are still at risk every day around the globe, deserve such brave champions?
Why do self-righteous Hollywood politicos like the queen of all media (who felt free to opine endlessly about the election fiasco) sit idly by, peddling their pseudohetero appeal, enjoying all the privileges gay activists have won for them? Could the political importance of coming out have possibly escaped her majesty? Or was she simply too busy enumerating the faults of President Bush?
Why has that multi-multimillionaire actor who’s cornered more than his fair share of the limelight hidden for so long behind sham marriages? Does he really think coming out would ruin his box-office appeal? And if by some fluke it did, could we really feel sorry for the man? After all, how rich does he have to be before he’ll consider it safe to risk the loss of the vapid lead in the next piss-poor romantic comedy?. And wouldn’t it be worth it if he saved the lives of a few suicidal teens who at this very moment are standing in their parents’ basements holding a homemade noose and trying to work up the guts to go through with it because they’re convinced that being gay will relegate them to marginalized unhappiness for the rest of their lives? If such teens knew they were surrounded by “normalized” queers in high places, they’d be a damn sight less desperate.
But unfortunately, instead of brave role models, they have weasels like that Oscar magnet who, even when outed in the media, weaves elaborate canards to hide his penchant for boys. And once again we have to ask, Why?
The answer is the same in every case: downright greed and cowardice. Our “stars,” who contribute every day to strengthening the mythology of the heterosexual prerogative, would rather salve their paltry consciences by writing checks to Bill and Hillary than by simply being themselves and making a statement of solidarity where it would do the most good. They’d rather not risk losing yet another multimillion-dollar contract than change the way millions of Americans see gay people and thus quite possibly change the fate of the next Matthew Shepard. Nail. Instead, they’ve all ridden blithely on the coattails of Stonewall, letting the rest of us risk insults, wounds, and some-times death by being openly and unashamedly gay.
There are times when silence is a crime of complicity. That’s doubly true when no one’s going to shoot you for speaking up.
Where to go to find them: Closeted Gay Hideouts
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town is the new Sydney, apparently. The party capital of the first country in the world to enshrine the protection of homosexual rights in its constitution, the city boasts a gay community of around 100,000, a fabulous climate and attractions including stunning Atlantic beaches, the imposing Table Mountain, nearby winelands, insane nightlife and Africa’s biggest shopping complex. In a few short years, Cape Town has become the fifth most popular destination for gay travellers in the world, and with burgeoning annual gay celebrations, a thriving Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and a good-looking bid to host the Gay Olympics in 2010, its rise has barely begun. So very gay is ‘The Mother City’ in fact, that Graham Norton is househunting there. Seal of approval or death knell? Decide when you get there.
In a nutshell: A gay LA, but with character
Russian River, California, USA
If you’re more Great Outdoors than Dance-Till-Dawn, the pristine forests and river beaches of California’s coolest gay destination are for you. The River, as in-the-know San Franciscans call it, is a rustic paradise of hiking, hot tubs, cute cabins and laid-back, ‘clothing-optional’ sunbathing areas set in west Sonoma County. A stone’s throw from prime wine country, the area draws a mixed, laid-back crowd of all ages, mainly from San Francisco and the Bay area, and while chilled-out starry nights are a main attraction, the funky little bars of Guerneville provide plenty of social contact. Special weekend events for women and ‘bears’ take place each spring and autumn, and even the disco bunnies get a look-in with the now notorious three-day, al fresco Sundance party in mid-August, thrown in a meadow surrounded by towering sequoia redwood trees.
In a nutshell: Best ever summer, er, camp
Visitors to ‘the Paris of the East’ are often taken aback by the openness with which cruising goes on in public places here. Long renowned as a gay centre, Hungary’s legislation is lagging way behind the lifestyles of many of the residents of the twin cities of Buda and Pest, and though male tourists will find much gay life on the streets and in clubs, homosexuality is still covert in day-to-day life. Lesbians tend to socialise almost exclusively at private parties and meetings, although the famous Angel bar on Szövetség plays host to some women-oriented evenings, as well as drag shows and mixed gay club nights. Budapest’s first Gay Pride festival, in 1997, signalled the start of progress, how ever, and the city’s eclectic architectural charms and the vast Esceri flea market are rewarding attractions.
In a nutshell: Welcome to the cruise
The Algarve, Portugal
Although Portugal trails most western European countries in openness about homosexuality, recent legislation, followed by the inclusion of gay issues in films and on TV, is starting to increase its acceptability, notably in Lisbon and Porto. Not that this was ever much of an issue for the many men who take a quick holiday from the family on the busy beaches to seek out foreign male company in the Algarve’s endless dunes. Idyllic Algarve towns such as Tavira, Lagoa and Albufeira are starting to respond to the demand and develop a quiet but friendly scene for discreet gay visitors. If all else fails, countless golf courses always offer an opportunity to give those pink clam-diggers an airing.
Vieques, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico has long held a reputation as the most liberal island in the Caribbean, and the tiny, unspoilt islet of Vieques, eight miles off its coast, has become the sophisticated hideout for A-list American gay men and women, even though once there you don’t need suitcases of cash to enjoy it. Rolling hills, beautiful, deserted beaches, stylish inns and an abundance of peace and quiet are the main attractions, along with snorkelling, scuba or body-surfing for the more energetic. As for nightlife, the brightest lights are the phosphorescent micro-organisms in the sea. A splash about in the water after dark will stir up a shimmering lightshow.
In a nutshell: Low-key for high fliers
Vancouver & Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada
Montreal, Quebec, has long had an internationally famous gay and lesbian scene, but Vancouver, on the other side of Canada in British Columbia, is surely finding its feet. This stunning city, sandwiched between coastal mountains and the Pacific, resembles Sydney, though sadly with a climate more like our own. Its small but vibrant gay scene, based around the West End area, ben efits from the city’s multiracial culinary traditions, and boasts clubs and bars for a range of tastes. What’s more, the world-class ski resort of Whistler, whose ever-growing Gay Ski Week celebrated its tenth anniversary this month, is only 90 minutes’ drive away, and lesbian visitors flock to the picturesque, hilly Salt Spring Island, just off the east coast of Vancouver Island, a mixed but predominantly female-friendly community rich in artists’ studios, beaches and hearty hikes.
In a nutshell: Urban playground without pretension
Billed as Oz’s answer to the French Riviera, Queensland grows into its name more every day. Beginning with the adoption of tropical paradise resort Noosa as the location of choice for post-Sydney Mardi Gras recovery, the state’s dazzling coastline has become increasingly colonised by well-heeled gay men and women from the eastern states’ big cities. It now boasts a string of gay-friendly spots, the most exclusive of which is Turtle Cove, a private resort half an hour’s drive from Cairns. Nowadays Port Douglas, the Gold Coast conurbation, and even no-nonsense Brisbane all welcome planeloads of hedonistic gay tourists. July’s Mr Gay Queensland is an annual highlight, but what truly sealed the state’s pink status was the recent opening on the Gold Coast Broadwater of Palazzo Versace, a no-frills-spared wedding cake of a hotel, the only one in the world created and ‘personally monitored by the Versaces’.
In a nutshell: Sun, sea, and sauce
Sadly, a massive proportion of the gay activities in Thailand have until recently come under the banner of sex tourism. But over the last decade local scenes have grown in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Phuket. A stunning island off south Thailand’s west coast, Phuket has long been renowned for its perfect beaches, watersports, golf and ludicrously cheap nightlife. Patong Beach, something of a gay Mecca, recently held its third, triumphant Gay Pride festival, which allowed many gay Thais to meet worldwide tourists on equal terms. However, in a country where homosexual sex has never been illegal, homophobia is said to be on the rise, which ironically is credited as an adopted Western trait.
In a nutshell: Pride reclaimed in paradise