I remember when I “got it.” It was a scene in that movie about Harvey Milk, starring Sean Penn: “Milk.”
A straight Christian politician, and colleague of Milk comes into his campaign office and all the gay staff fall dead silent. He is nervous. He has come to invite Milk to his wedding. Milk–who is a class act– casts a glance at his horrified staffers, stands up, and says: “I’d love to come. I’ll be there.” (We are of course to understand that this man is actually in the closet, etc.)
In any case, the marrying Christian hetero man nods, relieved, (he is entirely the “loser,” the bad guy, the ugh, who- would-want-to- be that guy, in the film, whereas Milk is a perfect shining hero and martyr. And has all the charisma and love.)
When he has left the office, the staff unfreeze. They roll their eyes, hiss, cackle, and exhort Milk to explain his bizarre decision. “You’re going?”
As if he was entering a very filthy tank full of terrible untouchable creatures nobody would want to be associated with.
I always wondered if the film maker, Gus Van Zandt, who intended his film to display gay heroica, realized what he had done in that scene.
Did he understand that Harvey Milk’s staff were showing exactly the kind of “PHOBIA” that this whole predictable exercise in virtue signaling was meant to deride?
I was very eager to ask him but of course I don’t know the guy.
Let me tell you another story that defies Hollywood’s strict ideological narratives and moral codes. My father ran for Mayor of New York City, in 1977, on the Republican ticket, and actually did very well, due to his capacity to turn up in any neighborhood and speak any foreign language. I love him but he would have made a terrible Mayor, I think. He is not interested in anything administrative or dull. He likes to do things like place colored flags on all his cheeses and know their names in foreign languages. A hoot, a total character–but Mayor of New York? No.
(I was in Sweden, with my mother and sister, and literally was barely aware of this Mayor Of New York business. Before the internet…)
He ran against Ed Koch, who of course won, and who was deeply in the closet as a gay man. Nobody knew, nobody cared.
BUT: I met and interviewed Koch, many years later, for a story about post 9/11 New York, in Newsmax. He was very warm and nice, until I mentioned my father, at which point he turned to cold steel. Perfunctory quotes–done.
Usually people across the political spectrum, all the way over to and including Victor Navasky, all but hug my legs when they learn who my father is. People just love him. But not Ed Koch.
So I asked my father about it and here is what he told me. His campaign manager wanted to leak to the press about Koch’s homosexuality. (Bear in mind, this is in 1977.)
My father said no way. NO WAY. I’d rather lose than win like that. (I have no doubt whatsoever this is true.)
Koch nevertheless believed to the end of his life that when the story eventually did leak, my father was behind it. He would not believe the truth.
“But hang on a minute,” I said to my father. “He won.”
“Yeah I know,” my father said. “He was a sore winner.”