It’s “inning” time! That time of the year when someone famous, and gay, dies and the media cures him. Today’s patient, former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, who has just died.
Koch was gay.
But you might not know it from the huge, 9-page NYT obit that mentions the word “gay” twice, and then only to subtly mock the notion of Koch being gay:
Mr. Koch, for whom the headline “Hizzoner” seemed to have been coined, was a bachelor who lived for politics. Perhaps inevitably there were rumors, some promoted by his enemies, that he was gay. But no proof was offered, and, except for two affirmations in radio interviews that he was heterosexual, he responded to the rumors with silence or a rebuke. “Whether I am straight or gay or bisexual is nobody’s business but mine,” he wrote in “Citizen Koch,” his 1992 autobiography.
Because what heterosexual isn’t uncomfortable admitting and expressing their heterosexuality? Let’s see… there was this guy:
And this guy:
And then there’s this guy, a family values Republican who is anti-gay but who gets awfully upset when you ask him if he’s gay or straight, and then gets awfully uncomfortable while trying to answer a simple question about why he opposes gay marriage:
More on Ed Koch’s death from Andrew Sullivan, who is none-too-pleased with the imminent “inning” of Ed Koch:
Perhaps it’s better to see how Koch approached the subject. He saw it in two ways: about sexual behavior alone and about privacy. In that way, he was, in fact, quite typical of many in a generation of gay men his age, who defined their orientation understandably but entirely in terms of sexual freedom and protection from government scrutiny and prosecution. But AIDS, of course, ripped that sub-cultural eco-system apart. Of course, no one – straight or gay – is entirely defined by their sexual orientation. But it’s a core part of your personality – and Koch was simply too old, too self-loathing, and too prickly to change. Here’s the money quote when he was asked about it:
What do I care? I’m 73 years old. I find it fascinating that people are interested in my sex life at age 73. It’s rather complimentary! But as I say in my book, my answer to questions on this subject is simply “F*ck off.” There have to be some private matters left.
Of course they do. And I sure don’t want to know about Ed Koch’s sex life, if he had one. But the plain fact of your orientation is not the same as the details of your sex life. And when you are such a public figure and single and your city is grappling with an epic health crisis among gay men, it does become other people’s f*cking business – especially if he was inhibited from a more aggressive response because of not wanting to seem gay.
History will judge that. And so will the souls of countless gay men, who perished as their mayor panicked.
It’s a shame the ex-NYC mayor never came out.
It’s tragic that he hid behind excuses like the fact that he was old and wasn’t sexual at all anymore.
Old people are still sexual–and if you’re gay, you’re still gay–and besides, he could have commented on his past.
But Ed was so paranoid on the subject that when I interviewed him in the ’90s, he propped up a tape recorder to tape me as I recorded him. It was a creepy double game of “gotcha!” that led nowhere (though he was otherwise gruffly charming).
The media doesn’t like to “out” people as gay, though they’re happy to out politicians as just about everything else, including speculating just the other day that a Democratic Senator might have been with prostitutes. Yet “the gay,” they run in fear. In part it’s because the media thinks they’re helping us, protecting us (us, being gay people). And the concern is natural. Once upon a time it was extremely dangerous to be gay. And it still can be. But once you’re dead, the danger is gone. No one is going to bully you. You’re not going to lose your family. And other than the San Francisco 49ers, who else is going to have the vapors by the un-revelation that you’re gay after you’re dead?
So the media’s usual defense of defending the living doesn’t really apply, even if it were a valid argument for the living, and I’m not sure it is. So why “in” the dead, especially if their homosexuality was little more than a thinly-veiled secret? We don’t respect the famous dead’s wishes in any other subject area of their CV that I can think of. So when we know, the majority in society now know, and certainly the majority in the media know, that being gay is is not a “bad” thing, who are we protecting when we “in” the one person who possibly needed protection, but no longer does because he’s dead?
And as for history’s sake, if Ed Koch was gay, and neglected to address the AIDS crisis sufficiently, in part because he was a closet case, and men (and women) died because of it, then it is absolutely part of the historical record of both Ed Koch and the disease. I repeat what Andrew said above:
[W]hen you are such a public figure and single and your city is grappling with an epic health crisis among gay men, it does become other people’s f*cking business – especially if he was inhibited from a more aggressive response because of not wanting to seem gay.
Ed Koch was gay. He was conflicted, afraid, a bit paranoid, and very old-world about his sexual orientation. Which is perhaps understandable considering the age he grew up in. Any reporter under the age of 88 doesn’t have the same excuse.