Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
April 14, 1998

Blowing in the wind.
Author/s: Bruce Vilanch

"I'M SO GLAD TO BE IN NEW YORK AT THE GAY MEN'S HEALTH Crisis instead of in Washington at the Straight Men's Health Crisis." This got a huge laugh when Bette Midler said it a few weeks ago at a benefit for the GMHC. Here was an audience that for almost 15 years has been hearing how promiscuity is a big homosexual problem. All of a sudden the other nine guys in the random sample are having to worry about it--and at the highest level of government. Sex panic, indeed.

True, they're worrying for different reasons, but at least we have temporarily relinquished possession of the scarlet letter. Monica S. Lewinsky, as The New York Times amusingly refers to her each and every time (just in case you get her confused with Monica J. Lewinsky or Monica Q. Lewinsky), has been Monica from heaven for comedy writers. Now we know the identity of Deep Throat. The new national bird is the spread eagle. Monica's dry-cleaning problems give new meaning to the term Whitewater. You've heard 'em. I got paid for some of 'em.

Sexual malfeasance among the governing elite has always been a surefire cash cow for the comedy business. At the same time, Xena's double-edged sword of political correctness has transformed old-fashioned sexual carryings-on into newfangled sexual harassment. The feminist movement almost drained all the humor out of sex (out of life itself there for a few years). Whether you liked her or not, Anita Hill wasn't funny. You knew she represented what was really going on in companies all across America.

But we haven't seen many feminists springing to Lewinsky's defense. It took Kathleen Willey, who charges a man with sexual harassment and then writes him fan letters, to get them into action. I think Monica's poor showing had to do with a lot of people of the boomer generation having enough life experience to realize that (a) everybody lies, (b) it takes two to tango or even to do the horizontal bop, and (c) in a world where truth is so shadowy, performance and the bottom line are what count.

Studies taken before Willey's toxic spill on 60 Minutes, during the early weeks of the Lewinsky hostage crisis (poor thing couldn't leave her apartment; even Madonna gets to go to the park and jog!), indicated over and over that the American public, sometimes by a 75% majority, thought the media were making too much of the thing. Clinton's approval ratings climbed even after the Annan-Hussein agreement doused all hopes of a big, butch war. And a CNN poll revealed that only 12% to 16% of Americans think the president is obliged to set a moral standard. At the millennium Americans view their leader not as a rabbi or a big Boy Scout but as a CEO. No office sex scandal is going to get a CEO fired when the stock is up. Most Americans want to keep the president's personal moral standards separate from his politically moral ones. Feminists certainly do. Especially when the president is pro-choice.

Do gay people? Does anyone find it ironic that a president who stated that gay marriage is unalterably wrong is now embroiled in a scandal involving alleged adultery in a straight marriage? Some Clinton spin doctors attempted to separate adultery from oral sex. Is eating cheating? Talk about splitting hairs. Maybe the Administration's new motto should be, "Do as I say, not as I do. And while you're at it, do me."

Naturally, it wouldn't be a real sex scandal unless some of the sex was what used to be called unnatural. One theory floating around claimed that Bill was up to what he was up to because Hillary is a lesbian. How come nobody ever used this rationale on Jackie Kennedy when her husband was out combing Georgetown for a bite? Well, even the Republicans liked Jackie. She conquered France.

If you don't like a woman, if she doesn't respond to your entreaties, she must be a lesbian. It's literally the oldest argument in the world. Hillary's spent a lot of time ignoring powerful men, so it's her turn in the barrel. But the spin didn't really stick with that one, so it went away.

Being gay is not entirely the stigma it used to be. Even Strom Thurmond, that hoary old bigot, offered the opinion that the only way Clinton could be drummed out of office now was if he were found in the sack with a young boy. Not a man, you'll notice. Not even a boy. A young boy. Even Strom Thurmond is beginning to notice something different blowing in the wind.