By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
I’ve been thinking a lot about Jerome Robbins lately. One of our greatest choreographers and theatrical creators, Robbins’ professional success contrasted sharply with the personal calumny that sprang from his 1953 testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, in which he named other former ‘30s-era American Communists. As a recent American Masters program on Robbins made clear, he did it because HUAC threatened to tell the world that he was a homosexual if he didn’t.
Note, I did not say “out him as gay.” Back then, being identified as “a homosexual” meant nothing less than virtual death. It meant you were legally “criminal,” morally a “sinner,” and mentally “neurotic.” Everyone in dance and theater knew Robbins was gay. As Arthur Laurents recounts in his memoir Original Story By, at rehearsals for the original production of West Side Story Robbins loudly attacked actor Larry Kert for “acting like a faggot,” before going on to steal Kert’s boyfriend. But no one did or said anything about it, so powerful was the force of what Christopher Isherwood called “the Heterosexual dictatorship.” And Robbins made himself part of it.
I met Robbins back when he was dating a friend of mine, the experimental filmmaker Warren Sonbert. Totally “out of the closet,” Warren embarked on his affair with Robbins knowing that it would be short-lived but hoping that some degree of friendship would remain after ardor cooled. One night, Warren and I had gone to a screening at the Museum of Modern Art and were walking up Fifth Avenue to drop by the Gotham Book Mart when we ran into Robbins. Warren had just been talking about him, saying that Robbins’ greatness as an artist transcended everything else. Running up to him, Warren was all smiles as he introduced me to a smiling, polite but obvious terrified Robbins. As we chatted, Robbins looked around this way and that in furtive panic. What on earth was he afraid of? We were two anonymous men talking to him casually. We could be fans, or dancers, or actors he knew. But in the immortal words of FDR, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”
That fear is what ruled Jerome Robbins. But the fear that rules the anti-gay closet cases on view in Outrage is of a rather different order. Larry Craig got the equivalent of jaywalking ticket for his men’s room sexcapades — not the prison sentence or pre-frontal lobotomy faced by gays or yore. Jim McGreevey got The Full Oprah, the deluxe afternoon talk-show crying towel, complete with a book deal for himself and his allegedly unknowing wife. And given that the mainstream media, many of whose reporters (cough Anderson Cooper cough) are reluctant to discuss their so-called “private lives,” David Dreier, Mitch McConnell and their ilk won’t be thrust into the spotlight now aimed squarely at Charlie Crist. Unless they’re “indiscreet.” And in politics, like so much else these days, indiscretion is the better part of YouTube.
My advice to the congenitally closeted? Take a tip from Robbins’ West Side Story collaborator, Stephen Sondheim: Boy, boy, crazy boy / Get cool, boy / Got a rocket in your pocket / Keep cooly cool boy /Don’t get hot / ’Cause man you got / Some high times ahead / Take it slow / And Daddy-o / You can live it up and die in bed / Boy, boy, crazy boy / Stay loose, boy / Breeze it / Buzz it / Easy does it / Turn off the juice, boy / Go man, go / But not like a yo-yo school boy / Just play it cool, boy / Real cool.
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