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May 2013

The Fashion World Mourns the Death of Perry Ellis (May 30, 1986)

Perry ellisAlthough many of us lost close friends and lovers to AIDS in the early years, it was the death of "names" that communicated the seriousness of AIDS to the general public.  This first happened in the fall of 1985 when Rock Hudson died.  Then less than a year later Perry Ellis, a well known fashion designer in the prime of his career, was struck down at the age of 46.  His death on May 30, 1986 came five months after his partner of five years also died from AIDS-related complications. 


In the early years of the health crisis, the cause of illness and death of many gay men in their 30s, 40s and 50s was wrapped in mystery and denial.  Because of the stigma attached to it, someone's death from AIDS was often attributed to conditions other than AIDS.  (In most cases, these other illnesses were caused by an AIDS weakened immune system.)  Six weeks after Ellis' death, New York Magazine ran a cover story about him that discussed his career and the downturn in his health that was whispered about but never openly discussed. 


There was concern that the Perry Ellis label might not survive because of its association with AIDS.  Happily, that wasn't the case and hiring up and coming talent like Marc Jacobs (pictured below) insured that creative inspiration remained.  However, since the fashion industry employed so many gay men, the impact of AIDS posed a serious challenge.  The implications were reported in detail in an article in the NY Times from 1990. 




Waybandy Willi_smith Halston Ellis' was just the first notable AIDS death to shake the fashion industry.  Two months later, famed make-up artist Way Bandy (far right) died at the age of 45.  The next year, Willi Smith (center), a designer just hitting his stride, died at the age of 39.  Then 31-year-old Angel Estrada fell in 1989, followed in 1990 by 57-year-old Halston (near right).  




Pet Shop Boys' Musical "Closer to Heaven" Opens in London (May 31, 2001)

Billie_trix2The Pet Shop Boys extended their talents to the theater, and their efforts resulted in the musical Closer to Heaven, which premiered in London's East End on May 31, 2001.  The story brings to mind West Side Story, but with a gay storyline and a London setting.  A young, bisexual man leaves his girlfriend for a deeply troubled, straight acting drug dealer.  A great mix of songs are melded with a story that is sexy, sleazy, tender and heartbreaking.


I had been told about this show by my friend Tom and when the original cast CD was released in early 2002 we found it while we were on vacation in Australia.  Based on his raves, and the fact that I was a PSB fan, I bought it there with great anticipation and I was rewarded many times over.


Closer_to_heaven2There's one great song after another.  Highlights for me are My Night; It's My Little Tribute to Caligula, Darling!; Positive Role Model; Out of My System; For All of Us; and the title track.  The music is a typical mix of PSB tunes, i.e. some danceable, others heart-breakingly beautiful.  The songs Closer to Heaven and For All of Us still bring me to tears.  And Out of My System has a very En Vogue/Destiny's Child vibe. 


Closer To Heaven Pet Shop Boys Dallas programWe waited for the show to come to Broadway, but it was not to be.  However, it did have a limited run in Dallas in 2010 (pictured, right).  It got mixed reviews, but in my imagination it was a smash, with great performances, wonderful sets and writhing/hot bodies.  Perhaps its mixed reviews were due to its gay storyline and/or critics' lack of appreciation for the Pet Shop Boys.


If you haven't already heard it, give yourself a treat and take a listen to the cast CD.

First Same-Sex Marriages In U.S. Begin in Massachusetts (May 17, 2004)

Samesexmarriage The first same-sex marriages in the US took place in Massachusetts on May 17, 2004.  This was six months after the state's Supreme Court ruled that a ban on such unions was unconstitutional.  Since then, thirty-six other states and Washington, DC have also made gay marriage legal.  (The Netherlands was the first country to legalize gay unions in 2001.)  Many of these states came on board after the Supreme Court struck down the 1996's Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in June 2013.  Its ruling made federal marriage benefits available to married same-sex couples throughout the nation - even if couples lived in states that didn't allow gay marriage.    


Prop8 For three months in 2008, the state of California also allowed same-sex marriages, until voters narrowly voted against them later that year.  However, any marriages that were performed in those months are still valid.  In August 2010 a Federal District Court in San Francisco overturned Proposition 8 but resumption of marriages was put on hold until the US Supreme Court overturned Prop 8 in June 2013 (when it also overturned DOMA). 


Samesexmarriage_massachusetts The latest marriage figures for Massachusetts (from a Pew Research study) are through 2013 and they show that nearly 27,000 same-sex couples had gotten hitched there, the most of any state.  In 2014 the US Census Bureau for the first time released figures on married same-sex couples.  and these figures showed that, nationwide, there were 252,000 legally married same-sex couples.  And a Gallup survey conducted in the first quarter of 2015 estimated that there were 390,000 such couples.       


Actor Robert Reed, aka "Mr. Brady", Dies of AIDS (May 12, 1992)

Rock_hudson Anthony_perkins Liberace In the early days of the AIDS crisis it was common to assume that any man stricken with it was gay.  As a result, AIDS inadvertently outed a number of its celebrity victims.  Although their close circle of friends may have known about their sexual orientation, the general public was largely unaware.  However, once news that celebs such as Rock Hudson, Anthony Perkins and Liberace had AIDS their "secret life" became known.  It was an unfortunate way of being outed.  And in some cases family members vehemently denied that AIDS was the cause of death.


Robert_reed Mike_and_carol_brady Such was the case with actor Robert Reed, best known for his role as architect-dad Mike Brady in the ABC sitcom The Brady Bunch, which aired from 1969-1974.  Until he died of AIDS on May 12, 1992, the viewing public was largely unaware he was gay.  He was 59 at the time of his death, which was relatively old since AIDS victims were largely in their 40s.   Although his Wikipedia bio disputes that he died of AIDS, another Wikipedia article lists Reed among celebrities who died from it.  Other articles site that he was HIV+, which was a contributing factor to his death from colon cancer.


22 years would pass before the next cast member passed away, actress Ann B. Davis, who portrayed the Brady's live-in maid, Alice.



Discreet Encounters ... a Thing of the Past?

Gay_newyork_george_chaunceyAbout ten years ago I read the book Gay New York (by George Chauncey) and remember a chapter that discussed how straight guys back in the day (i.e., before 1940) could enjoy getting a blow job without stressing whether it meant they were gay.  After all, it was the fellow giving head who was the "queer" one.  Furthermore, there was little chance these dalliances would be exposed since the homosexual had more to fear from being exposed.  That's not necessarily the case nowadays.


Far_from_heaven2Since many gay men no longer live a secret life wrapped in shame, they don't have issues about discussing their exploits or revealing their partners.  (Exhibit A: Mike Jones, the masseur/escort who exposed evangelist Ted Haggard in 2006.)  And cellphone cameras can make any seemingly anonymous encounter glaringly public.  As a result, discreet encounters may become a thing of the past. (The photo to the left is from the 2002 movie Far From Heaven, about a closeted husband in the 1950's, played by Dennis Quaid, and the turmoil he causes for his storybook-perfect family.)


SamesexmarriageHowever, despite these changes, the animal urge for sex will often trump the fear of being caught/revealed.  Of course, with the growing acceptance of gays, the need for men to live in the closet will, hopefully, continue to decline.  This will diminish the need for men to live life "on the DL" and bring to an end the heartache suffered by unsuspecting girlfriends and wives.