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Opening the Door

I've sometimes wondered how I would have functioned as a gay man born, not in the latter-half of the 20th century, but during a time when seeking the partner of one's choice was simply not allowed. At least, not legally. How would I have behaved? Would the repression of my sexuality have proven to be too much? Or would I have settled down with a woman, perhaps had children, and soldiered on?

The closing film of this year's Roger Ebert Film Festival, the 2004 musical biopic De-Lovely, focused on the life of lyricist and composer Cole Porter, and provided another opportunity to ponder the aforementioned thoughts. Though fraught with a narrative structure that was almost clunky enough to derail the overall experience, the movie succeeds in spite of its flaws, and was an enjoyable, moving motion picture. There was a sophistication to the performances of Kevin Kline (as Porter) and Ashley Judd (as his wife, Linda Lee).

Somewhat familiar with Cole Porter, though unfamiliar with the film, I went into the screening with some apprehension as to whether or not they'd choose to whitewash his personal life. Porter was gay, or at least bisexual, and the first 30 minutes or so of the movie seemed to be all about an idealized romance with his new wife. Between that, and the jarring narrative featuring, of all entities, the angel Gabriel, I was about to walk out. Thankfully, the film soon introduced what had been the reality of Porter's private life.

It may not seem so important, but including all aspects of Cole Porter's sexuality is a necessity, not only because it is truthful to who the man was, but it also reflects an era of closeted lives and hidden loves. Of course, Porter was afforded a bit more freedom with his sexuality than many gay men of the era. He was famous and wealthy. That allows for a certain leniency when it comes to the powers that be turning a blind eye to what would have been considered indiscretions. Others were not so fortunate.

Not that things are altogether different these days. While we've certainly come a long way, I am still surprised and disheartened to learn that there are people trapped in circumstances that make it very difficult for them to come out and lead full, rewarding lives. One would have hoped the closet door would have opened wider by now. And yet, we must celebrate our victories.

As for me, let's just say I wouldn't want to live in any other era. Life's been good to me so far, and I realize it wouldn't necessarily have been so had I been living during, say, Cole Porter's time. If I had been, life would have been more difficult. Could I have made it work with a woman? Possibly. It is true that I am gay, not blind. There are many women who could have potentially been reasonably satisfying both mentally and, perhaps, physically. Would I have been happy? Probably not.

The freedom to choose, to live one's life as one sees fit (without causing harm to another) is one of those noble human constructs that should be cherished. Too often we have to fight for such a right, but that is unfortunately the case for things that matter most. There is no doubt that Cole Porter loved his wife, but then love is something we can express to more than just one person. Would he have been happier with someone of the same sex? That is the dicey question, impossible to answer now. I am relieved that many of us no longer have to make such a choice.


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