Michael Feinstein: The Piano Man Comes Back
BY Brandon Voss
March 18 2010 6:10 PM ET
You were quoted in the Advocate article as saying, “Publicly I’d like to say that I should have the right not to discuss my personal life.” You also said, “I don’t believe in stating something that doesn’t need to be stated because I live my life the way I want to.” Considering the political progress made since 1994 — and particularly as a man who got married in California during that brief window of time before Prop. 8 — do you now feel it’s more important for gay celebrities to be vocal about their sexuality?
I think it’s important for everyone to be true to themselves. It’s great when people have the confidence to discuss their sexuality if it works for them. I can’t fault someone for not coming out because I don’t know their journey, what scares them, what’s at stake, or how it will affect their personal life or family. There might be mitigating circumstances or psychological issues that are, in their mind, too hard to overcome. I do, however, take great exception to people like Kevin Spacey, who has very vocally expressed to be heterosexual. I find that very offensive.
Though you spoke openly in the interview about having “sexual relationships with men,” you adamantly stopped short of saying “I am gay,” even when pushed to do so by the interviewer. Looking back, why it was so difficult to say those words?
I just didn’t like the word “gay.” I still don’t like it. It’s a dumb way of describing sexuality. I like “queer” or other words, but “gay” is a word that had a completely different meaning word and has been reappropriated. I just don’t like it.
What kind of response did you get from fans after the article came out?
I don’t really remember, except that one gig in Florida with a Jewish organization was canceled, and I think that was because of The Advocate. And I remember my parents weren’t thrilled that I discussed my private life so openly. But I don’t read anything that’s written about me, and my friends already knew all my secrets, so it didn’t really impact my life all that much. On one hand it felt good talking about that part of myself, but on the other hand I felt a little uncomfortable because it wasn’t something I was used to doing. Now I’m more accustomed to it because of getting married to Terrence and those sorts of things, but it wasn’t as easy to talk about back then.
Because there were even fewer out celebrities in 1994 than there are today, did you feel pressure from the gay community to become an activist?
I’ve always found that the most powerful way to create change is to be myself and not be afraid to express who I am. Activism is a very admirable way to create change, but it has to go hand in hand with personal contact with the people with whom we have opposing points of view; without that, there will never be any movement. Several years ago I was invited to play at the White House on Valentine’s Day during George W. Bush’s administration. I was immediately going to say no. But Terrence said, “Michael, you’ve been in the White House many times, but I haven’t, and I’d like to go. What’s the big deal?” I said, “The big deal is that I want to be treated equally.” He said, “OK, let’s just make sure that happens.” So I responded to them and said, “Yes, I will entertain for Valentine’s Day, but only if my partner and I are treated as a couple in every way.” They said they would, and they did. The celebration was primarily the Bushes’ personal friends, donors, and supporters, so it was mainly conservatives and Republicans. So there we were, having cordial conversations with these people, clearly introduced and perceived as a couple. That’s very powerful and necessary because someone can see that and say, “Gee, that’s not so dangerous and scary.” When people who oppose your lifestyle meet you as human beings, that opinion can change. And yet I remember somebody contacted me after that and said that someone had written a letter to The Advocate saying that my playing for the White House was like a Jew playing for Hitler. I did respond to that because it was so shocking to me and it showed such ignorance.