In 1987, divorced insurance salesman James Hart meets an alluring stranger on a train. She's Carly Simon, and he eventually becomes the famous singer's second husband (following James Taylor). Then, 20 years into their marriage, Hart realizes he's gay. In Lucky Jim, Hart's new memoir, he talks about their relationship, how he sublimated his homosexuality, and the culture shock he experienced in Simon's world of wealth, glamour, celebrities, and privilege.
The Advocate: You went into the seminary to become a priest and "sublimate" your sexual yearnings. Was it alcohol that allowed you to do so?
James Hart: I'm not sure that alcohol helps sublimation. I think the defense mechanisms that alcohol triggers are more like suppression, repression, denial, and disassociation. My sublimation had more to do with the intense desire I had to become a priest. After all, I deeply believed that I had been "called by God." So many of the Franciscan values that I was first exposed to in the seminary are still very much a part of my life. The prayer of St. Francis states them well: "By self-forgetting we find." I believe that Lucky Jim is in many ways a spiritual biography.
You write that -- at least in the late '60s -- gay men were more tolerated in the seminary than straight men. That sounds so counterintuitive.
Being straight and falling in love with a woman meant that you probably had to leave, while there was usually more latitude with the issue of homosexuality. After all, we were committing to live the rest of our lives within a community of men. This was the time after Vatican II when so many priests I knew were struggling to understand their sexuality in new ways and trying to integrate a healthier sexuality into their priestly lives. It was deeply moving to watch men who had grown up in the repressed Catholic world of the '40s and '50s try to move into the contemporary sexual mores of the late '60s and beyond. I don't have any statistics to back this up, but it is my own anecdotal observation that more gay men remained in the priesthood than straight.
You took a circuitous route to discovering your sexuality.
Lucky Jim is a testament about how difficult it is for some of us. There have been so many times in my life when I wished I was just one thing or the other, but that was not my reality. My life with women spans a much longer time than my life with men, and I had quite successful relationships with women. I wasn't a frustrated guy hiding out in the closet, but mostly pretty content until suddenly I wasn't. It felt like the main switch to my sexuality had been reversed. It seems unlikely that could be entirely true, but in real time that was the way it felt. I also couldn't get over the power of my attraction to men. It now seems quite unbelievable that I could have been anything else. I guess more than anything, it's realizing that my being a gay man is one of the great gifts of my life.
People often assume closeted gay men don't really love their wives or are using them as a beard.
If I were looking for a beard, Carly Simon would be a very poor choice. She is smart, sophisticated, and so suspicious. She was brought up on lies in her childhood and had developed a keen sonar about being lied to. Our initial attraction was so intense on all levels. If I ever was sure about not being gay it was during those first years with Carly. My physical and emotional attraction to her was the most powerful I have ever felt in my life. And then there was how we got along in our friendship. We were in so many ways a perfect fit. It is one of the reasons that coming out was so difficult. Why would we end a relationship that worked on so many important levels?
How do you explain why being with Carly wasn't enough? Why you had to come out?
Being with Carly would be more than enough for most any man I know. The problem was that I could no longer be with her in an essential way that was important to her. I just had no idea how I could make it work. It took us over four years to truly separate. We kept trying to find ways to fix it. In the end, essential truth won out, but as we know truth often comes with a great deal of pain. Carly needed the truth to find a way into a new life and so did I.
Why don't you consider yourself bisexual?
I don't care for labels when it comes to sexual preference, but they became very important for me in looking for "clarity." I think that looking at my entire life leads me to think that I am some sort of bisexual, but I am neither straight nor bisexual any longer. My attractions are so clearly focused on men. I can still fall in love with women, but not at all in the same way. Also, my history of living in ambiguity had caused way too much confusion and pain for myself and others. I am very content with being fully gay. It fits just right on so many important levels.
Your life has crossed with numerous celebrities, including Jackie Onassis and Alec Baldwin, who you once set up. Is that still your life post-divorce?
I have spent so much time in the world of fame that I have become somewhat inoculated to it. I met an endless parade of celebrities in my 20 years with Carly, but only made a few good celebrity friends during that time: Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer; Jackie, Bill and Rose Styron; Carl Bernstein. The rules for celebrity friendship aren't very different than other friends in my life. You fall in love in some meaningful way, and that happens with very few people. All my important friendships have a celebrity aspect: They excite me in a most compelling way. They are my celebrities.
It sounds like Carly has been remarkably supportive. What's your relationship like now?
In many ways our friendship and love is deeper than ever. When we were separating, Carly said, "You know, divorce is just a word, just like marriage is just a word. We had a marriage that was uniquely ours; let's have a divorce that is uniquely ours. Our divorce can be a continuation of our marriage if we want it to be." I think we both felt the same way about that, and we remain deeply committed to being as supportive as we can be to one another.
You are friends with the Clintons. How did you respond to the election?
I was so disappointed. I thought Hillary would probably make the best president of my lifetime. Even better than Bill and Barack. I think the thing that was so difficult for her to show, perhaps because of her inherent modesty, is the size of her heart. The opposition was so good at obscuring that most essential part of her. It may be the most successful use of "fake news" ever.
Carly remade her hit "You're So Vain" with the lyrics "your skin it was apricot," about a certain candidate. Do you also feel like part of the resistance movement in the arts?
Yes, absolutely. I believe that the arts have such an important role here. Carly has been speaking "truth to power" throughout her life. Her music and lyrics have often been for this purpose. From her earliest hit, "That's The Way I Always Heard It Should Be," she has been taking on the conventional and the established. As far as resistance to Trump goes, I think the most important thing is for artists to keep revealing the truth about the man. The truth exposed by artists could be a most important agent in resistance.