Liz Smith Tells on
Herself

The following article is reprinted from the December 5,
2000, issue of

The Advocate.
Liz Smith's
last column runs

Thursday in the

New York Post.

The late morning fog
hangs like a sullen mood around a Tex-Mex restaurant on 38th
Street in Manhattan. Eleven flights up, Liz Smith leaves her
famous home office and begins the descent to her favorite
eatery -- where I sit waiting and worrying. This meeting and
interview is long overdue. Sitting down with America's most
powerful media columnist has been a goal of
The Advocate

's for more years than Smith would ever believe. Unfortunately,
sitting down with the gay press has never been high on her
list. Then, six weeks ago Smith's memoir,
Natural Blonde

, was published and the landscape shifted forever for the
unexpectedly shy goddess of gossip.

While it's true that
Smith (and her assistant Denis Ferrara) have occasionally
written glowing pieces about various
Advocate

cover stories over the years, there've also been those
less-than-pleasant times when she's objected vehemently to our
investigative reporting on the lives of Ricky Martin or the
late Barbara Jordan. Why, she wondered, did we have to ask
those questions? And yet, as the preeminent scoop detector of
all time, she knew. Just as she knows today that talking to
Mike Wallace or
20/20

or
New York

magazine will not be the same thing as sitting down with the
gay press -- certainly not after her revelations about two
same-sex relationships in
Natural Blonde

. And yet she said yes.

The waiters and I are
alone when Smith -- right on time, hands in pockets, head
slightly bowed -- strolls dutifully around the side of the
restaurant and in through the glass doors. "Oh, they're not
open," she notes, holding out a warm hand. "Sit over here
with me." We sit staring out at the fog for an awkward
moment. She glances at me sideways and asks nervously, "So?
Will this work for you? Are you taping this? Do you need me to
sit…?" I move my chair close to hers, protectively. At 77,
Liz Smith -- though she would be the first to pooh-pooh it --
is a brave woman. After enduring years of attacks and outings
by gay activists (and mean-spirited celebrities), she has
managed to find her way through one of the most complicated
lives and careers this magazine has ever examined.

A Texan who grew up
worshiping the movies, Smith went to college, got married, got
divorced, went back to college, and fell in love. "The only
problem was, the object of my affection was a woman," she
writes in her book. The year was 1946. Unable to express her
feelings to anyone, including her parents, she buried them and
threw herself into her lifelong journey in journalism. She was
an editor at a movie fan magazine, a proofreader at
Newsweek

, a typist for Blue Cross, a Broadway press agent, a producer
for CBS Radio, a producer for Allen Funt's
Candid Camera

, a producer for NBC live TV, a ghostwriter for Hearst society
columnist Cholly Knickerbocker, an entertainment editor for
Cosmopolitan

, even a writer for
Sports Illustrated

. And, of course, today her Liz Smith column appears daily in
Newsday

and is syndicated to millions of readers in over 70
newspapers.

"Maybe you better
roll your tape back," she says as a waiter leaves us some
tea. "I think these interruptions won't make for a good
beginning." I tell her that I haven't turned it on yet and
pull out my questions. Her powder-blue eyes take me in
carefully. She draws a deep breath and smiles. As if on cue,
the sun begins burning away at the fog outside. Her hands
tremble imperceptibly as she folds them in front of her like
the "well-bred girl" she is at heart. "OK", she
whispers, more to herself than to me. "Here we go…"

Did you know that
The Advocate

is 34 years old?

Good God. You've become so established.

The whole movement is moving in that direction, though some
don't like it.

That's good. You can't be in a revolution your whole
life.

I know you don't like labels, Liz, but…

It's OK for you to say anything you want. I just don't want to
label myself, because I have never gotten my act together. It's
just not accurate for me to label myself. I don't care what
other people say; other people have said such terrible things.
You know Frank Sinatra called me a big dyke from the stage of
Carnegie Hall?

Was that terribly frightening for you?

No. I wasn't frightened; it just made me feel bad. He meant it
in such an insulting way. And it was just evidence of the
general homophobia and name-calling. Look, every gay person
sleeping with someone of the same sex is not, you know, a
ridiculous faggot or big dyke. That kind of talk is just an
insult. It's like saying "nigger."

Of course, but that's not the kind of labeling I mean. But
let's first talk about gossip. Weirdly enough, I worked for a
magazine called Rona Barrett's Hollywood years ago.

Oh, my God, did you really? Rona was a real entrepreneur by
then. I knew her, but not well.

You've described gossip as "news running ahead of itself
in a red satin dress." When I was working on movie magazines,
the editors made it clear that "Rock Hudson is married!"
and in general you were supposed to take care of the stars back
then. It was more about making them look good.

Yes, that's all it was about. Rona was much later, and I'm sure
it was much more realistic.

No, not at all. You still take pretty good care of the stars
in your column.

But, look, let's discuss the Rock Hudson thing, because I
became friends with him when I was doing
Modern Screen

. I loved Rock, and I was very attracted to him. I mean, every
woman who met him was. He was just very sweet, charismatic,
flirty, and really smart. So I knew him for years without
knowing anything about him. Then I went to Rome with Elaine
Stritch as her secretary when she was making
A Farewell to Arms

. So I saw him again, and he was very good to me and took me
out to dinner and everything. And then he started taking Elaine
out to dinner, 'cause she was lots of fun. And she started
getting oozy-goozy about him. So did I.

This is when you were writing out your name as "Mrs. Rock
Hudson" on pieces of paper?

[
Laughing

] Yeah.

He caused a lot of crushes, I'm sure.

Oh, yeah! So I came back to New York, and I got married again.
I didn't see Rock for a long time. By the time I saw him I had
heard all these stories about him. I decided, well, maybe he is
gay; yes, I guess he is. Because I also heard some things about
him in Rome, that he and another man were, you know, picking up
guys and so forth. But he was married then, so I was confused.
And then many years later he called me. He said he was being
blackmailed by a lady who wanted a lot of money or she was
going to sell a nasty story about him to the tabloids. I was
just flabbergasted. I knew this woman. So I sent him my file on
her. He showed it to her. And she backed off.

Were you trying to protect him?

My purpose wasn't to try to heal his image. I just didn't
approve of somebody blackmailing him. In the first place it's a
crime and it was evil. He would have been washed up. It's one
thing for everybody to talk about him being gay, but it was
another to have it be printed. He could not have gone on
working in the movies. But, of course, the end of his life was
so tragic. And he really never addressed AIDS, you know. He
never really said "I'm gay" or "I'm homosexual" or "I
like guys" or any of those things.

Did you ever confide in Rock that you'd had an affair with a
woman?

Oh, no. I was relentlessly heterosexual at the time. So I never
even thought of doing such a thing.

Did you report on his getting AIDS?

You know, Rock didn't know what getting AIDS meant. He didn't
know what he would do for the movement, for activism against
AIDS. He didn't have to cooperate. And he didn't. But he didn't
lie. So he became the poster child for the fight against AIDS.
And so many people left him. And you know, honestly, I'm not
bragging, but I think we were the first column ever in a
popular periodical to write that there was this disease. I
think it was in 1983.

I have questions about your second marriage. You don't have
to answer, but was Freddie Lister gay?

Well, I don't know. Yeah, maybe. I never did discuss it. He
wasn't the type that would tell me. Maybe it was part of our
mutual attraction. He was like a kid, really. He was so
wonderful and sweet to me. But I never once fooled myself that
I was in love with him. I was just having a good time. It was a
very strange interlude. I've been attracted to a lot of gay
men.

You sure write about a lot of them in your book, although
you don't 
always say they're gay.

I think gay men are very attractive and they're fun and
wonderful. I lived with Joel Schumacher for a while. I knew he
was gay. He was the sexual outlaw, because he was living a very
bisexual life when I met him.

How do you feel about
Natural Blonde

these days?

I've been pretty honest in this book. Oh, yes, I didn't tell
all those romantic details in my relationship with Iris Love.
And, yes, this has caused lots of people to just jump all over
me. Well, I'm not going to write that. She's a sort of
semiprivate person. I'm not going to reveal chapter and verse
about every woman I've known. It's ridiculous. You can do that
about the men, because you're not going to ruin their lives if
you do. It's up to the women to say if they want this told
about them.

Perhaps this is why when I read your book it felt like you
were very lusty toward the men you were attracted to but very
cagey about the women.

I felt that if you didn't understand what my relationship with
Iris was, you were really stupid. I thought you had to be a
moron not to get it.

Well, I think it bothered people when you called her your
"friend." They wished you could have said "lover."

I probably wouldn't have said that!

What would you have said?

I'm just too Victorian to say that.

So what do we call our partners?

[
Laughing

] "My life's companion."

That sounds worse.

It's bullshit. It's like people using the expression
"friends." Now I never refer anyone as a friend because
it's a gay term for lover. I have thousands of friends I've
never been lovers with.

So what do we call our lovers?

Nothing. Maybe it will get to a point where we don't label. But
I wish I had been a little more specific about my… about Iris.
But again, it was my reluctance to be nailed into a
box.

But your book is full of your male affairs. It is clear this
is a big, 
complex box.

Yeah, but honestly, I'll tell you I had a reluctance to be
bragging on how many relationships I've had. Because I have had
a lot. I had a long relationship after Iris. With a man. And I
just couldn't bring myself to put that in the book because it
sounded like I was trying to say, "I'm not gay. Let me out of
this gay label." So I thought,
I won't mention it. I won't say anything.

[
Sighs and runs her hand through her hair

] Yes, now I wish I'd said more. Because, I mean, I think I
mystified some people.

How does Iris feel about it?

Iris doesn't care. That's different. You know, um, she doesn't
get it. She doesn't live in the real world. She's an
archaeologist and sees her sexuality as a given through
history.

Oh, I like that.

Yeah, so she doesn't care, and she doesn't care what people say
about her. But there are other people who are private people
who, you know, now are married; they're grandmothers. I'm not
going to tell all of that. If they want to write a book all
about their affairs with the infamous Liz Smith, that's
OK.

Did Iris like what you wrote about her in the book?

I don't think she thought I gave her her due. I read her what I
was writing, and she kept giving me things from her curriculum.
[
Laughing

] And I said, "Iris, this book is not about you; it's
supposed to be about me in relationship to you." So she read
it and said, "Well, I don't like it; you make me sound like
I'm just some busy little kid or something." So I went back
and tried to make it more to her liking. I think she still
feels it's rather dismissive. But that's why I say to you, I
wish I had said more.

Well, you thought she was important enough to talk about
even though it meant revealing more about yourself.

Yes, I think she is secretly pleased. She is a remarkable,
fabulous character. I always said that I never had to have
children because I have Iris.

Well, that happens…

I think a lot of female relationships embody that. One of them
is the parent; the other one is the child. And, of course,
there are a lot of heterosexual marriages too that are like
that. I hope I'm more grown-up now. I don't want to be Iris's
parent. I don't want to be anybody's parent. Now I want to be
an independent person.

One of the most moving moments in your book is after your
first affair with a woman in college [in 1946]. You try to tell
your raw feelings to your parents so that they can 
understand
you, and…

I couldn't talk to them. And I realized it wasn't ever gonna
change. So we got into this "don't ask, don't tell." And
that just wasn't about women; that was about men too, because
they were horrified when I got a divorce. They almost never
forgave me for that. So I really never told them about
anything. As far as they knew, I didn't have any boyfriends or
girlfriends. Whether I was living a celibate life or not, they
just didn't want to know.

They shut you down, so you shut yourself down. I wonder if
this 
affected how you dealt with other people in your life.
Did you feel that in order to have access to friends or
celebrities, you had to do what you did with your parents --
not share your whole self?

It certainly affected my relationship with them. As I say in
the book. I don't think I was ever really myself with my
parents again. It took me a long time to get over that. But I
just told myself,
Well, that affair must have been an aberration.

So I went to New York, and I got married again. I immediately
had an affair with some guy I met in New York. You know, it was
not a time for revealing yourself. Times change, things change.
I'm 77 now. It's all academic what happened in the past. I'm
not living with anybody and don't know if I will be ever
again.

That's what is so important about your life. It represents
so many half-hidden lives lived at a time when there was no
visible support anywhere in society for wondering about and
exploring your sexuality. It's one thing to be a 15-year-old
lesbian today who walks across her living room while Ellen

DeGeneres is beaming out of a piece of furniture, a
television, 
announcing, "I'm gay."

And her mother is supporting her!

Yes, these are different times. It's easy for people today
to look at you and say, "How come she didn't tell more about
her gay life"?

Well, another reason why I didn't tell more is that I didn't
know what I wanted to tell. I mean, I had been accused of being
hypocritical for writing about the private lives of other
people without revealing my own life. Bullshit! I don't see
reporters stating their sexual preferences before they write
something. And look, I'm not writing any gossip that's so
torrid and sensational that I thought that my own personal life
was important to it.

Let's talk about gay and lesbian struggles from your point
of view.

There are those who still want to be in the streets with guns
fighting and soul-kissing in a parade -- things I don't like.
But I am an old-fashioned person. I was born in 1923 -- before
public behavior became an art form. I'm not crazy about any
displays of physical intimacy. I don't like it.

Well, Liz. I think you were pretty brave to be in college
with no 
reference points at all and to 
realize that you were
in love with a woman.

That was a really emotional, romantic, unrealistic experience
for me. And it wasn't unrealistic because it was a woman. It
was unrealistic because she was engaged to be married and I
didn't know what I was doing. I was in the middle of getting
divorced. I was stunned by it. And blown away by it. It took me
about two years to get over it. And I didn't have any help
getting over it. I didn't know where to go. It didn't occur to
me to see an analyst.

It happened to me too. I fell in love with a friend. She
wasn't gay. Suddenly I was left all alone with my gay feelings.
This was back in 1971…

Well, try 1946 or 1947!

I can't imagine. That's why you're amazing. One thing each
new generation has to ask is: "How did people do it back
then? How did they 
figure out how to live and love?"

Well, remember in my book I had met those nurses [in Ottine,
Tex.] who were older than me, and they were gay.

Did you think they were gay at the time?

I didn't know until later, after I met gay people. I knew that
those nurses were having a perfectly wonderful time. But I was
just ignorant. They liked me. I was like a pet or mascot or
something. None of them ever decided to "enlighten me."
They weren't attracted to me, and I wasn't attracted to them. I
was just so interested in them because they were so vital and
grown-up and kind of cynical and they had been places. I was
mostly fascinated by their philosophy about how they approached
these poor people in the war who had been left paralyzed. They
kept trying to get me to give up my emotional approach to
working there, because it was so hurtful for me. I was so full
of pain and empathy. And they kept saying, "That doesn't help
the patient." But they were the first gay people I'd ever
seen. Later I went back in my mind and identified them as gay.
And I do remember that they had kept using this expression,
"Gay, gay, gay." That was a long time ago. That was
1945.

What about when you got to New York in 1949?

When I came to New York, I went to a gay bar on the second
night I was here. My friends Scotty and Floyd took me to this
really famous gay restaurant, but we didn't know that. We just
thought that everything in the Village was like that. I was
just interested as a social phenomenon. And it was all
men.

Well, women must have been totally invisible back then.

There were never any women. The guys were so great-looking. But
I didn't think much of gay bars.

Did you think back on the woman in college?

I felt that the experience I had in college was a really…I
don't mean it wasn't real, but it was a delayed adolescence on
my part. I had already been married. He was a wonderful person
and still is. But I didn't want to belong to somebody else. I
didn't know who I was. I was yearning to be free. I couldn't
stay married because he wanted to immediately have children.
And I was going, "Wait a minute! I didn't get into this for
that. I got into it because it was exciting." He was gorgeous
and a wonderful person. But I wasn't really
ready.

Do you think you've ever felt like you belonged to
someone?

Oh, yeah, I have-I've gotten better through the years. I think
I'm a serial breakup artist.

You mean a serial monogamist?

Is that what I am? Maybe so.

What did you feel when you gave yourself to someone
else?

Well, I don't think it is a good idea for me. I think I am more
apt to get into a co-optive relationship, where the person is
too important to me. And I think some of them never knew what I
was talking about. In other words, I loved them, and maybe they
loved me, but it wasn't the same for both of us. I had to go to
therapy to get over all of that, to get over all of my romantic
ideas about two people becoming one. Two people better not
become one!

Well, we're fed a lot of stuff about romantic
relationships…

Yeah, I was raised on the movies and books. I was thinking that
my romantic interlude in college was right out of
Romeo and Juliet

.

Yes, that extra spice of the 
forbidden.

And the person is not gay and went on to be happily married --
I'm told. [
Looks around the restaurant

]

Am I drilling you too much?

No, no. I'll tell you something. I think one of the bad things
about the whole gay experience is that it jerks everything out
of perspective. People only perceive that, and they think you
don't have any other life. You don't have any other
intellectual life. You don't have any spiritual life. You
aren't interested in history. You're only interested in gay
history. It's like you're not a fully realized person. And I'm
always trying to be fully realized person -- in spite of my
sexual confusions, which I thought were the least interesting
thing about me. The great fallacy about ever sleeping with a
woman is that people think you are attracted to every woman you
meet. I hate that. It drives me nuts. I'm not; I'm attracted to
very few people. Oh, and they think that you'll corrupt
children. That's my favorite!

Do you think there is ever a good reason to out someone?

I do think there is the hypocrisy factor. If Barney Frank had
stayed in the closet pretending he was straight and voting
against gay rights, that would have been the reason to out him.
But he's a really brave and fabulous person. And he even
survived, you know, a scandal about himself -- not the scandal
of his homosexuality, but something else. And he's a
remarkable, fabulous person for it. Also, think of the Larry
Flynt campaign to bring down the Republicans because he felt
that they were so hypocritical about Clinton. Larry will never
get the credit for doing this really incredible thing. He saved
Bill Clinton from being thrown out of office. The whole
Republican arm just backed off. They saw that he was going to
really let them have it.

You were outed.

Well, let me tell you something about my period of being outed
by Michelangelo Signorile [in his Gossip Watch column in
OutWeek

magazine in 1989 and 1990]. He said he had all of this
so-called information on my life, and he would write whole
columns where he said, "Fuck you, Liz." And he carried on
for about a year. And honestly, what do you get if you out
somebody who's extremely confused and maybe they haven't made
up their mind yet? I mean, I wasn't going to just throw my
private life into the public arena because somebody said I
should. I was still -- and still am -- living a very diverse
kind of life. I didn't feel I had to do what he
said.

They say if you throw somebody into a swimming pool before
they're ready, they don't learn to swim very well and they are
afraid of the water forever. [
Liz laughs

] If you out somebody, they will never be a strong, confident
role model or spokesperson.

Yes, he was determined that I would become some sort of poster
child for gay liberation.

Well, this came at a very angry time in gay history. People
were dying of AIDS and no one was coming 
forward to help,
including lots of closeted gay people-which made activists like
Michelangelo furious.

I couldn't imagine that somebody with two of the most beautiful
names from the Renaissance could be such a jerk. I kept
thinking,
What would I do if I were going to declare my sexual
preference? Would I write it at the top of my column every
day?

[
Laughing

] I don't like labeling. I hate that stuff. I mean, as soon as
you get somebody in a little box, in America they slap the box
shut on you. A person's capabilities are intensely limited.
I've said this before, but I loved when my friend Rita Mae
Brown, on her 40th birthday, stood up at her big party in
Virginia and said, "I want to announce that I'm resigning
from being a professional lesbian." I didn't go to this
party, but later I said to her, "Why did you do that?" She
said, "I'm just sick of being described as a lesbian writer.
I'm a writer who happens to be a lesbian." I thought that was
really great. She had real regrets, I think, that she outed
herself and outed other people-whom she made very unhappy. And
she feels, I think, that maybe she limited her own career and
limited theirs.

But we constantly label ourselves. I say I am a woman, a
writer…

Saying someone is gay is not the same as saying that she has
red hair.

Why?

Because there is so much homophobia in business, in government,
in international affairs, everywhere. So why do that? Let
people define themselves. I'm not living my life to be an
inspiration or a role model. This is not something you should
do until things improve.

But how will we improve them without visibility?

Things are improving. They are improving in spite of all the
people who drag their feet -- like me. [
Laughs

]

Thank you for saying that. But what if Ellen hadn't come
out?

I don't know that I think Ellen changed anything. I think
things were just changing.

But she pushed it along further. You know, Liz, when
The Advocate

did a cover story on congresswoman Barbara Jordan after she
died, you were upset with me for printing the facts of her
personal life.

I don't remember.

And yet we got mail from young black lesbians saying,
"Thank you for giving me a reason to live and courage to be
out. If I'm not out, people won't know I exist." That's the
other side of it.

I'm perfectly willing to acknowledge that there is another side
of it. But I still don't think that anybody has the right to
call somebody something that might ruin them or their family,
ruin their children, cause them to be discriminated against.
You have to let them do it themselves. If Ellen changed a lot
of things for a lot of people, great. I admire her very much; I
think she was very brave. But God, occasionally she must wish
she could get in a hole someplace.

[
Laughing

] Oh, yes, she does.

Whatever her real identity is, there is also a more complicated
identity to her. Diane Sawyer said to me the other day,
"Don't you feel that you gave up something private that you
can never get back?" And I said, "Yeah, I do. And I'm not
so happy about it." But maybe in the end it will be a good
thing-if you really believe that people are only as sick as
their secrets. Psychologically it is good to "dare to be
true." I always thought that was the greatest motto. But I
never felt I could live up to it.

But you're doing this interview.

OK. But I'm, you know, half-dead with old age
here.

What about all the women who are in their 70s who've read
your book and can now say, "I exist because you did
this."

What's really great is this congenial, generally tolerant
reception I'm getting. I haven't had -- so far -- a single bad
question, bad comment, any sort of negative, moralistic,
preachy "aren't you ashamed of yourself" thing said to me.
And I fully expected that I would. [
Shrugs

] Next week, tomatoes wherever I go.

I don't think so.

I mean, I'm amazed that these ordinary, wonderful Americans are
just sitting, just dying laughing at everything I say about
myself and this book when I go on tour. And I seem to be
beguiled. There's no fool like an old fool, I guess.

Perhaps dialoguing with these 
"ordinary Americans" is
giving you the one thing your parents robbed you of: the chance
to share your whole self.

Maybe that's true. [
Smiles

] If so, that's very good. That's great. And if it happens that
my doing this is any kind of inspiration to anybody, great.
Although I admit it's late.

It's never too late to tell.

[Stares out the window a minute] I'm thinking back. I'm trying
to think about this Barbara Jordan thing you brought up. I
guess the thing about Barbara Jordan was that she's such a hero
to me politically and ideologically. I didn't know anything
about her private life. I didn't care. I thought she was a
great woman. And my impression is she never said anything about
her sexuality…

She didn't, not publicly.

She didn't say anything? I suppose her friends
knew.

And her partner, it was reported, was at her funeral.

So I guess maybe I felt she should have been left alone,
but…well, I mean, she was dead. She couldn't be hurt anymore by
anything. And nothing could damage her great reputation. So I
suppose if she became a great role model for these young black
women, well, maybe it made sense.

We felt the same way about doing a story on Dusty
Springfield after she died -- although, of course, we tried to
talk to her while she was alive. I felt we needed to tell her
full story because otherwise we lose a part of her -- and our
-- history. I'm happy you wrote your book because…

No, I'm glad that I went through this whole thing too. I would
say to myself, What should I do about this thing about my
private life? I'm not that certain about what I really
think.

When you look back on your relationships, which ones do you
think were the best for you? The ones with men or with
women?

Well, this is just a cliché, but I think that my
relationships with women were always much more emotional and
more emotionally satisfying and comfortable. And a lot of my
relationships with men were more flirtatious and adversarial. I
just never felt I was wife material. I always felt that I was a
great girlfriend.

And you didn't have to feel like a wife with another
woman?

No. I didn't have to play that role. And so maybe that was more
natural for me. But, you know, men are a lot easier to have
relationships with than women because men will seize these
occasional opportunities and go forth. Women are not -- at
least the women I've dealt with -- like that.

So it's more complicated to get 
together with a woman?

I can't really say. I never… [
Laughing, embarrassed

] As I say, I'm a serial failure at maintaining a
relationship.

Now, when you say failure, are you saying that you would
prefer it if you did have a relationship?

I mean, four years was about as long as I ever stayed with
anybody, except for my 15 years with Iris. And Iris became like
my child, and she still is. She has very a childlike nature.
And we are still companions and friends. We travel and so
forth. Sex was the least of it.

Is it any different for you to know that you are talking to
the gay press versus all the other press you've done?

No. You're just as cute and nice as Mike Wallace any
day.

[
Laughing

] But you've never talked to the gay press before.

That's true. Well, I hadn't written my memoir either. And the
great thing about this is, the pragmatic thing about this is
that it's created a sensation. I thought it would just sort of
pass, like people would say, "Oh, well, I already knew
that." But it created an enormous sensation, which I suppose
has sold the book. But it's not a book about my sex life. Maybe
I'll go back and write a whole book on my sex life. [
Laughing

]

Then we'll have to do another interview.

I don't want to act here with
The Advocate

as if I think I have all of the answers, because when you made
your argument a while ago about why it's important for people
to come out, I understand the point. I just think my own nature
prevents me from going hog-wild or from being any kind of role
model. So they can call me whatever they like. I just don't
want to call myself anything. I think I have really bent over
backward to try to help victims of injustice in my columns. I'm
trying to right wrongs whenever I can. The column has helped to
raise millions of dollars for AIDS. On the other hand, it
irritates me when people say I use the column to promote all
kinds of gay causes. You bet I do.

Speaking of your causes, it was very interesting to me to
read in your book how your heart went out to black people while
you were growing up in Texas. You've always been for the
underdog.

I think I was always sort of a softhearted sap. I hated that
intolerant thing that was all around me when I was growing
up.

You probably already knew yourself, knew something about
your own uniqueness and what the world was going to do to you
for it.

I like your suggestion. A unique person. [Laughing] I take that
as a compliment.

Certainly your parents weren't like you.

They had a natural barrier around them, which was from the
Southern Baptist religion. [
Sighs

] I really wish everybody would leave everybody else the hell
alone. I know that's a stupid thing for a gossip columnist to
say, but I'm not a very good gossip columnist. I think I'm a
pretty good social barometer and observer,
though.

You say to leave everyone alone because you have been
hounded and outed. At The Advocate we constantly struggle about
what to say or not say about someone's sexuality.

I think it's perfectly logical for you all to try to encourage
people to talk about themselves. That's what you should do. The
Advocate in particular is in this ethical dilemma all the time.
But, you know, if you went around outing people, I think you
would suffer. The magazine wouldn't be the icon and responsible
thing that it is. And others can become role models if they
want to. I think a lot about Ellen. I wonder if she wanted what
ultimately happened to her.

She couldn't tolerate being a 
lesbian and lying about
it.

Hmm, that's pretty special.

Remember when you wrote that some TV icon talk show host was
coming out and all hell broke loose?

You know, we printed that item in the column, and it caused us
a lot a trouble. I would have never printed that until I was
absolutely certain that it was going to happen. We didn't say
whether it was a man or a woman. We had about seven people
nominate themselves as this person and tell us in the most
irate tone that they weren't going to come out. And we said,
"Great, we never said you were."

Did the person that you were talking about decide not
to…

They also called me [
laughing]

… Yes, decided not to come out.

Why did you think they were?

Somebody so close to them told us. And it was so dumb of us to
do that. It was dumb, very damn foolish. I don't know why I did
it. Don't do blind items.

In your book you talk about an unknown man who kept calling
your office and insisting you and Barbara Walters were
lovers.

Yes, I'd tell Barbara about it, and she'd die laughing. It's
true, heterosexual people have so much certainty about
themselves. She enjoyed it. The other night at this birthday
party, Barbara stood up and made this speech. The room was full
of different celebrities, including Matt Drudge and Prince
Edward of England. It was a very eclectic group. Barbara got up
and said that I was not a natural blond and that we were
lovers. And the audience started laughing. It was very funny
and defusing. Then I got up and said, "Actually, I've slept
with everyone in this room." There were 400 people. So you
know, you have to have a little sense of humor about it. And
nobody cared.

Why do you want Hilary Swank to play you in a movie?

If you ever see her outside of
Boys Don't Cry

, in her real-life self, she is very voluptuous and adorable
and really pretty. But they'll never make a movie of my book. [
Laughs

] It doesn't have any ending. I'd have to end up with Ellen or
with Rob Lowe. We need a socko ending to the Liz Smith
story.

Tags: World, World

Latest videos on Advocate

From our Sponsors

READER COMMENTS ()