“Where Did You Get That Dress? It’s Awful! And Those Shoes and That Coat! Jeez!”

stephen-stuckerairplaneA few months back, I participated in an intimate reading of a friend’s play.  He had written the play years ago, before the group of us became friends.  When we gathered, he told us there was a great part for each of us.  My character’s name was Russell.  He was passionate, silly, camp, funny, ridiculous and wise, the kind of part any actor dreams of playing.  And if I say so myself, I was pretty darn good.  I know it was just a little reading at a dining room table with a group of people who loved me even before we ever got to the first page, but still, it was a fun night.

And driving home, I thought about my characterization, how it just kind of spewed out of me, I didn’t have to second guess how I would say a line or do an impression, I knew what to do instinctually.  And let me confess, for me, anyway, that’s not always the case. I thought about Stephen Stucker, because I realized, that a lot of what I was doing came from him.  I’d like to think it wasn’t a complete copy, that I took what I’d gleaned from a master and gave it my own take.  At least that’s what I’d like to think.

Now, okay, maybe you didn’t know immediately who Stephen Stucker is.  To be honest, I didn’t know his name until I went to IMDB a few years ago.  Most simply, he is known as the gay guy from Airplane.  I’ve posted a YouTube video of some of his character’s best moments.  They are all priceless and when I watched it, it reminded me of all the times I watched that movie on HBO when I was a kid.   I remember doing the bit “Oh, I can make a hat, a broach, a pterodactyl…”  on a regular basis for anyone that would listen.    I loved that guy.  I certainly did not understand at 12 or 13 why he resonated with me, I just thought he was funny.  And I wanted to be funny, too.  

When I did a little google sleuthing about Stephen Stucker, I found that he was born on July 2, which is my birthday, too.  Like me, he  hailed from the midwest (born in Iowa, raised in Ohio) and he eventually made his way to Hollywood.  His IMDB page only has 11 credits, but most are significant like Airplane, Airplane II, Trading Places, The Kentucky Fried Movie and Mork and Mindy.  He died of AIDS related complications in 1986. He was 38 years old. Besides work as an actor and musician, he is important in GLBT history because he was one of the first actors to publicly disclose his HIV status.  I’ve also posted an appearance he made on the Donahue, not long before his death.  His comments are polarizing, his histrionics at times, disturbing.  But he’s still, in the midst of his illness, clearly, full of life.

I wish I knew more about Stephen Stucker. I found an archived interview with him online where he spoke about how supportive and loving his entire family was as he battled AIDS. It moved me because I know that when you’re going through life’s challenges, it’s nice to have family holding you up. Maybe one of these days, a sibling or niece or nephew or close friend will come across this blog and share a story or two. I’d love that. To me, he is so much more than that gay guy from Airplane, but when you think about it, that’s really not such a bad thing to be known as either.

This Is Not Who We Are

R79603I’d much rather spend my time here writing about people or things that I’m fond of, like Jane Fonda or Amy Grant or chocolate cake from Magnolia Bakery, but something in the news yesterday caught my eye, and I want to address it.  On a recent episode of the 700 Club, a woman was dismayed that she drove a nursing home resident to church and that no one had told her that he had AIDS.  Pat Robertson told her that among other things, in San Francisco, gay people wear rings that when one shakes hands with them, the ring cuts the person they are shaking hands with.  I’ve included the link to Huffington Post here and in the video, I’m actually more disturbed by the way his co-host sits there listening and nodding with him.  It’s one thing for a man who might possibly have dementia to pontificate about gay people or Alzheimer’s or feminism, but this woman, his longtime co-host Terry Meeuwsen has the chance to steer the show towards something compassionate and sane and she does not do it.

As long as I can remember, I have loved pageants. I’ve always loved pretty girls. When I came out to my parents, the first thing my Dad said to me was, “But you always liked girls so much.” Anyway, watching the Miss America pageant every year was something I always looked forward to. I even remember the year Terry Meeuwsen won Miss America. And as a child, my parents had a Terry Meeuwsen album that I loved to play a lot. I’d look at the back cover, where there was a picture of her wearing her crown and think, she’s so beautiful. I’ve included a link to her pageant winning performance of her singing the gospel song, He Touched Me. While I must say, I think it’s a showy performance, one does get the sense that this is a young girl who truly loved the Lord who wanted to use her voice to glorify Him. With her talent and beauty and charisma, it’s no surprise that she won the competition.

Obviously, I am a person interested in people’s journeys. How did this young woman turn into someone who reigns next to Pat Robertson everyday on the dubiously named Christian Broadcasting Network? I don’t think that Pat Robertson glorifies the Lord, by word or by deed. I don’t think it’s great, but I’m used to it when he says that gays have special rings to inflict AIDS, or men with Alzheimer’s-suffering wives should divorce them so they can move on, or that the Joplin tornado wouldn’t have happened if more people had prayed, or that there should be a vomit button on Facebook about gays, or that, well, the list goes on.
If you are a conservative Christian and you are reading this, you probably think that gay people don’t see you as a lesser Pat Robertson. But, the thing is, the AIDS ring story was reported on every gay news website that I know of. I read the comments on several of those sites and I think a lot of people see Pat Robertson as a spokesman for the conservative Christian community.

What I want to say is this, I think Christians need to stand up and say, “This is not who we are.” I think the entire world needs to hear it. Joel Osteen is probably one of the most revered evangelists in the entire world. I’m like Cher, there are some things he says that I do not agree with, but there are things that he says that inspire or convict or comfort me. I see him as a man who loves the Lord who is trying to glorify Him. But I did a search for Joel Osteen and Pat Robertson, hoping to find an article or an interview somewhere where he’s says, “Pat Robertson is not preaching the Gospel, this is not who we are.” I found nothing. (If you reading this and have a link proving otherwise to share, I would love to see or read it.)

So my message today is simple: it applies to Terry Meeuwsen and Joel Osteen, but also to people whose lives I’m truly invested in, my Christian friends. I just challenge you to say, “This is not who we are.” You might think your non-Christian friends, gay or otherwise, already know it, but what does it hurt to remind them again of your love?

Longtime Companion

LONGTIME COMPANION

When I was 22, I was a youth minister in a small Missouri town and the highlight of my week was when my new issue of Entertainment Weekly came in the mail.  I first learned about the movie Longtime Companion by reading it’s review in EW.  It wasn’t until a few years later, when I was living in New York, in Chelsea no less, before I saw the movie for the first time.  It’s one of my favorite movies.  It’s a movie about AIDS, but it’s also a portrait of my people at a specific time in history.  I watch the movie now and it reminds me of outfits and hairstyles I wore, but more importantly, of friends I had in the early 90s when I was discovering what it meant to be a gay man.  Some of those friends are dead now, but I also think of friends that I’ve simply lost touch with or that I only see on facebook.  I’ve posted my two favorite scenes from the movie.  The first is the character Fuzzy (Stephen Caffrey) dancing and lip-syncing to Dreamgirls.  As gay men, we are conditioned that masculinity is sexy and it was the first time I watched a gay guy dancing like a gay guy that I thought, hey, that is sexy, too.  My other favorite scene is the end with the haunting song by Zane Campbell, Post Mortem Bar.  That moment where they look up to see a herd of men running down the piers to the beach, it makes me cry every time.  Just a few days ago, several people posted on facebook a link to an article about AIDS being curable “within months.”  It’s unimaginable, really.  Living with the specter of AIDS is all I’ve ever known, but as Willy (Campbell Scott) says at the end of the movie, I just want to be there.