In a series of now-deleted tweets, Norm MacDonald criticized Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra for portraying Liberace as a gay man. Yes, that Liberace. He deleted all of these tweets, presumably because he was worried they’d get him in trouble, and I hope I don’t get him in trouble by reposting them, but I thought he raised an interesting point.
Basically, Liberace publicly denied being gay his entire life, even going so far as winning libel suits against magazines who implied that he was gay. Behind the Candelabra was based on the autobiography of Scott Thorson, who claimed to be Liberace’s long-time lover, and almost certainly was, but who also, by almost all accounts, is a less than reliable narrator, being fanciful and a drug addict and having various axes to grind (here’s a recent New York Times profile on him). Point being, it’s easy to look at Liberace prancing around in a bejeweled fur cape and go, “Yeah, of course he’s gay,” but maybe that’s unfair. If you’ve had sex with people of both genders, as many gay people have, you do sort of get to choose your own label, gay, straight, or bi. Right or wrong, it’s interesting that we don’t respect that right as much when it’s a person having gay sex saying they’re straight.
The popular assumption is that Liberace was only closeted because he was worried about the homophobic backlash hurting his career. But at the same time, as Norm seems to be pointing out, if we’re really moving towards a world where a person is allowed to define his or her own sexuality, should we really be so dismissive of a guy who said he was straight a million times just because he seemed super gay? It is kind of like putting words in his mouth. I don’t necessarily agree that making a biopic based on a spurned lover’s account makes it an “odious motion picture,” but I don’t think you can just dismiss this as Norm being crazy either. I mean, he is kind of crazy, but he raises an interesting question about who gets to define a person’s sexuality. Me, I let all the satisfied babes do the talkin’, but not everyone has that option.