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The Divine Miss M Falls from Grace

2004-01-20 - 2:00 p.m.

I am gay, and up until 10 minutes ago, I was a Bette Midler fan. Now I'm not so sure, anymore.

I loved Bette as a child, so much that I still don't know how my parents could have thought I was straight. Outrageous Fortune was one of the first non-cartoons I can remember seeing. I can't even count the number of times I saw Big Business. Dude, I went to go see Beaches before I even hit puberty. By choice. I'd been enjoying the fact that The First Wives Club was back in rotation on HBO, laughing it up as Bette rips her husband a new one and then even manages to get him back. I watched her HBO concert on tape as a teen. I loved her sexiness, her bawdiness, her unabashed behavior. I thought she was intelligent and delicious and I loved her voice. Yes, I thought the ballads were cheesy, but despite all of that I knew that love is a flower, and you its only seed.

I was reintroduced to Bette recently through Ginger Leigh, who has also always been a fan and who's act she is often inspired by. It was partially through Bette's cover of "In These Shoes" that led Ginger to Kirsty MacColl, which was something that led to us becoming friends. She's over in Italy right now, but before she left we did a CD swap, and I was sure to copy a couple of her Bette CDs. I thought of it as returning to my gay roots.

Bette Midler, on the other hand, needs to return to hers.

Today, I discovered the blog of the reigning Queen of All Fag Hags, Margaret Cho. First of all, I have to say that girlfriend did a wonderful thing by posting a brilliant speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in honor of his birthday yesterday. You can find it here:

I kept on reading the blogs, because I hate my job and I love Margaret Cho, and that's when I saw the headline: "Bette, How Could You?"

The "How Could You?" in question refers to an appearance Bette Midler made on Larry King Live. The trasncripts is available at:

During the interview, Larry asks Bette, as a performer who started out playing at a gay bath-house and who has been carried many times by her gay following, what she believes about gay marriage.

Her response? The response of the woman who has embraced the adoration of hundreds and thousands of gay men over the course of her career, who relies on gay men during those rather frequent occassions when her affair with the mainstream has gone sour, who would be a very bitter failed singer who looking twice her already significant age if not for gay men?

"Should gay people be allowed to marry? That's a really good question. I think -- I'm a really big believer in all the civil rights that everyone else has. I believe in gay people sharing the civil rights. I believe that they're entitled to them. I believe they're entitled to the insurances. I believe they're entitled to all those things...All that stuff, yes. As far as marriage is concerned, I come from a -- you know, doesn't seem to be hurting anybody. You know, I'm of two minds. On the one hand, I'm a married woman. You know, I mean, I've -- I took vows. I took civil vows, though. I did not take religious vows. And so know, and when it comes to religion, I don't really know what to say because I'm -- I'm in my tribe, and I try to be a good Jew, but on the other hand, I don't know what the -- how people feel. My feeling is, Well, who's it really going to hurt? But then, if you're a religious person, you're get all knocked out because of the things that...It's a real dilemma, but I think it's a dilemma to a lot of people. I don't think it really hurts anybody. I think -- I think -- to tell you the truth, my -- my -- many, many, many of the homosexual men that I know -- I can't speak for the women because -- the way I feel -- the women, they can look at each other from across a crowded room, and suddenly, they're mates for life. You know, they -- you know, they'll go out for a Coke, and they'll just be, you know, move in, and that'll be the end of it. But gay men, they like to -- you know, they like to move around. They like to have -- you know, they're -- that's part of it. That's part of the fun of being a gay man. So if they're married, does that mean they're not going to cheat, they're only going to be with one...They want to make the commitment...It's very interesting. I'm really wondering how -- what that commitment is going to be about."

I'm not really sure where to begin with these statements.

Let's begin by defending the Divine Miss M. On the one hand, she thinks we should have "civil rights." She thinks we should be entitled to "the insurances." I am presuming she means that we should have the same benefits that married people have, the right to visit our lovers in the hospital, the right for our lovers to be granted residency if they are foreign nationals. That's all well and good. Hey, not just good. It's great.

But then we get to the first stumbling block: religion. Bette describes herself as someone who tries to be "a good Jew." This implies that it is her faith that forces her to have a dilemma about gay marriage. Well, she herself said that she had a civil ceremony rather than a religious one. Doesn't that seem a bit hypocritical? Well, actually, maybe not, maybe she chose not to have a religious ceremony for religious reasons. So, then, is she not married? Are any atheists in this country married? What about agnostics; can their marriages be anulled if they stop believing in God. If I recall correctly, a marriage does not have to be "religious" in order to be a marriage. Even if it did, why can't queer people have pagan services. Or is Wicca not a valid religion in the United States anymore?

In America, you don't have to belong to a religion, and therefore your rights should not be contingent on your religious beliefs. It is that simple, Bette. What is your problem?

Well to be fair, you did say you had another problem. You said, and I love this, that because of gay men's "wandering nature," you were unsure, exactly, what our commitments would be about. That is a choice statement there, Bette. Now, ignoring the fact that you seemed to consider lesbians entirely capable of commitment, you would argue that the gay penchant for promiscuity means that America should think a moment before giving us marriage rights. Okay, fine, but if that's going to be the case, then legislation must be passed that annuls any and all marriages in the event of adultery, even if both heterosexual partners agree that they will have an "open marriage." In effect, open marriages will not be legal. That's not enough, of course. In addition, everyone who is found to have committed adultery will be forbidden from marrying ever again. This way, only people who are ready, willing, and able to be completely monogamous will have the right to marry. Except, of course, for the fact that seeing as gay men can't marry yet, in order to be fair we'd have to include unmarried heterosexuals under this law as well. Alright, so anyone who has ever cheated on a lover, ever, or who has slept with more than, say, 20 people in their lifetime will also not be allowed to get married.

Is you marriage still legal, Bette? Is anyone's?

Here's the truth, Bette baby. There are a number of married gay men who are completely invested in monogamous relationships. There are a number of heterosexuals who aren't, but who still have the right to marry, and who often marry happily even if they continue to play the field on the side. I myself have no idea whether I would prefer an open marriage or a monogamous one, but if I am lucky enough to find a man whom I want as a partner in life, with whom I want to raise children, and he insists on monogamy, then I will never stray. My own parents' marriage failed because of adultery, and I would never inflict that pain on someone I love. Never.

Now, you have said we deserve to have our civil rights. This might mean that you are in favor of civil unions that guarantee the same rights as marriage, but that withold the name. Fair enough.

Imagine that, during the 60s, African Americans were told that segregation would be abolished and that they would have every right and privilege guaranteed to a white citizen, but that they could not be called "American Citizens." They would have to be called, "American Negroes." Is it still so fucking fair?

Tonight, I am going to delete the Bette Midler songs from my computer. If she issues a public apology, I might record them again.

Alright, look, I know I've said it before, but it apparently bares repeating: if you are my friend, then you support granting marriage rights to same-sex couples, and that you want our unions to be given the name "marriage." If you don't feel this way, you are not my friend. It is non-fucking-negotiable. You don't have to want to get married. You can think that there are more important issues for the GLBT community to deal with. You can even think that GLBT people shouldn't get married because it's aping a sexist institution. But we should have the right to commit to one another and have that commitment acknowledged by our country as being the equal of a heterosexual union. It is as simple as that.

As for Bette, she'd better pray that this doesn't get too much press, or she just might find that the wind beneath her wings has given her up, leaving her poised for a fast and messy fall.

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