Heart To Heart
Dear Barry Manilow, It’s OK To Marry a Man, and Come Out
Barry Manilow has reportedly married his longtime male partner. But he’s never come out. In an open letter, we ask: Might the right moment be now?
“Looks Like We Made It.” That was the song my soppy, kind-hearted colleagues thought best suited your supposed wedding to Garry Kief, your longtime partner (and manager and president of the shoulderpad-sounding “Barry Manilow Productions”) that was reported this week. We’re happy for you. Mazel. If the story is true, every happiness to you both.
But that song choice—screw that. For me, it will always be “Copacabana,” and I hope the evening ended with the craziest dancing to that very same song, with people falling into mermaid ice sculptures, re-enacting Lola’s turbulent love life with wild gesticulations, and being spun off walls with feather boas to the best lyrics ever written: “Music and passion were always the fashion/At the Copaaa…DOOON’T fall in love.”
I hope you both wore outrageously expensive suits. I hope you had special Botox and fillers for the day. I hope your hair was big and tufty. Where did you have your “list?” Did you get a salad spinner? Life is so much better with a salad spinner.
“Barry Manilow just came out,” one of my colleagues shouted, on seeing the news.
But you hadn’t, still haven’t. Because if there’s one thing Barry Manilow doesn’t do is come out. Even when he’s supposedly just married his alleged longtime male partner.
“Alleged,” “supposed”…stupid words, ridiculous words actually. But use them we must, Barry, because like everything about your private life, nothing is known for sure.
Hell, you could be married to a woman, farting on the couch, one hand absent-mindedly on your crotch, the other alternating between shoveling out a bowl of Doritos and chugging Bud Light in front of the big game. (And hey, yes, you could be gay and doing exactly the same.)
Everyone has assumed you are gay for years, but what if you’re just a naturally camp heterosexual, trapped now by your own predilection for midnight blue silk suits.
What the hell do we know? Because Barry, you’re beyond gay, beyond outing, beyond classification. Your closet door seems to be swinging open, now almost off its hinges groaning with absurdity, and people are passing by and gawping as they did this week, and you just stand there, smiling in that can’t-really-move-my-face way of yours.
It might be down to whatever you’ve had done to your face (the effect of steroids—you insist) but handily, whatever it is, it comes across as mysterious. Like a smirk against a prying world.
But there have been no ringing denials of reports of your marriage to Kief (Barry and Garry—love that), so proceeding on the basis that is true, we must also assume that somehow, maximizing on the general fabulousness of your wedding ceremony, Suzanne Somers was indeed, as reported, your “best man.” Genius, Barry. Suzanne Somers should be every gay wedding’s “best man.”
According to the so far undenied and uncontested report by the National Enquirer, you married last April. It was at your Palm Springs mansion, and you invited 50 guests who had no idea they were coming to your wedding. Dramatic! Nice one, BM.
“Barry has lived a very secretive life and the wedding was no different! Barry and Garry did not tell friends or family that the occasion was their wedding,” an “insider” told the Enquirer. “It was a beautiful wedding and consummated their lifelong love affair!”
Well, that’s lovely. Garry reportedly left his wife and their child to be with you some time ago.
“It’s a beautiful love affair that has lasted more than 30 years,” a source told the Enquirer. Which, if true, must have been someone very close to this happy couple.
But then, Barry, there was the thorn in the rose.
“The happy duo did not file the paperwork to formalize their union out of fear the big news would leak,” sources told the magazine. “Barry is paranoid that his fans would not approve of him being gay, when in reality, many have suspected it for years—and most wouldn’t care. They would be happy for him!”
If this is true, Barry, the bubbles in my champagne flute just went flat, and my happy smile mutated into a grimace. So, you’re too frightened to be open about your sexuality, because you’re worried your fans will reject you.
And you didn’t actually, fully, legally, properly marry your longtime love because fear again stopped you from filing paperwork that in some desk drawer somewhere you imagined ticking away like a time bomb waiting to explode, and shatter your world, and expose you for the gay man you are.
Barry, allow me, as softly but emphatically as possible, to slap you around the face with a wet fish.
Everyone assumes you are gay.
Your fans, many of them older, have children, grandchildren, loved ones, and most definitely hairdressers giving them blue rinses, who are most definitely gay.
They would not be shocked that you are gay. They would say, like we all would, “So what? Be happy.” Then they’d go back to their mahjong game.
Anyone younger than that would treat the news of your homosexuality with barely a shrug. Most people this week have said, puzzled, “Isn’t he out already?”
But OK, you are 71. You are from a different era. You may believe in discretion and privacy. That your personal life is your business and no one else’s, But you are also a celebrity, so people are going to be interested.
As I wrote in a similar open letter to John Travolta last year, isn’t the silence you practice more exhausting and dispiriting than just saying the words?
Barry, you used to play piano when you and Bette Midler played the Continental gay bathhouse in the 1970s for goodness sake: Your fans would not be making too much of a psychological leap here.
What saddened me most this week was that people treated your wedding as a joke, another extension of the absurdity of you quelling mention of your sexual orientation. It’s one thing to desire privacy, and quite another to become a figure of fun.
If it’s true you married the love of your life, now is not the time to skulk around in the shadows. You guys should be burning up red carpets, flashing your expensive veneers for the cameras, at every opportunity.
If this is the love of your life, if you loved each other enough to marry each other, fear—the old-school fear of prejudice and rejection—should not be stopping you from formally registering your relationship.
Fear of being found out? Barry, the world has moved on. Whatever airless closet you imposed upon yourself years ago is not fit for purpose today. It is suffocating you. No individual, and no relationship, has to exist in such a deathly casket today.
Love should liberate you from fear, Barry. Fear should not be the bedrock of your love.
Milk, assassinated in 1978, was a courageous San Francisco politician who stood up and fought for gay equality when few others did. He paid for it with his life. He was killed by a man consumed by prejudice and hatred.
Well, Barry, listen to Harvey Milk on coming out. His words of nearly 40 years ago ring just as true today. Coming out not only liberates you, it helps to liberate others.
It can be tough at the outset, but its trickle-down effect is marvelous, and moving. And you are famous, so that trickle-down effect will be even greater.
And you will not be rejected. Your fans will still love you. The world will not cave in. All the old ladies who you imagine turning their heads and rending apart their sensible coats will just shrug, and carry on enjoying your music.
They will want to match-make you with their son Richard or John, not burn your records.
The most negative reaction you will face will be a world saying, “Barry, darling, like duh. We knew. Anyway, finally, welcome. Do you fancy a mimosa?”
Your sexuality isn’t absurd, Barry. Your private life isn’t a joke. So just say the words.
And if it helps you, and with apologies to Sophia in The Golden Girls, picture this: the late 1990s, a London club night called Duckie, held in an old boozer called the Royal Vauxhall Tavern: LGBTS, straights, muscle queens, boy dykes, older men and women and younger, skinny accountants, lipstick lesbians, the whole queer-identified panoply dancing to everything from Morrissey to Kate Bush to the Nolan Sisters.
And then at the end of the night, in this club where every body shape was acceptable, where ages, genders, and identities blended perfectly because no-one wants the same old boring night out, “Copacabana” played.
And Barry, we went wild to those lyrics. Delirious and fun, its unfettered, extreme emotion was the perfect, triumphantly campy end to the evening—especially fueled by pints of lager and gin and tonics.
Duckie is still going, and I hope this weekend “Copacabana” plays the evening out at a decibel-shattering level.
So Barry, you’ve had us on side for years: one of the few stars who has stayed closeted or undefined, to no-one’s impatience or scorn. We just wondered “why,” when there was no need—and especially not now if you’ve married the love of your life.
So, come join us. And if not, well, enjoy the salad spinner. Better still, go to Duckie.
All best wishes, Tim