These days, gay people most often invoke mid-century sex researcher Alfred Kinsey as source for the estimate that 10% of adults are gay (an oversimplification of one of his many findings) and for the Kinsey scale, grading sexual behavior from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (totally gay). Few know much about the Indiana U. professor himself: how he clashed with his evangelical father, how his fascination with gall wasps evolved into a revolutionary research project on human sexuality, and how his 35-year marriage to a former student survived his (only recently revealed) extramarital homosexual liaisons.
The acclaimed new film Kinsey, from out writer-director Bill Condon, brings Kinsey the man vividly to life. Starring Liam Neeson and Laura Linney--with a showstopping cameo by Lynn Redgrave, as a lesbian the movie is like nothing you'll ever see on the Biography Channel: deeply emotional, sexually frank, and as current as November's election results.
At Kinsey's core, Condon says, is a "tremendous fight" between people who want to talk about sex, particularly to protect the young from sexually transmitted diseases, and their powerful enemies "who think that the only answer is abstinence." It's a battle only too familiar to citizens of Bush America, and it first coalesced around Kinsey's comprehensive 1948 study of American men's sexuality--straight and gay. As Condon puts it, a lot of gay men must have put down Kinsey's book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and said, "God, there are a lot of us--what are we going to do about it?"
"The two great social earthquakes of the last 50 years have been the women's movement and the gay movement," says the happily partnered Condon, who won a screenplay Oscar for Gods and Monsters and a nomination for Chicago. "Kinsey is in some way responsible for both."
The Advocate: Tell me a little about how you chose to integrate Kinsey's bisexuality into your screenplay.
Condon: Well, it was very important for me as a gay filmmaker that Kinsey not be a movie that could be typed exclusively as a gay film. At the same time, he is truly one of the fathers of the gay movement. There is no question about that. But because he didn't believe in labels and because he spoke to everybody, I didn't want it to dominate. [Kinsey] experienced gay sex for the first time in his 40s. It's not known for sure exactly when; it could be during his trips to Chicago when he was introduced to this homosexual subculture.
As you depict in the movie, he was in Chicago with a colleague, collecting sexual histories from gay men.
That's right. He was overwhelmed by how much activity there was. He also went to tea rooms and parks, and there's some sense that those were his first [gay] sexual encounters. But his first full-on homosexual love affair was with Clyde Martin [the colleague played in the film by Peter Sarsgaard].
Was it known at the time that Kinsey had had homosexual experiences?
Not at all. He carefully cultivated this image of the conservative family man. He was, at the same time, surprisingly reckless. He got involved with one of the more well-known gay couples of the period, Glenway Wescott and Monroe Wheeler. Wescott was a famous gossip, so New York gay circles all knew what Kinsey was up to. The irony is, Kinsey was trying to open up the discussion and tell the truth about what everyone was doing but was very careful not to tell the truth about himself. [It's been known] only in the past 10 years. [His colleague] Paul Gebhard--whom I've met and is a great, fascinating guy [played in the film by Timothy Hutton]--decided it was something important to talk about. Once he opened up, everybody else followed. Kinsey's children are in their 80s now and didn't know anything about it. Imagine finding this out about your parents when you're already in your 70s!
Will Kinsey's children see the movie?
The daughters have and liked it, so I was pleased with that. …