Magazine article The Spectator

The Vice-President Turns to Lesbianism

Magazine article The Spectator

The Vice-President Turns to Lesbianism

Article excerpt

New Hampshire

WHAT is it with vice-presidents and situation comedy characters? In 1992, Dan Quayle attacked Murphy Brown, eponymous heroine of the sitcom Murphy Brown, for having a baby out of wedlock. Five years on, Quayle's successor has just saluted Ellen, eponymous heroine of the sitcom Ellen, for declaring herself a lesbian. `When the character Ellen came out,' Al Gore droned approvingly to an audience in Los Angeles the other day, `millions of Americans were forced to look at sexual orientation in a more open light.'

'Forced' is the operative word. If you live in Britain, Ellen is just a minor American import on Channel 4. But if you happened to be in the United States earlier this year, when Ellen came to terms with her sexuality, proclaimed her lesbianism, rocketed to number one in the ratings, made the cover of Time (`Yep! I'm gay') and won an Emmy, it was a non-stop lesbian blitzkrieg. In the run-up to the great event, Ellen DeGeneres, the actress who plays the character, also came out; her movie-star girlfriend came out; at `Come Out With Ellen' parties, hordes of miscellaneous lesbians came out; even ABCTV's network publicist came out. For a few brief weeks, a lesbian tide threatened to engulf the country, much like the swollen Red River as it burst its banks and spilled over the border into Manitoba. In both news stories the populace cowered nervously before 'a vast network of dykes' - the headline actually referred to the Red River defences, though by this stage, most of us assumed it was ABC launching its fall schedule.

But, granted all that, what's it to do with Al Gore? In the Fifties, Vice-President Nixon didn't waste his time giving speeches about Leave it to Beaver (nothing to do with lesbians, I hasten to add, but a popular family sitcom of the day). After all, these people do not actually exist. From Gore's point of view, though, that's probably the best reason for hanging out with them. Unable to wriggle out from under the fund-raising scandals with the slippery ease of his boss, Gore has seen his poll rating go into free-fall. Nothing seems to work. He summoned the country's leading television weathermen to the White House to warn about global warming, only to find that these days he's the only guy feeling the heat. So, before his succession is called in question, Gore has decided to come out - not as a lesbian, but as a cool, loose, hep kinda guy.

Like Ellen trying to be heterosexual for her first three seasons, it seems that Gore has been living a lie, masquerading as a boring stiff who talks in the robotic monotone of that electronic voice in your car that tells you to fasten your seat-belt. According to his former aide, Bill Curry, he is not `this cigar store Indian envirotechnocrat' , but, in fact, a subtle, wry, funny person'. Evidence is hard to find, though recently, when the Gores attended a party as Beauty and the Beast, his staff had to dissuade him from putting Tipper in the fake fur and squeezing into Beauty's gown himself. America is not yet ready for a transvestite Gore. They don't mind that he's a drag, but they don't want him as a queen.

Instead, he went to California to champion Ellen. It was time, he decided, to make clear that he was no Mister Squaresville. An earlier attempt at gay outreach had got bogged down in a complicated furniture metaphor: `There's a lot said about having a seat at the table,' he told the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, `but it's not enough for you to have a seat at the table. Everybody's got to realise that as full members of the American family it's your table too.' `Does he want us to sit on it?' one gay mused.

So, for what immediately became known as `the Ellen speech', Gore took the old rep actor's advice and steered clear of the furniture. Because he was talking about a television show, he inevitably made the evening news bulletins. What he couldn't have foreseen was the almost Quayle-scale ridicule that followed. …

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