Truth and Tolerance
November 3, 2003
To the Editor:
How thoughtful of Michelangelo Signorile to credit my late husband, William A. Henry III, with coining the word “outing” (“Are Gays and Lesbians Good Enough to Draft?,” Gay City News, Oct. 16-22).
I am, however, baffled by Mr. Signorile’s use of the term “major closet case” to describe Bill. Perhaps I don’t understand the definition, but I thought a closet case was someone who hid his homosexual longings from the world and did not act on them. That hardly describes Bill Henry, as anyone who knew him was well aware.
I guess Mr. Signorile, as seems to be the case with all Professional Queers, denies bisexuality as a preference. Tut, tut, Mr. Signorile, that so smacks of a lack of tolerance. And isn’t that your whole sermon? I admit to being mildly curious as to the source of Mr. Signorile’s longtime animosity toward my husband. Could it be jealousy of a man who was entirely comfortable with his sexuality and had, by the age of 30, achieved career success that Mr. Signorile can only dream of?
Incidentally, my husband has been outed in the past few years by everyone from some self-absorbed loser who calls himself Electroboy to no less than Sir Ian McKellen (in Out magazine). The ultimate irony is that Bill believed there’s no such thing as bad publicity. He’d be thrilled to know people are still talking about him more than nine years after his death.
Gail M. Henry
Michelangelo Signorile responds:
Thank you for confirming your Pulitzer Prize-winning late husband’s sexuality for the historical record. Too many gays, lesbians, and bisexuals of your husband’s accomplishments are lost to history.
While your husband might have been open about his sexuality to you and to some or all of your family and friends, he was not open to his millions of readers in Time magazine, where he was an authoritative culture critic, nor was his sexual orientation ever alluded to in any biographical information about him.
Why should that matter? In the late 80s, a new, vocal edge of the gay movement emerged. Our ideas were controversial. William Henry III jumped into the debates. He wrote articles excoriating young gay journalists, myself included, who were calling on the media to report on the undisclosed homosexuality of public figures when relevant to a story. And yet, he never disclosed that he had a personal stake in making such attacks. In journalism, we call that a conflict of interest.
In a testament to his influence, your husband was pivotal in shaping the mainstream media’s coverage of “outing.” He was among the first to report on it, in Time. He coined the term––using a violent, active verb––and it stuck. We much preferred the word “reporting” or, perhaps, “equalizing” (as in equalizing the discussion of homosexuality and heterosexuality). There was no special word for reporting on Elizabeth Taylor’s many boyfriends, so why should there have been a special word for reporting on Malcolm Forbes’ many boyfriends? I actually said that to your husband during several interviews, but it was obviously to no avail.
Your husband refused to acknowledge the rumors of his sexual orientation when I inquired about them directly. And he refused to answer the question when a Los Angeles Times reporter asked him (according to that reporter, who later called me).
That doesn’t sound like someone who didn’t hide his “homosexual longings from the world,” as you describe it. It is wonderful, however, that you have now decided to make his sexual orientation more public than he ever did.
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