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Castration, lobotomies, and life imprisonment were just some of the state-sanctioned horrors gay people had to fear in young Barry Manilow’s America.“And water is wet,” you may have thought when you heard that Barry Manilow came out as a gay man this morning. If you’re like most people in my timeline, some iteration of “Duh” passed through your mind.
Perhaps, even, you shared some witty joke referencing his hit song, Mandy.
“Can’t wait for Barry’s next hit, No, Mandy.”
“Has anyone told Mandy yet?”
“So that’s why he sent Mandy away.”
I even laughed at the headline I first saw about Manilow’s reveal. It seemed absurd: Barry Manilow Comes Out As Gay At 73, Reveals 39-Year Relationship With His Husband.
39-year relationship with his husband? That sounds ridiculous. His husband. This is a shock?
And then I remembered that the world in which LGBT people are regularly celebrated isn’t so old. After all, it’s been less than 2-years since he could legally have a husband in all fifty states.
In 2005, it was a scandal that a major motion picture about two gay cowboys featuring A-list stars made it to theaters.
Barry Manilow was born in 1943, long before Will and Grace started a trend of normalizing gay people with the use of the sexless, comic-relief oriented, gay-BFF stereotype.
Less than a decade after Mandy was released, a mysterious “gay plague” swept the world in 1981. But the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, wouldn’t mention the words “AIDS” until more than 20,000 Americans had died of it.
On 13 occasions, the Reagan White House erupted into laughter at the press briefings, where journalists were taunted by Reagan’s Press Secretary for even asking about AIDS. “I don’t have it. Do you?” Press Secretary Larry Speakes said to a journalist in response to a question about AIDS in 1982.
It wasn’t until 1987 that President Reagan would finally address AIDS.
Want to go back further? Up until 1971 – when Barry was 28-years-old – gay people could be locked away in a mental hospital for life in some states.
In one California ‘hospital,’ gay men and women who had absolutely nothing wrong with them were tortured with castration, lobotomies, and other experiments meant to ‘cure’ them. To quote David Mixner:
The most notorious was a Dr. Walter J. Freeman who perfected the ice pick lobotomy. He jammed an ice pick through a homosexual’s eyes into the brain and performed a primitive lobotomy. According to records, he treated over 4,000 patients this way around America and it is estimated that nearly 30% to 40% were homosexuals. He believed deeply this was the only way to cure homosexuality.Homophobia has always been more than just slurs (“dyke,” “faggot”) – or the denial of basic dignities like employment rights or marriages licenses.
In the world Barry Manilow grew up in, there was no end to the potential state-sanctioned horrors gay men and women might endure.
Sure, the world has changed a lot. He probably could’ve safely come out a couple decades ago. After all, there are plenty of out gay people from his generation. He could’ve been bold like the activists at Stonewall in the ’60s.
But everyone’s story is different, and the world Barry grew up in was a lot different from the still-homophobic world we all live in now.
At the end of the day, no matter how not-shocked we all were, it’s sad to learn that a man felt he had to hide his truth for 73-years – and his relationship for 39-years – all because of other people’s small minds. Small minds can be weapons of mass destruction.