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Bill & Al's excellent adventure: out Oscar winner Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) talks about taking on Alfred Kinsey, bisexual icon of the sexual revolution, in a a new film.

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.

Have you always been fascinated by Kinsey?

No, I think my main reference point [until recently] was "Too Darn Hot" by Cole Porter! That article in The New Yorker about eight years ago and then a lot of material in 1999 got me thinking, This could make an interesting movie.

What was it that made you think this would make a great movie?

One of the things I learned from Gods and Monsters is how careful you have to be in choosing the subject of a true-life picture. The thing that made [openly gay Frankenstein director] James Whale a suitable subject was that deep connection between his personal life and the work for which he's famous. It turned out that the same was true of Kinsey: The drive to investigate what people are actually doing sexually came from a deeply personal need. And when he discovered things, he would apply it to his personal life, so the film could give equal weight to his life and the work. Also, obviously, there was a certain personal connection I felt, having grown up in an Irish Catholic household with a father who was very kind but also very skittish about any mention of sex.

And the Issues that come up in Kinsey's story are still being fought over today.

One of the things that Kinsey did successfully for a while was to separate science from morality. And if you look at what's happened in the Bush administration, morality has been injected back into the discussion, and science is suffering because of it. In many ways, things haven't changed. But we also have to acknowledge that things have changed radically. That's the tension in the movie, a constant play between "God, things have changed so much" and "God, things are so much the same."

[During my research] I got to spend time with someone who will be familiar to your readers: Clarence Tripp, who wrote The Homosexual Matrix in 1975. He'd been involved in [Kinsey's research] project from 1948, when the male volume was published. I asked him what would Kinsey have made of the gay movement, and he said, "Oh, he would have been horrified." And I said, "Why?" "Because it's people defining themselves by their sexual acts." He thought that sexuality is such all enormous area of someone's life and so varied that to reduce it to "I currently like to have sex with men instead of women" is too reductive of the scope of what sexuality represents.

Are we wrong today, then, In thinking of the Klnsey Scale as a 0-to-6 scale of sexual orientation?

It was all about activity, behavior. He didn't think there was [such] an essential thing as a homosexual or a heterosexual. It's one of those ideas that people have strong feelings about, both pro and con. An awful lot of people still don't believe in the idea of bisexuality. They think of it as just a kind of incipient homosexuality or some kind of an escape.

Yet Kinsey himself seems to disprove that, since he had gay experiences In addition to a solid, sexual marriage for 35 years, until his death. And his wife, Mac, had at least one significant sexual affair as well, with Clyde Martin, who was also her husband's lover.

As opposed to most movies, [in Kinsey] the male becomes the sexual object. If you notice, Peter [Sarsgaard] is the one who's objectified--he's the one who's naked with both [Kinsey and Mac]. I thought that was being truthful about this person who was a true bisexual, a genuine bisexual

Have the anti-Kinsey forces picked up the "Kinsey was bisexual" thing as a way to try to discredit him?

Oh, it's so far down the list for them.

You mean, as long as they can accuse him of enabling pedophllla, they don't need to talk about his bisexuality?

Exactly. They call him sick because he talked to a few pedophiles--basically just the one depicted in the movie, who was at the end of his life and was describing experiences he'd had [with young children] at an earlier age. But still, Kinsey didn't have that man arrested and therefore is accused of being complicit in all those acts. Kinsey couldn't have been clearer about his disapproval of anything but consensual sex. But it doesn't matter--it's just out-and-out distortions.

It seems to me that what the anti-Kinsey forces really want has less to do with Kinsey than It has to do with putting the genie back In the bottle--taming back 60 years of progress In talking about sexual behavior.

That's right. It's this strange notion that if you can somehow assassinate his character and tar him with all these charges, that therefore all the science will become worthless and that therefore people's behavior will change. It's crazy. What I love is, they refer to me as a homosexual activist. I'm embarrassed by the fact that I've never really been a homosexual activist--I've been too busy writing movies. And I was sort of curious as to why they would describe me as that, and I realize it's because I'm openly gay, and that for them is already kind of being a radical. I'm proud to wear those stripes. I just haven't done enough to earn them.

Could Kinsey ever air on TV? What's the Kinsey Institute up to today? And what's Lypsinka got to do with it? Find exclusive outtakes from this interview with Bill Condon only at Advocate.com.
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Article Details
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Author:Steele, Bruce C.
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Interview
Date:Nov 23, 2004
Words:1586
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