- Tom- Tom
This Thanksgiving in London, we went to Joe Allen’s for a traditional American Thanksgiving turkey dinner. I have a long history with this restaurant. I vividly recall my first dinner there around 1969. I was about 23 years of age, in law school in Chicago at Northwestern. I’d met Edward Albee, most famous at the time for his play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I’d studied Edwards plays as an undergraduate and agreed with the critics who saw him as one of the most important artists of the age for his razor sharp dissection of dysfunctional people and their relationships. I was also attracted to him as a man. I was just coming out at the time and he was my first love affair.
One night while I was visiting him in New York, Edward took me to Joe Allen’s in the theatre district. The restaurant was a favorite venue for a post performance dinners. We were dining late and at the table next to ours, Elaine Stritch was holding court. She’d played Martha in Virginia Woolf and as the evening wore on and the people at her table drifted off, she joined Edward and me. Both Elaine and Edward were in their pre-sobriety days then. They shared jokes and gossip and as the decibel level of the conversation rose, I became aware that there were a lot of eyes and ears tuned into us.
When Edward went to the john, Elaine turned to me, punched me in the shoulder, and said in a too loud voice, “Hey Tony, I’m so glad he found himself a man!” Time to crawl under the table – I was that self conscious about being identified as gay. But I thought, “Thank God she got my name wrong. Now if anyone wonders – no – that wasn’t me. I’m not Tony.
At dinner in London these four decades later, seeing Elaine in a poster on the wall overlooking our table, I recalled that night and my unease. So this is what I am grateful for this Thanksgiving:
I have been proud of who I am for a very long time.
Professional heath experts and their associations have correctly identified homophobia – not homosexuality – as a mental disease.
As an artist, I’ve devoted myself to challenging homophobic prejudice.
I have been rewarded for that effort by becoming one of the most published artists in the world. I make that boast with humility. My success results from my work being recognised as healing because I surrendered my fear to be of service to others, like myself, who’d been wounded by hateful people.
And I’m thankful that the continued stupidity of homophobic people is being exposed on the world stage now. They are doing themselves in as the world comes to a better understanding of our shared humanity. There are still homophobes afoot – just as there are unrepentant racists. But their days are numbered as they are now seen as the deviants.
And by the way – WONDERFUL dinner. Joe Allen’s remains a great place to dine with talent both in the kitchen and among the guests. James Earl Jones took a table down the row from us, having his Thanksgiving dinner with friends after his highly praised performance in Driving Miss Daisy. Living among intelligent people is a blessing for which I am always grateful.