At the time of this interview, Andy and Bobby had been a couple for 36 years. Last week they were the first gay couple to be married in Chester, Connecticut. The Town Clerk closed her office so she could walk over to the town green and watch their wedding.
Andy: We met on a Broadway tour that never came to Broadway. I was acting in it and Bobby was the stage manager. He was very beautiful and there was a wit and serenity and a centeredness that shone from him, so I chased him until he hollered Uncle.
Bobby: It was actually extreme shyness that he mistook for centeredness. In New York, if you just shut up people think you’re enigmatic.
But we’ve tempered each other over the years. I was attracted to his bigness -- his Eastern European Jewish bigness: nothing was small -- and I guess I knew I needed some of that; I was a little bit too contained.
When we were first together and we were in some public place, like riding on a bus, Andy would start a conversation about something innocuous, like "We need to get milk on the way home" and I’d be horrified, thinking, You can’t talk on a bus; that’s private! I was way too contained.
Andy: He’s still like that. Because we live so far away from Midtown we often take a car service to get to places and there’s never any conversation going on in a car: that’s private. He'll actually text me and I'm sitting right there.
Bobby: What I guess I knew that I needed in my life - and what I found with Andy - is that the world is bigger with him. I'm still rather shy, but Andy can talk to anyone. It’s extraordinary. When we are driving on the highway, he can get the toll booth collector’s entire life story in the 45 seconds it takes to get change for a five.
Andy: When we fell in love, neither of us was out to our families. His mother dealt with it well, instantly, while my mother and father did not right away. But they became enamored of him and if we ever had a major disagreement, my mother would side with him.
I had no positive gay models growing up; none whatsoever. I’m a big reader and a movie goer and in the movies that I grew up with gay people either were queenie and lived miserable existences or committed suicide .
Bobby: Culturally, boys know that they are going to like girls some day. I think with gay people it’s different. You assume you are on a straight track and then suddenly the road curves in a different direction.
I work with child actors. I’ve been doing it for 20 years and I had a boy once, many years ago, who was about 13, and all the signals were saying this kid was going to emerge as being gay. His dresser teased him about something and the kid said, “Sean, I’m not gay yet!” And I thought it was so interesting, it was like being gay was on his to-do list, somewhere below getting a PlayStation.
Andy: I think he was saying, I know I will eventually identify myself one way or another, and I think it will be gay, just don’t make me do it until I’m ready.
Bobby: When I was young, I knew there were boys who I wished were my very special friend. I hadn’t yet gone down the road to romantic feelings, but I’d think, Boy it would be wonderful if he was my best friend.
I remember when I was about 12, I went to see the movie FLIPPER 14 times. People thought, Oh, you must love dolphins. But it was like, No, there was this really cute boy in the movie who wore nothing but cut-off jeans. It just wasn’t registering in my brain why I loved it so much.
By the time I was in my late teens, the "best friend" fantasy had evolved into "boyfriend." I met an older guy who wasn't even really boyfriend material, but I thought to myself, Oh for the love of God, just get laid already. So I went to New York for the weekend to be with him and that evening we went to the movies. I was standing in line with him and I thought, We’re two men, standing in line for the movies…on a date. Cool, I’m gay! It was a huge relief, because it was discovering that I was going to have an emotional life, because prior to that I was closed off to women, men, everything.
Andy: I think I felt erotically attracted to boys or to men, maybe when I was five or six. Certainly when I was six, when I moved to Houston from New York, I was very attracted to my friend Norman. I’ve always loved women, but it was a different feeling. And unlike Bobby, I had a long-term relationship with a woman before I came out.
Bobby: He was exploring his lesbian tendencies.
Andy: I was with her for four years, and we’re still great friends. But I think my biography is slightly different from Bobby’s, because I was brought up to do everything right. Obviously being gay wasn’t right, so any feelings that I might have had, if and when they would leak out, were tamped down by me and by what I felt as the pressure to conform to being the good boy who got straight A’s, who went to college, who was tracked to do the scholarly thing and to have I don’t know how many kids. To do what was societally acceptable.
There was a magazine in the early ‘70s called After Dark which was ostensibly a show business magazine, but it took every opportunity to show as many unclothed men as possible. Being in show business, it was okay for me to have that magazine around. So I could look at that, but there was no action, there was no acting upon that, I was just looking at that while I was living with my girlfriend.
Bobby: Growing up, my parents had gay friends. One of them was an artist who’d been in an accident and had a metal plate in his head. My parents had no problems with me knowing he was gay, but they didn’t want to tell me about the metal plate, because they thought I’d become obsessed with searching for it and embarrass him.
Andy: But even when your parents were comfortable with gay people, it wasn't the same when you came out. It was fine when it was a friend who was gay. I mean, my parents were politically as far left as you could possibly go. But when it came to sexual issues, it was a whole different thing. When I came out to tell my mother how happy I was with Bobby, she literally said: What did I do wrong?
I was apprehensive about telling her, but I also needed to release it, because I was completely happy for the first time in my life. My family had never had secrets, so it was horrible until I came out, because we always talked about everything too much. In fact, I was going to test coming out on my half-brother, Bud, who was driving me to the airport on my trip to see my family and I thought, I’ll come out to Bud and see what that’s like. But before I could do that, he came out to me. So I said, Me too, and it was a relief for both of us.
Bobby: In the 80's, Andy and I both worked on a gay and lesbian crisis line that people could call in and get phone counseling and information about AIDS, and we got a lot of calls about coming out.
Andy: The coming out calls were amazing.
Bobby: We thought the coming out calls would be some 17-year-old kid in a phone booth next to a cornfield or something. But it was much more often middle-aged, married men and women who were terrified to come out because they might lose their kids.
I got a call from a woman on a Saturday morning who was really hoping to talk to a woman, but there were just two men volunteering on the line that day. I said, Just start talking and if you become uncomfortable, hang up. She was in North Carolina, divorced, had two daughters, and she wanted to have a life, an emotional life, but she was terrified she’d lose her kids. She was in a small town, and she was very, very closeted. She had a best friend who she thought she could come out to, but the friend made an offhand homophobic comment about “those dykes” at the supermarket. She was devastated by that, because she felt more alone than before.
And I said, Okay, bad news/good news: you lost a friend; but you found some dykes at the supermarket! How do we get you there? But it was a small organic food market, and she said it was too expensive to shop there.
I said, Is there a battered women’s shelter in your town? She said, Yes. I said, Go there, tell them you want to volunteer to go around asking for food donations. Then run to the organic supermarket and say, Hi, I’m collecting for the battered women’s shelter. That will get you inside and you'll get to know some of the women. But is was so sad that because of where she lived and the entrenched homophobia she had to have a strategy just to have an emotional life.
Andy: And I remember there was a call from a kid, I think in Georgia, who had just come home from the service. He was living in a very small town in his family home surrounded by a homophobic family, and his nephew went under his bed where he had a trunk and found a gay magazine. And the father found out about it and literally took the car keys away, called his employer, got him fired and kept him prisoner in the house. And he was able, at some point when nobody was home, to call this toll-free hotline. And by keeping him on the line and having one of my cohorts make some calls to sympathetic referrals in the vicinity of where this guy lived, we literally staged a rescue. We said, Can you be at this place? Can you walk to this corner and someone will pick you up and take you – because he was literally trapped.
Bobby: It’s amazing how things have evolved over the years. In the ‘70s, we lived in the Village and it was wild and wonderful and care free. Then in the ‘80s it was all about AIDS. In just the last twenty years we’ve gone from seeing gay couples on Christopher Street where one of them was pushing the other in a wheelchair during the AIDS epidemic, to gay couples pushing strollers with their adopted children. The speed with which that has changed is staggering.
One of the interesting aspects of the AIDS crisis was that people couldn't hide anymore. You almost had to come out of the closet. The illness made you a pariah, but it also showed that there were a lot more gay people in the world than people ever wanted to think there was. And families had to deal with it.
Andy: Right in the middle of that, I was on the national tour of LES MISERABLES, where we were out on the barricade eight times a week, portraying the revolution on stage, and I totally identified with it because I was on a barricade every day of my life.
I like the fact that I’m a member of a minority, because I see the world through a different lens and it helps me embrace other people’s differences. I don’t want to be homogenized into the rest of the culture. I want to have the same rights that everybody else has, but I don’t want to be blended in in a way that takes away identity and gay is part of my identity.
Bobby: We do see the world differently. Our love for each other is very, very real, yet for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t exist legally. So seeing the world through that prism, every other legal certainty is up for grabs in my view.
We’re insulated here, we live in Manhattan and we work in the theater. So we’re in a bubble in a way. We do go out into the world, but we are very much on safer ground here than we might be in other places.
Andy: I think because the right wing has become so potent in how it slants the news and how it monopolizes voting blocks, I think none of us can afford to be complacent about the progress that we’ve made. We make some steps forward and then we take some steps backwards, because of reactionary forces that are very well organized and are full of hate. They are powerful and we are not as organized as we ought to be.
Bobby: I think we have to remain vigilant and pick our battles carefully.
Zina Saunders 2014