J. Edgar Hoover: Gay marriage role model?

Will the search for famous gay partnerships lead to adding a homophobe to the purple pantheon?

Topics: Gay Marriage, LGBT,

Jan. 5, 2000

In 1999 the hunt for gay role models outed numerous historical figures
and fictional characters from Honest Abe to Tinky Winky.
2000 may yet provide even more eye-popping additions to the
lavender hall of fame. Now with the anti-gay Knight Initiative pending a popular
vote in California this spring, at least two gay Web sites are gathering examples of
proto-gay marriage as inspiration.

But will the relentless search for homosexual love-nests lead to elevating a
homophobe to the purple pantheon?

J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI chief, and his longtime companion, Clyde Tolson, were
an ambiguously gay crime-fighting duo. Inseparable for 44 years,
1928-1972, the two top G-men vacationed together, often dressed similarly
and continue their cohabitation even after death. They’re buried alongside one another.

Such facts have garnered Hoover and his handsome right-hand henchman
praise as homosexual role models from the Web site Partners’ list of “Famous
Lesbian and Gay Couples.”
Along with an impressive
lineup of long-term lovers, the crime-fighting couple are touted as the
11th-longest romance on a list headed by Canadian authoress
Mazo de la Roche and Carol Clement’s 75-year love affair. Other famous
persevering pairs include Greek historical novelist Mary Renault and Julie
Mullard (50 years), cubist writer Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas
(39 years), poet W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman (34 years), Renaissance
wonder Leonardo da Vinci and his apprentice Giacomo Caprotti (30 years) and
conqueror Alexander the Great and his cavalry commander Hephaistion (19
years).

Do Hoover and Tolson really belong on this list? No one has unearthed
documentation that the two men had blazing hot sex together. Couldn’t they
have just been platonic pals? Evidence of physical intimacy is merely
circumstantial, although suspicions about J. Edgar and Clyde ran
rampant through Washington political circles. Richard Nixon’s obscene
comment upon
hearing of Hoover’s death (“Jesus Christ, that old cocksucker!”) perhaps
describes the opinion of inside observers, but no letters, photos,
diaries or reliable witnesses can carnally tie the two men together. The
best “proof” comes from the wife of Hoover’s psychiatrist; she claims that
Hoover admitted his homosexuality to her husband during a confidential session.

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Even if Hoover and Tolson did engage in a lifelong love affair,
does that really make them worthy of admiration? After all, he spread
destructive, unsubstantiated rumors that Adlai Stevenson was gay to damage
the liberal Illinois governor’s 1952 bid for the presidency. He hunted down
and threatened anyone who dared to utter an innuendo about his sexual preference. And his extensive secret files contained surveillance material on Eleanor Roosevelt’s alleged lesbian
lovers, probably gathered for the purpose of blackmail.

The Who’s Who
gay role model page of
Getting Real Online, a youth support Web site, lists Hoover as
“somebody to look up to,” citing his lengthy relationship with Tolson and
suggesting that Hoover was a “part-time cross-dresser.” But this is
another allegation that lacks reliable substantiation, such as a photo of J.
Edgar in drag.

Hoover’s and Tolson’s names will undoubtedly be bandied about in the next
three months as the battle over the proposed ban on gay marriage heats up.
Yanking J. Edgar and Clyde flamboyantly out of the closet and waving their
relationship with the rainbow flag may assist the
cause of gay activists, but the truth remains that the master detective who
spied on everyone else’s sex life left the dossier on his own libido
decidedly empty.

Hank Hyena is a former columnist for SF Gate, and a frequent contributor to Salon.

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