Following on from last weeks blog post ‘Who works who, in a relationship?’, the new Liberace film ‘Behind The Candelabra’ on TV HBO, and selected cinema release in the UK from June 14th, is a true story of puppet and puppet master. Rave reviews, like shiny sequins, not only from Cannes Film Festival, but 4 or 5 star UK newspaper reviews, have propelled interest to Las Vegas heights with many stating it’s Douglas’s finest performance to date, while Damon exceeds all expectations in this glittery tale of control & dysfunction.
Scott Thorson had already had a relationship with a Hollywood mogul before Liberace found him at 17, then making him his personal assistant, chauffeur, lover, companion and captive. Liberace saw Scott as the son he never had, and foster-cared Thorson jumped at the chance of stability, attention and a vision of love. Scott says he is not gay, and although a physical relationship developed within the relationship, it took a while. He said on ‘The Larry King Show’ in 2002, that “I pleased him. He once told me, he said, “Scott,” he says, “you have the most important job in my organization,” he says, “and that is to keep me happy and please me.” OK? Remember, Larry, I was a child. I was in foster homes. And then all of a sudden, boom, all this wealth, all this fame, you know. So I did whatever I had to do”.
This spectacle of codependent need, greed & manipulations on both sides, echoes a thread within some male same sex relationships, that of social and financial disparity. It can also affect heterosexual couplings but lesser so, as heterosexuals are much more ring fenced when it comes to friends and relationships. For starters, a huge amount of relationships are conceived in the workplace, not much chance of that happening if you favour men. Gay men are much more led by physical attraction, ask questions later, and have a higher propensity to batter down class, social and financial barriers, in seeking friends, lovers and sexual companionship. In fact one of joys of being gay is wallowing in different backgrounds, educations and multi-cultaral diversity with ease and ample opportunity.
The film illustrates the complexity of this ‘can’t leave, can’t stay’ relationship model, so you can imagine perhaps, how Thorson hustled and pleased Lee ( Lee Liberace, Mr Showmanship and other names he used ) without taking responsibility for the fact he stayed. In fact he had got used to the perks.
A friend once suggested that the gay scene is like a wedding cake tier. We start at the bottom, with little sense of personal style and esteem. Then we realise the value of our own currency, discovering that youth like cash, is king. Or queen in this case. Like Thorson, partying, pouting and pleasing, we love the adoration, fawning and a new sense of self, meeting and using new allies on our journey. Perhaps at some point, a well educated middle class male hook-up, probably older, takes the role of guiding father and lifts us up 2 or 3 tiers, in one swoop, to a new social circle, where drugs are offered instead of After Eight mints after dinner.
Then invitations arrive to holiday, to accept gifts, to revel in the new illuminating lifestyle. It’s easy to get used to the clubs, the drugs, the bashed out credit cards to keep up and then suddenly you’re dropped. Not only are you left with the CC bills, but since all those friends on the Class A tier are ‘his’ friends, you also discover what an illusion it all is, and drop down 2 tiers to where you started, blighted and sore. Not every relationship forms this model but many big urban city boys will nod in agreement, passed around like pass the parcel at a party, looking for the next rescuer, dealer, lover. Thorson sadly, ended up a junkie, at least you don’t have to.
The solution in avoiding this guest list lifestyle, or to make it work better for you, is to speed bump. Not a drug cocktail that gathers speed, but more like the ridge in the road allowing you to slow down. It is this quest of stopping, checking, learning and saying NO more often that creates emotional balance in the individual and a relationship.
When you can’t afford something, a restaurant meal or a cocktail bar round on your salary, say so. Many couplings with financial disparity do work because they are worked on, with frequent honesty, emotional checkin and less emotional blackmail. Relationships can get lazy when things are offered beyond your personal reach, like exotic holidays, high fashion spends and bling. Like a Dad spending loads of time at work and buying his children gifts, what the kids really want is something that costs little – time & communication – the recipe of love.
Go see the film, see what, how and where it resonates in your memory bank. Look for the similarities not the differences. When youth fades what do you trade? Are you the controller or victim? The Puppet master or puppet, and how many times have you flipped roles? Interesting.