Saints and Sex
It’s a point of some pride that one of our stories from San Francisco is the murder of Harvey Milk. Don’t get me wrong, I dig serial killers and bank robbers, and just like Paris, we’ll always have them.
But this murder—this assassination—is different.
I was thrilled with the chance to dig into it, and overwhelmed by the people I spoke to. These are people on the front lines of history; brilliant, compassionate, political, fervent, funny. And I’m very proud of the story we told. I’m proud that we didn’t simplify things, that we didn’t make it as simple as gay-straight, good-evil.
However, one consistent bit of piss in my punch is that the constraints of television mean that there are always things we can’t cover in a story. There just isn’t time. Inevitably, things have to be left out, some of them quite wonderful.
And so I’d like to take a moment to talk a little about my understanding of Harvey the man, rather than Harvey the victim.
When someone is killed, there’s a tendency to elevate them beyond the human. They become a symbol, a role in a story, rather than a real person who lived and loved, who did things both wonderful and shitty, who had moments of grace but also crippling hangovers and walks of shame.
And one thing I learned in talking to the people who knew Harvey is that he was a man. A human being, not a symbol.
He had a wicked temper. He was disorganized, scattered. He was a flirt—and, to hear Tom Ammiano tell it, more than just a flirt. In other words, he had emotions. He had weaknesses. He had passions.
All silenced in an instant.
That’s a true and often forgotten horror of murder. There is rarely any warning. You don’t have time to put your affairs in order, to tell your mother that you love her. You also aren’t around to correct the perception painted of you in the aftermath. Once you’re gone, you’re at the mercy of the remaining world.
And while I never had the chance to know him, here’s one thing I bet Harvey would hate about his legacy: he would hate being a saint.
A leader? Most definitely. A ray of hope for a gay kid in a small town? He’d dig that. But a saint? Not a chance.
Who wants to be a saint? Saints can’t love unless they love purely and chastely. They can’t drink and dance shirtless. They can’t kiss the wrong person and laugh about it later. They certainly can’t screw.
All things that were part of the real Harvey Milk. The man.
So call this an appendix to the show. A reminder, for Harvey’s sake, that he wouldn’t want to be canonized. He wouldn’t want quiet respect and soft voices.
You want to celebrate Harvey? Go have a drink and a laugh.
That I think he’d like.