Gay Eustace Sparks Debate on Gay Marriage and Overt Sexuality

I’ve brought up the Eustace Tilly cover illustration contest that The New Yorker magazine is running a couple times over the last two weeks. The contest generated at least one gay-themed entry which has generated some playful discussion between bloggers Andrew Sullivan and Dan Savage, both of whom are married.

Gay_eustaceTilly is the magazine’s mascot (see photo inset). He appeared on the magazine’s first cover in 1924 and appears annually every year, sometimes in a slightly revised form. The contest has generated a lot of entries. The “Gay Eustace” entry (pictured), which features a 70’s-style leather queen contemplating a gold wedding band is the one that has drummed up the dialog.

Sullivan’s initial post on the cover entry described Gay Eustace as “suspended between the past and the future, like the rest of us,” which Savage replied was too ‘either /or’ an analysis:

“Any fool can see what Sullivan means by that crack: Gay Eustace, in his leather vest, cap, arm bands, gloves, and dog collar, looks down his nose at a gold band. Gay Eustace contemplates the wedding ring and the future it represents, a future characterized by family and commitment. The leather gear Gay Eustice wears, of course, represents a past characterized by promiscuity and sexual excess. When Sullivan asserts that Gay Eustace is suspended between the past and the future, between the wedding band and the leather gear, he is arguing that commitment and dog collars are mutually exclusive. To move into the former you must, Sullivan would have us believe, unbuckle the latter. That is not the case. A man, gay or straight, can wear a wedding band and enjoy all it symbolizes—commitment, stability, family—and wear the fetishized skins of dead animals if that appeals to him. In fact, we should encourage him to do so. If we want to strengthen the institution of marriage—and that is what all in the gay family values movement want (although I’m starting to have my doubts about Mr. Sullivan)—we must fight with every tool at our disposal the pernicious notion that marriage, by definition, must always and everywhere signify the death of sexual experimentation and adventure. A man, gay or straight, can be married and trot about Manhattan in a dog collar, if it pleases him and his spouse. And he should be able to do without the depth or sincerity of his commitment being called into question. Just as we don’t presume that a man wearing a wedding band is incapable of adultery, Mr. Sullivan, we shouldn’t presume that man in a leather vest is incapable of commitment.”

Sullivan replied to Savage’s post by saying that they actually “almost” agree. Sullivan actually revised his post to exclude the line “Of course, there’s no reason a leather queen shouldn’t get married either.”

Says Sullivan who wed his partner in Provincetown last summer: “Why did I delete the extra qualification? I guess what I was driving at in commenting on that image is that it represented some kind of collective cultural conflict, as much as a personal one. And while we’d like the conflict to be totally absent, it isn’t. It’s not either/or. But it isn’t totally both/and either, is it? There is something about the most overt sexuality that isn’t easily integrated into marriage in our culture. Maybe we need to adjust that, as Dan suggests. And maybe it isn’t quite that easy, as my deletion implies.”

A worthy conversation, one which says to me that the Tilly entry pictured here is a good one. Your thoughts on the collective cultural conflict, readers?

ADDENDUM: I did not mean to suggest by this post (but perhaps I framed it in too divisive a manner) that Sullivan and Savage are at war on this topic. They’re not, and Dan’s post was certainly meant as a humorous jab rather than an angry one.


  1. the queen says

    i love the picture, as for the issue, honey some married people whether gay or straight are gonna fuck around no matter what, human nature and sexual attraction will out… and then again some couples prefer an open relationship more power to them. god knows i’ve had the opportunity to stray but i’m true to my man and we’re not “married” either..

  2. dc8stretch says

    “Gay Eustace” is a spectacularly provocative image, though I feel both Sullivan and Savage have reduced the discussion to match their political agendas. Doesn’t “Gay Eustace” call into question our community’s current pursuit of “Gay Marriage” for all homosexuals as a political goal, when in fact, I believe, a vast majority of gays would prefer “equal rights” without having to mimic the antiquated bonds of heterosexuals, condemning ourselves to a lifetime of monogomy.

  3. says

    My only comment is that this doesn’t feature a “70s style” anything. Have you been to the Mid-Atlantic Leather event in Washington, DC? I’m pretty sure you’d see about 500 “Gay Eustaces” all over the place.

    As a gay man, I don’t really relate to the leather community at all and frankly do not find it representative of me, my friends or my life. Not that the artist’s intention was at all to represent anything other than what he did, but the debate clearly spins this as representative of the gay movement altogether. What is tiring is the idea that gays are any less heterogeneous (no pun intended) than the straight community.

  4. says

    Also – DC8Stretch: since when do hetersexuals feel condemned to a lifetime of monogamy based on the antiquated bond of marriage? Please, I’ve slept with enough married men to know better…

    It has nothing to do with what’s preferred. If you don’t want to live under the traditional rules of marriage, then don’t. But should you be denied the ability to if you so choose?

  5. sfikus says

    I find it fascinating how the interpretations of both Sullivan and Savage are so deeply invested within their own agendas. I see a man marked by the stereotypical indicators of a particular emotional/psychological act, contemplating another stereotypical indicator of a particular emotional/psychological act. The power of the rather facile symbolism speaks more to me about the common polemic perception that the ‘mainstream’ has of the gay community in general – my choices are bizarre and deviant sexual congress, or the political and religious hotbed of a proto-hetero type marriage – it’s easier to relate to the symbols than the man underneath, forsaking the forest for the trees. Tilly, is after all a fop, representative of a New York that saw a genteel crust that could well afford to while away the hours on frippery and classist observation and self-congratulation. Read Edith Wharton much?

    Yes, yes – New York has seen plenty of leather queens in its days since. How delicious a contrast. But seriously, shouldn’t this speak to the larger challenge of the gay community – how to move beyond the trappings of symbolic identity? We move to the mecca of San Francisco in droves, as seen by the background, only to become trapped in a ghetto of recycled, tired themes and imprisoned by so-called ‘freedom of desire’.

    Isn’t Tilly really asking “It’s come to this?”

  6. Pleather says

    Given the solipsistic shite they both tend to write, one can only hope that they both are injured in a simultaneous fist fucking fest and spend the rest of their lives tending their colostomy bags rather than pontificating to we mere plebians.

  7. crispy says

    This is indicative of why I despise Andrew Sullivan. He feels that his own personal experience (i.e. a washed-up leather queen who recently married) represents the whole gay experience. Kudos to Dan Savage for calling him out.

  8. peterparker says

    I agree with CRISPY: Andrew Sullivan is a solipsistic (thanks for reminding me of that fine word, PLEATHER) asinine old fart.

    And I also agree with BEN that WILL should go take a nap.

  9. GM says

    Ad hominem attacks all over the place here. (Yes, I am talking to you Pleather, Crispy, et al.) How about taking on the arguments made by the individuals and not what you perceive to be their personal foibles? It takes a bit more brain power, but I would presume that most of us can manage it.

  10. jake says

    I’m not a particularly big fan of the idea that we all need to get married, have 2.3 kids,a dog and a Subaru and live in the suburbs. It’s my contention that I should be able to commit to my man and remain faithful, and reap any legal benefits express or implied by straight marriage without abandoning my celebration of the differences of the life I live. Homogenizing ourselves is NOT the way to distinguish ourselves.

    If Eustace wants to get married he can use my backyard to have the reception.

    What’s tired is the need for us to judge each other instead of standing up and seeing to it that EVERYONE has the rights to which we were entitled to begin with and are allowing White Christian Hetero Males the power to deny us.

    Stop bitching at each other and get something accomplished.

  11. crispy says

    Uhh, GM, this is not debate class. This is the comments section to a blog that regularly posts pictures of scantily clad athletes. Attacking someone personally, particularly someone as vile as Andrew Sullivan, is what we do.

    Also, you’re a douche.

  12. John in Philly says

    I don’t understand why so many gay men are bent on putting down others who have different beliefs. As a gay leather man who was with his now-deceased lover for 27 years, I have learned to respect the wide multitude of beliefs and desires out there. If a leather man wants a marriage with all the traditional trappings, go for it! If he wants a three-way, if he wants to be single, or if he wants to marry a drag queen, do it. Why do you have to judge? Acceptance and tolerance are the important aspects of life. The bottom line is that our society should be open to allowing for a vast array of ideas and differences, including gay marriage and gay fetishes.

  13. says

    Too much has been read into what Gay Eustace is contemplating. Think about the reactions straight Americans will have to it. This is but one stereotypical image of what gay men are (as far as much of hetero-America is concerned). It is provocative because it represents the fears of anti-gay Americans in the same way a picture of two men exchanging wedding vows does.

  14. jondavwal says

    Anybody who knows Andrew Sullivan knows that he and Aaron are frequently decked out in full leather gear and that they play together. Sullivan’s disconnect regarding what he believes and who he really is borders on pathological.

  15. basis4insanity says

    I thought the original Eustace looked pretty gay…

    Off track – I enjoyed going through all the entrants from the link in Andy’s original post. I thought many of them would be great covers.

  16. gregus says

    If the debate continues any further Savage and Sullivan will likely disappear up each other asses creating one giant self-promoting, self-obsessed entity.

    While Savage can be entertaining on TV at times, they both do little further than promoting the stereotype of the effete gay intellectual.

  17. anon ( says

    I think the constraints of the original image forced the artist to derive an ironic twist visually without much need for commentary. If he were in drag it might be confusing, but in leather you know he’s gay. His options were limited.

  18. John Beene says

    I’m more with Sullivan.

    But about the candidate cover itself let me just say that the fewer scraggly leather queens I have to look at in my life, even if just in cartoon, the happier I’ll be. Make that leather queens in general.

  19. Pitbull says

    What a crock. My boy takes the dog collar I padlock around his neck more seriously than most people do their wedding rings when it cums to fidelity and commitment.

Leave A Reply