Kennedy’s and Reagan’s first ladies were both tightly surrounded by gay courtiers, though loyalty back and forth could easily waver. Kirchick writes of Nancy Reagan: “Her own personality is inevitably, irrepressibly gay, embodied in the suite that designed, dressed, escorted, entertained, flattered, harbored, pampered, pampered, styled and titillated.”
The severity of AIDS, however, was simply inconsistent with the administration’s message that it was morning again in America. One of the most striking documents in “Secret City” is a draft of the president’s statement when his prominent friend Rock Hudson died of the disease, the word “deeply” scribbled before “saddened”, along with the line “he we will be sorely missed.” .” Kirchick also reproduces in full a long and poignant letter from Bob Waldron, faithful assistant of Lyndon B. Johnson, to the friend who betrayed his confidences about his sexuality and ruined his career.
“Secret City” is a luxurious, one-pound-slow Cadillac, not to be mastered in one sitting. It would be best read at the purple hour with a little glass of brandy in a paneled bookcase, one of those with a rolling ladder to knock down some of the faded mid-century bestsellers that resurface in these pages. , like Vidal’s “The City and the City”. the Pillar” – the narrative improves considerably each time this controversial and courteous writer arrives on the scene – “Washington Confidential”, by Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer (1951), with its legendary “Garden of Pansies”; and Allen Drury’s “Advise and Consent” (1959), which won a Pulitzer and was made into a film by Otto Preminger.
It’s also a Baedeker of significant locations (map included): the playful Chicken Hut bar where Teboe met his murderers; the “Fruit Loop” of the Dupont Circle pickup scene that developed in the 1960s; the Cinema Follies, the pornographic theater where nine men died in a fire in 1977; the “gay corner” of the Congressional Cemetery; and, more fortunately, the Lambda Rising bookstore.
It is overwhelmingly a gallery of the white male gay triarchy, with lesbians and people of color mostly on the fringes. And Kirchick seems to run out of gas towards the end, as the gay situation improves. Although he spoke of the defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act in a triumphalist essay for L’Atlantique in 2019 that angered some on the left, there is only a brief mention here; nothing about Pete Buttigieg’s presidential candidacy and subsequent cabinet appointment; little about the rise of the LGBTQ rainbow. But as an epic of a dark age, complex and nuanced, “Secret City” is gratifying in the extreme.