'Most Israeli Gays Are Right-wing, Mediocre and Boring, and Want a Husband and Children'

Ayelett Shani
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Ayelett Shani

When you observe the collapse of newspapers notably Maariv, where you once worked and the difficulties of the printed press in general, are you happy you got out?

At age 24, I was positive that I would work in the press until retirement. When I was really young, I wrote weekend previews on a typewriter. I had a typewriter at home, which I would bring to the newspaper every Tuesday. There was a huge computer, called a Wang, on the desk. I put my typewriter in front of the keyboard and pounded it dumbly with one finger. One day, someone came into the room. “Does this make sense to you?” he asked. “There is a computer here, and you are sitting at the keyboard and typing on a typewriter.” I raised my head, looked at him, and said, “Listen, I am one of those journalists who will die with their typewriter.”

And that’s what happened.

There was another long, amazing period in Ha’ir [the Tel Aviv weekly that Uchovsky edited], but then I started to make movies with Eytan [Fox, the film director and Uchovsky’s partner] and the story with “A Star is Born” began [Uchovsky was a judge for a few seasons of the hugely popular Israeli version of “American Idol”]. And, of course, when Amnon Dankner the editor of Maariv destroyed the paper, he threw out everyone from my generation. Because he wanted kids of 26 who could listen for the thousandth time to his stories and pass out, and because the publisher had an interest in dumping those people, but mainly because he is a crappy Shakespearean figure. He simply kicked me out of Maariv.

Literally kicked you out?

Yes. And rudely. We were supposedly friends and buddies, and I helped him a lot on his way to becoming editor of Maariv and in his initial period there. After all, he had never managed anything in his life.

Astonishment and punishment.

Yes, I was punished. Because I was not the only one to be punished, it wasn’t so awful, though I didn’t really have any place to go. The older you get, the more of a tank you become that is harder to maneuver around. Why does the labor market like people of 20 to 30? Because they are hungry. For example, if someone had the idea to bring someone like me to work on another newspaper, they would say straightaway, “Let’s not mess with him; we will find someone younger and put him through the mill.”

Did you ever despair?

No. I am an optimistic person and easy to please. If I get up in the morning and there’s a lovely song on the radio, I am already satisfied. Eytan is a more complex person, and through him I have been exposed to more complex types of human behavior: depressives, people with a thinner skin.

To call that “complex” is a really nifty solution.

Yes, yes. There are prices to be paid for that, of course. You are a little more sealed off.

It’s better that way.

I don’t play that game. I’m not into “If I were who I am...” The question is whether you look around you, or live locked in yourself. Like that beloved Tel Aviv game, “If I were who I am ... in America, what kind of house would I have?” To which I always say, “With all the competitiveness there, it’s possible you would not be who you are, right?”

So you are never envious?

Of course I am. You have to use the whole gamut of emotions. I don’t like people who are motivated only by envy, but of course I have small envies.”

Are you envious of Eytan?

Supposedly not, but of course I am. That’s how it is when you work in the same field. I have a woman friend who always reminds me that I once said to her, “A house committee, too, is a world unto itself.” Barack Obama’s office is not the only place where there are dramas and passions and dramatic decisions.

Do you feel satisfied with your life?

As it happens, I have not been satisfied enough in the past year.

What’s missing?

It’s not a matter of something missing. There were all kinds of processes in the past year. Eytan and I set the work apart.

Why?

We felt it was impossible both to maintain a relationship and to work together. Either we would not be together or we would not work together. And after examining the two alternatives, we decided to stop working together.

How long have you been together?

We celebrated 24 years this week.

Insane!

Why insane? I like continuity. Loyalty is important to me. And, in general, I don’t like changes. I am not very adventurous.

I always had the feeling that it was more complex to maintain a homosexual relationship.

With us the hardest part is that we have no children, so you are always facing the other. You both take the field every evening, every morning, for the same ritual. Children generate another form of interest.

You both chose not to have a child?

We are talking about it now. In earlier periods we didn’t really want to involve a woman in the relationship, and the world of surrogates was almost impossible economically and logistically. Now it has become easier, so we are really thinking about it, under the threat of the clock. You don’t want a situation in which, when your son enters the army, he pushes you to the induction center in a wheelchair to see him off.

On the contrary: the closer you are to the stage in which someone has to wipe away the saliva, the more practical the idea of a child becomes.

In any event, we are discussing the subject. I also see what a favorable effect this is having on our community.

You know, there’s a certain feeling that gays have become straighter than the straights: bourgeois.

I don’t like that notion. It’s known as heteronormativity: a hated and despised word, because it says that as a gay you don’t deserve to be married and have children and hold a proper job.

Like, you should be walking around in leather shorts and a feather scarf.

Exactly. For example, that Benny Ziffer [the Haaretz columnist], who thinks gays are charming if they run around in Turkish baths and are constantly on the brink of being stabbed. That’s an excellent gay. But the desire for a family is not a heterosexual thing it is just a basic human desire.

But you have been given permission and the opportunity to deviate from that depressing model, and still...

Most gays are not special people at all and don’t want to deviate from any model. Most Israeli gays are right-wing, mediocre, regular people with boring jobs, and are themselves boring. They have boring views about life and they want a husband and children. That’s all. We are not imitating anything, only the basic human impulse to fulfill oneself by establishing a family and having offspring. Why should I hold other values? I grew up in a family like that.

How do you see yourself within the community? Is it important for you to be important?

Obviously, and in the most banal way the kind that induces people to go on reality programs. It’s important for me to influence the world, to leave a mark. I realized at a very young age that I would have to fight for my ability to lead a full gay life, and would have to seize my rights. In retrospect, I understand that I am an activist type. The question is whether that doesn’t slide into belligerence. Struggles by minorities are always belligerent.

Are you belligerent?

I imagine that from the outside it looks that way.

And from the inside?

I don’t know. To a certain extent, I suppose. What is “belligerent”?

Outing people, for example.

That entails a deep sociopolitical discussion, which I held this week about [the singer] Yehudit Ravitz. Now that she is out of the closet, the discussion can be held. Her thinking is that she is a private person and that from the moment she said it, she doesn’t owe anything to anyone. Whereas my way of thinking which expects a little more from her maintains that you have to strengthen those who are weaker than you.

The discussion about outing was not fair in the least. You can’t really hold the discussion, because then it becomes outing. And in the meantime, the person in the closet is far more belligerent toward his surroundings, to ensure that the newspapers don’t publish it.

When a famous singer wrangles with someone who wants to bring him out of the closet, people’s sympathy will always be with the singer. It is a lot more fun to say how cute he is and how beautifully he sings. In the struggle against the bad people who are trying to yank you out of the closet while you are sitting inside and are so cute and stroking cats, obviously I will emerge as the villain. But history, of course, proves that I am right.

But who appointed you and gave you the right?

Well, that’s a good question for any expression of opinion. I declared an end to this story, because I was [talking] in a school and one kid said he was afraid he would be outed. I told him that the discussion was about famous people who don’t come out of the closet. He replied that he had no idea what the discussion was about, but that in school someone had threatened him, “I will out you.” It was then that I understood that my struggle against specific famous people who are belligerent themselves, and who do it for economic or image reasons, gets translated on the street into something else entirely. It has lurched out of control and can cause damage to kids in school, and I don’t want to do that.

But isn’t the working assumption “Whoever is not with us is against us”?

No. The world, for its part, wants to put me back in the closet, so it can have peace and quiet. And then all kinds of gays who don’t accept themselves or feel uncomfortable say, “Why does everyone have to shout it out? I won’t say anything at work until I am asked.” And so it goes on. In Israeli theater, it’s still accepted that gay actors are in the closet, even if it’s utterly ridiculous. There is a projection from above which says, “It’s healthier that way.” Behind-the-scenes, they are all skipping and dancing, but on the stage and in the newspapers it’s all hush-hush. That is not good. That is what needs to be fought.

Do you feel you are relevant?

That really is a big question. When you are engaged in the media, it is very important to be relevant. You don’t want to be seen as a has-been.

Do you feel like a has-been?

Let’s just say that in the past few years I have been checking myself more about these things.

I suppose I ask because of the way “A Star is Born” ended for you. [Uchovsky was dropped from the panel of judges last year.] Getting fired like that validates one’s most hidden fears. It’s personal, it has to do with relevance and it confronts you with the fragility of your status. It undercuts you.

Very much so. Definitely. It was a huge shock. You are part of something prominent, it becomes a central part of your life, and suddenly they don’t need you anymore. It’s a major event. It’s very complicated to deal with. And it’s personal, because you have some sort of account to settle with them how they used you, why you let them, how ungrateful they are. But that is part of the deal.

What’s it like getting physically older?

Relative to my biological age, I am in very good condition. Miki Buganim [a well-known hair and makeup stylist] says I need to lift my eyebrows. Fine. Maybe I really do. A few days ago, Eytan and I were watching television and he said, “Look, that guy had something done.” He was talking about a well-known television presenter, who is five or six years younger than I am. “Wow,” I said. But I am still at the stage where I say I don’t want to do it, but I’m not sure...

Obviously not. Because people see that you did it. It’s better they should see the old age than see the pathetic side. Are you afraid of being pathetic?

Being pathetic is overrated. It’s like the question of whether you’re cool. It’s a deceptive game. I have friends who think, for example, that the amount of coverage I give myself on Facebook is pathetic. Well, they can think what they want.

Do you have a way of getting what you want? Are you manipulative?

I am not manipulative, I am speculative. I calculate moves in advance. In a given situation, such as negotiations of any kind, I try to understand what each side thinks, to enter into their consciousness. When we were making films, we were sent to a kind of workshop in Malta, where they teach you how to work in order to get grants from foundations. One of the courses was “How to pitch a movie.” When my turn came I said, “I don’t do that.”

I just don’t believe in a situation in which you enter a room with nobody status and the movie actually happens. You have to invest a lot of time to find out who’s against you, who makes the decision, and how you can get to him through someone who knows him and will say to him, “Hey, keep your eye on this guy.”

Is that your modus operandi?

Yes. If a job becomes available and it appeals to you, why not? So you know X number of people who can intervene and speak on your behalf, you have an agent who can make a call.

Do you think that a young gay man in the Hadera neighborhood where you grew up could accomplish what you did?

No, because what kind of a struggle does a young gay man face nowadays? There was a game I used to play with the poet Hezy Leskly, who taught me everything I know about gay consciousness. He would say, “What will things be like in 30 years? Tel Aviv will be the international city of gays, and Yotam and Yoav will frolic at every corner hand in hand.” We would laugh and say, “And then we will be the old codgers who will say that once upon a time it was a lot harder, we had to struggle, and the young people will look at us and say, ‘Who has the strength for these old hags?’” We thought it would really be fun.

Only, now that we are there I don’t know if it’s fun. And, anyway, young people really don’t have the patience to talk about the struggle. They have it easy. From the age of 17, all their problems are solved.

How was it for you as an adolescent?

It was never an option. Back then there was no such thing as a gay.

What did you know? What did you understand?

I knew everything from an early age.

What did you understand?

That there was a boy I wanted to seduce, and I went and seduced him.

A boy?!

A boy of my age. This was in the sixth or seventh grade.

And you really seduced him?

Obviously. It was easy.

How did you feel afterward?

Wonderful. It was all so innocent. I didn’t understand that I had embarked on the path of a homosexual life. In fact, until the age of 17 I thought it was something you did in addition to conforming and having a girlfriend.

My formative experience was when I saw the [1969] film “Women in Love,” with Oliver Reed and Alan Bates, who played straights. They are sitting in front of the fireplace one evening and it’s obvious that there is sexual tension between them, and then of them says, “Would you like to try wrestling?” And they strip and start to wrestle in front of the burning fire.

In the subtext, or really one against the other?

Very quickly it becomes a type of sex. When I saw that, I realized that it’s possible, beautiful and wildly sexy. I knew I wanted that, too, in front of the roaring fire. One time, when I invited that kid from the neighborhood over to toy with him, my mother asked, “Why are you so quiet in there?” After he left I went to her and tried to say that she was not wrong. She didn’t understand. She couldn’t imagine what I was trying to tell her. That something was really happening.

That I found it pleasant. That I intended to keep on with it.

She didn’t want to know.

No.

A tough moment.

No, it’s not a tough moment. I didn’t treat it like that. It’s a classic childhood situation of a mother not understanding her child. It’s not that she says you are no good, or that is no good. She just doesn’t understand.

How did your parents respond to you?

My father died three years ago, suddenly. He just went to sleep and didn’t get up. He had a heart attack. That came as a tremendous shock, because he was perceived as a healthy person; he was a doctor and treated himself. At the funeral, and afterward during the shivah [seven-day mourning period], people kept telling me, “You don’t know how lucky you are that he went like that, instantly.” As though the fact that I didn’t have to spend two weeks in some internal-medicine ward was the biggest break I ever had. In retrospect, I understand that it really is better like that, instantly. But still, what a dumb thing to say to someone who is in a state of shock.

There is nothing really intelligent or consoling that you can say to mourners.

People think they have to say something. You don’t have to. You just don’t have to say anything. In any case, I think my parents were able to make me a mentally resilient person, relatively. Someone who goes through the world feeling that he is loved and not rejected.

Were you never rejected? Don’t you know the feeling?

No.

In general, the impression is that your emotional side is handled very efficiently. If I were your therapist I would probably be bored. Were you ever in therapy?

The only therapy I was in was when Eytan and I had what’s known as the “crisis.” We went to a couples therapist, but at some point Eytan decided that she was in favor of me and on my side and fired her, though I went on seeing her.

Obviously she was on your side.

Yes. I stayed with her for a year and it was great fun. At some stage I reached a condition of calm between me and myself, and between me and Eytan, and I grasped that, in order to become full-rounded, truly you have to start digging deeper and get to your childhood. But I didn’t have the strength for that.

That’s it? No depressions? No anxieties? Missiles striking Tel Aviv, for example?

I have the kind of street smartness that means when it’s something that happens to everyone, I am really not stressed. If it happens only to you, you are alone. You come back from your father’s shivah and discover that everything is going on as usual; everyone is in the street and no one cares that your father died. But if there is a war and everyone suffers, it’s alright, because there are people who suffer more than I do and there are people whose collapse threshold is very low. So I say: How bad can it be?

Gal Uchovsky, who is campaigning publicly for Labor chief Isaac Herzog to 'out' a supposedly closeted party MK. Credit: Gili Eitan

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