When I first read Jim McGreevey’s version of a tell-all, his memoir The Confession, I was struck not by its candor, but by its air of political circumspection. The man who, upon resigning as New Jersey’s governor in the face of a sex scandal proudly proclaimed “I am a gay American,” couldn’t do a warts-and-all autobio without at the same time touting his accomplishments (many of which read more like opportunism than principle).
It’s been nearly nine years since that fateful day when this tall working-class pol gave a new face to gay people, and more than six since the book, so seeing him again now in the documentary Fall to Grace, airing on HBO this Thursday with replays throughout April, comes as a shock. Gone is the swath of black hair with a touch of grey that made him look like Reed Richards from the Fantastic Four; in its place, a shaved, craggy skull. Gone also is all the pretense and savviness.
Since leaving politics, McGreevey has married his partner, Mark Anthony, converted from Catholicism to Episcopalian (attending seminary and becoming a priest in the process) and now acts as a spiritual advisor to women in prison. His to-hell-and-back journey is the focus of this 45-minute film. The director herself understands the political world — it’s Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. I’m not sure that fact provides any unique insight into McGreevey’s past life, but her roots in San Francisco probably help her navigate through McGreevey’s coming out process intelligently.
“Coming out was a great gift,” McGreevey admits. “I’m gay! Big shit!” It may not seem like much, but it’s more than Ed Koch ever did.
Indeed, McGreevey seems to be in an alternative universe, the coulda-been of Koch, a generation older. McGreevey’s transformation seems sincere in a way his memoir did not, and it’s clear that in addition to his good works with female prisoners, his scandal probably helped advance the cause of gay rights and the potential of pols to be open about who they are.