CHARLES KAREL BOULEY
DON'T TELL HIM
YOU CAN'T SAY THAT!
Talking with Charles Karel Bouley
By Owen Keehnen
Charles Karel Bouley is doing a lot for gay visibility. He is America's #1 gay radio talk-show host and along with his late partner Andrew Howard formed 'Karel and Andrew Live' which aired on KFI AM 640 in Los Angeles, making them the first openly gay male couple ever to host a talk show in a major radio market - and that was during prime drive time. And on the same station that aired Rush and Dr. Laura! Sadly, with the death of Andrew he also became the second domestic partner in the state of California to file a wrongful death lawsuit…and that's still in the courts.
He is a controversial and extremely outspoken character. A collection of his writings, You Can't Say That!, has recently been released from Alyson Publications. In this well-titled book he pulls no punches in talking frankly about a wide array of topics - PFLAG, Matthew Shepard, HIV prevention, his legal battle, politics, Gay Pride, circuit drugs, body fascism, and so much more. You'll love him or hate him…but like most talk show hosts it's almost impossible to be indifferent.
Have you been this outspoken all your life?
Oh absolutely, you don't just develop that.
A theme in You Can't Say That seems to be the comparison between the Patriot Act form of censorship with that political correctness within the gay and lesbian community.
It's not just in the gay and lesbian community; it's in every community particularly nowadays. I don't understand. If you say something important you're going to piss off somebody. Personally, I don’t care if what I say is necessarily right or wrong, what I care about is that it comes from the heart and that it might cause a debate or at least get people to think.
In an early essay in the book you mention that controversy can help one succeed in talk radio, with that in mind are you ever conscious and purposeful about creating controversy?
No, because my very existence in talk radio does in fact create controversy. I don't have to open my mouth to be controversial because I'm openly gay and so immediately people have a preconceived notion as to what the show is going to be about and when they turn it on and discover it's nothing like that, they're surprised, sometimes pleasantly and sometimes not.
P-Flag, Matthew Shepard, circuit parties and drug use, HIV prevention - you have voiced some strong opinions on a lot of topics. Which column or broadcast you've done has brought the biggest outcry from the gay community?
It would be when Andrew and I hosted the Christopher Street West Festival, the Gay Pride Parade here in Los Angeles. They nearly sued us. We've only been "almost sued" by gay organizations; in that case, it was because we didn't tow the party line. For Gay Pride we were rather critical about some of the things passing by. We were like, "Oh, I am so proud to be a gay man at this time" as an 8 ft. drag queen with nipple rings walked or "Look at the LAPD - why are the two white guys in front and the black girl in back? They didn't think that one through did they?" Or when we were interviewing Mr. Blackwell and he had two guys in Speedos with feathers following him down the street we asked, "Who designed their outfits?" And when he said, "I did" we replied "Well, no wonder you are no longer relevant when it comes to fashion." We were honest. We said what some people were thinking. We got many letters from the gay community saying, "Thank God someone finally said what needs to be said about these things." And then we got others who said we were self-loathing gay people. We're the most creative people on the planet; I want to know why we can't do something to outdo the Rose Parade?
And from straight listeners what has caused the most controversy?
I don't know. Controversy is so relative. I said the last presidential election was lost because of a bunch of old Jews in Florida and I've got old Jews picketing the station. I say that maybe we should racially profile Muslims since it's the Muslims who are taking down airplanes, not the 70 year old housewives or grandmothers - so let's not cavity search them at the airport. So then I've got Muslim groups picketing me. It's so subjective. You never know what’s going to piss people off. A lot of things you think will create controversy don't create a blip and something you say or write in passing is suddenly a huge to-do.
You and your late partner/lover did 'Karel and Andrew Live', becoming the first gay couple on radio, airing on #1 talk show station KFI-AM during prime drive time, what did you see as the potential for that show?
Shopping! …No, we didn't know. We were shocked when we found out the money we would be making. We did exactly on air what we did at home. It was just our living room expanded. It was fun and we always said when it stops being fun we'll stop. And luckily, Andrew died with it still being fun. It had never been tried or done before so no one knew what to expect.
Did you feel any role model pressure?
No we weren't gay enough for the gay community because we didn't typically do gay topics. The gay media isn't that aware of me - I'm gay but they don't know I exist. They know Rush and Laura - they know their enemies. But the people they should be supporting, they don’t have a clue, which is why they'll never win the battle. They're so busy supporting the people that hate them that when it comes time to support someone who's on their side they don't know what to do about it. They will spend $200,000 to bash Laura, but how much money did they spend to support our show? How many times did GLAAD take out an ad in the LA Times saying "For a balanced view of gay life listen to Karel and Andrew?" Not once. They've never supported us. I'm too gay for straight people and not gay enough for gay people. I'm in some no man's land in the middle and meanwhile I'm the biggest queer on the planet.
Sadly, your lover of 12 years Andrew passed away in 2001 at which point you filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the attending physician and there was much flak over your status as Andrew's "friend" and thus your right to file the lawsuit. What's going on with all that?
It's currently at the appeals division in LA where they are going to decide my standing. I have not been able to argue the medical treatment in Andrew’s case because they are so busy trying to decide if I can even lodge the argument. That's what's so sad, it's almost four years later and the medicine has still not been argued. That's all I want is someone to say, "Oh medically this went wrong and maybe next time we should pay attention so other people don't die."
Does that status snafu make you appreciate the need for gay marriage more?
Yes and no. What made me want that was the president. I was not pro gay marriage I was pro domestic partnership because I knew marriage was too hotly contested of a word and we were never going to win that battle and look what's happening. If I had the right to sue right now, whether that right was given to me by domestic partner benefits or by marriage I don't care, just let me get to court. Just give me the 1,300 plus benefits.
Reading about that legal battle was so frustrating. It was all about defining who you were rather than the case.
On his death certificate it says, "Ashes remanded to friend of 11 years. In LA we have domestic partnerships, you would think the coroner would change the form to read domestic partner. It sounds maudlin, but in one instant my life was over - the life I thought I would always have with Andrew was over, my financial life was over, my home with going through probate, we were working on adopting a Chinese baby - all those things stopped that day and I felt like a bystander in the tragedy that would become my life. There was nothing that was not altered by Andrew's death. Luckily there were some lessons. I've done some of the best radio and writing I've ever done since Andrew died. This book came out after he died.
So are your broadcasts and writings often therapeutic then?
Oh yes, very cathartic. I cry a lot on the radio. Everything in the book is an essay that I woke up in the morning and just needed to say. I had to get it out and I'm very lucky that people want to print it. But I am not writing for a specific audience or to make a specific point, it's just what I have to say. It's the same with the radio show. You do the kind of radio show that you do. You don’t tailor it to the station or to suit your demographic. You do your best and hope the program director can figure out where to put it.
You are often critical of the gay and lesbian community. If you could change a couple things about it what would they be?
I'd make us grow up and stop being the bratty stepkids. I would instill self-esteem back in the community because you act differently when you come from a place of empowerment. I'd refocus our leaders and let them realize that we don't need their approval to be real. We don’t need the non-gay community's approval to exist and be valid.
Well said, thanks Charles - and all the best with You Can’t Say That!