With Gay Marriage Could Come the Trophy Spouse

Will there be more trophies, or more parity, with gay marriage?

July 7, 2008— -- An attractive, young "trophy wife" on the arm of a much older male celebrity is as commonplace as rehab these days. But with more gay celebrities coming out of the closet and gay marriage becoming legal in California, are we about to enter the era of the "gay trophy spouse"?

"Gay celebrities are probably just as likely to follow that trend -- or not -- as their straight counterparts," said David Hauslaib, editorial director of the Web site Queerty.com. "I don't find it unique to the gay community that people who are famous and wealthy want to date very attractive people. That is not a shocking thing."

But May-December relationships among gay couples may stand out more, simply because there are many more closeted gay celebrities than open ones, Hauslaib said.

"The idea of a straight older guy dating a straight younger woman is so normalized, we don't think twice," he said. "In real life, they are so commonplace. In movies, Al Pacino is not going to star in a movie opposite an older woman."

"Because there are so few out gay celebrities, it's much easier to say that all of the gay celebrities are doing it," Hauslaib continued. "There are so few examples of gay celebrity couples that we do get to talk about in the mainstream press."

One of the more prominent examples is Ellen DeGeneres and her companion of four years, Portia de Rossi. "Theoretically, it's a trophy relationship," Hauslaib said. "Ellen just turned 50 and Portia is 35. It sort of fits the mold."

But where it diverges from the stereotype, Hauslaib said, is in the seriousness of the relationship. Two months after they began dating, de Rossi, an actress and star of "Ally McBeal" and "Nip/Tuck," gave DeGeneres a Tiffany wedding band and bought one for herself.

After the California Supreme Court struck down the state's ban on gay marriage, DeGeneres immediately announced on her talk show that she and de Rossi would get married. Media reports say the nuptials are planned for October at the California Riviera Resort and Spa in Palm Springs, Calif.

"Ellen has made it such a public affair," Hauslaib said. "It would be silly to think it's a flippant relationship. They have been together for years, weathered storms together. They're both celebrities in their own right. Perhaps one has benefited from the other, but it's not as if either has piggybacked on the other. Often the accusation of a trophy is where the younger attractive partner is sleeping with a more famous celerity to get ahead. This does not seem to be the case."

The definition of what qualifies as a "trophy" has changed since a Fortune magazine article first introduced the phrase "trophy wife" in 1989. Then, the article described a trophy wife as a "decade or two younger than her husband, sometimes several inches taller, beautiful and very often accomplished."

Today, experts say, the phrase is less pejorative, with more and more emphasis being placed on the success of the woman.

"The idea of the trophy wife has progressed so that men want a woman who has some social equality, and it's not a dominant-submissive relationship," Anne Kingston, author of "The Meaning of Wife" told ABCNews.com. "Increasingly, it's not simply the decoration that a truly accomplished man wants, but an equal."

John Polly, the editor of Logo.com, the Web site for MTV's lesbian and gay network, believes, even with the new connotation of "trophy wife," the phrase doesn't quite fit when it comes to gay couples.

"There's not that old-school paradigm," he said. "Gay couples tend to bring things on more of a shared footing of responsibilities and work together. I think it's usually more balanced in same-sex couples, like with Ellen and Portia. Ellen perhaps is more famous, but they are both accomplished entertainers. I don't think it's perceived in the same way as a straight business mogul marrying a much younger wife."

Similarly, Polly believes, Elton John and civil partner David Furnish are equals despite their 15-year age difference. Furnish served on the board of the London office of advertising giant Oglivy & Mather, but resigned after his relationship with John, whom he met in 1993, took over. Now they share a film production company, Rocket Pictures.

"David Furnish has his own thing going on, as well as being married to mega pop star Elton John," Polly said.

He puts Tom Ford and his longtime companion, Richard Buckley, in that same category. When Ford met Buckley 20 years ago, he was just starting out as a designer, while Buckley, 13 years his senior, was a well-known fashion journalist and one-time editor-in-chief of Vogue Hommes International.

Now the tables have turned. Buckley is retired, while Ford is one of the world's most influential designers, turning around the Gucci label, helming Yves Saint Laurent and starting his own Tom Ford line.

"These relationships evolve," Polly said.

He points to the current documentary film "Chris and Don: A Love Story," about British writer Christopher Isherwood and his relationship with American portrait artist Don Bachardy, who was 30 years younger.

"The age difference was so vast," Polly said. "At the time they met, Isherwood was an accomplished screenwriter and novelist, but as their relationship grew, they grew as a couple and Don came into his own as a painter."

Designer Marc Jacobs, who heads up his own fashion line and serves as creative director for Louis Vuitton, typically has relationships with much younger men that seem to fit the description of trophy.

"Marc Jacobs is either a shining example of a gay man or a stereotypical example of a creepy gay man," Hauslaib said. "He deserves credit for his professional life. But on the personal end, he's a gossip column staple."

And it's the men he's dating who land him in the tabloids. His boyfriends, including on-again, off-again Jason Preston, have been described as "rent boy," "former hustler" and "porn star," according to Hauslaib.

"Straight Hollywood men can get away with this," Hauslaib said. "But a gay celebrity like Marc Jacobs gets a little more criticism. The gossip surrounding him is always of the dirty sex scandal variety. One could argue there's a double standard."

But Polly seems less certain that Preston was a trophy. "I interviewed him and he has a big personality," Polly said. "He has a lot to bring to any relationship. Financially, they are on unequal footing. But both have big personalities."

Similarly, who's to say whether Mark Cornelsen, a 19-year-old student who is dating "Grey's Anatomy" star T.R. Knight, who is 35, is merely a trophy? "It's bound to raise some eyebrows," Knight told "Extra" last month, "but we love each other."

"I would think you could classify T.R.'s relationship with Mark as a bit of a trophy relationship, because Mark is so young," Hauslaib said.

Despite their age difference, Knight said their relationship is serious. "We've only known each other for six months, so I think it's a little soon to consider marriage," Knight told "Extra," adding, "I don't think you date anyone that you don't see a future with."

Perhaps only time will tell. Just look at Melissa Etheridge and her civil partner, actress Tammy Lynn Michaels, who are 14 years apart in age. The couple had a commitment ceremony in 2003 and Michaels gave birth to twins in 2006.

"Where do you draw the line in calling it a trophy relationship?" Hauslaib wondered. "Melissa has already shown that she's been in a long-term relationship with a woman, Julie Cypher, whom she had children with. She found someone who just happens to be younger."

Polly believes gay couples could change the definition of a trophy relationship. "Maybe, we'll see a whole new version of a relationship we have never seen before," he said.

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