Postcard from New York

CLASH OF THE CLONEHEADS: While the rest of the world is still trying to make sense of what cloning will mean for the animal kingdom - biped mammals in particular - people here have long since moved on to the far more engaging question of what cloning will mean for New Yorkers, and how their inalienable rights to clone may be assured. And so it was that within a week of the news that an imperturbable Scotsman had made Genesis redundant by creating a sheep in a petri dish, the cry went out in Manhattan's West Village, "Fight Homophobia! Keep Cloning Legal!"

To anyone but a New Yorker, gay rights might have seemed secondary, if not tertiary, to the wider concerns cloning raises (should William Blake's Songs Of Innocence And Experience be discarded now that Ian Wilmut can make a lamb, and presumably, a tiger; or, more broadly, why are we here?). But to Randy Wicker, a historic figure in gay rights and the proprietor of a Beardsleyesque boutique crammed with elaborately whorled Laliquey lighting fixtures, as well as a box containing his dead lover's ashes ("We had a gay, deathbed wedding," Wicker reminisces), the advent of cloning has revived a hope he had long since abandoned. "I wanted to have a big family, but could never find a woman who was willing to bear me a child," he pouts. "But now, maybe I could convince someone to bear my younger identical twin." He pauses to reflect. "Of course, he might be straight, since they say environment has something to do with it. But hey, whatever."

But gay New Yorkers were not the only ones to join in the woolgathering. No sooner had Dolly leapt onto the airwaves than John J Marchi, a Republican senator from Staten Island trotted out a passionate campaign to make the cloning of humans in New York a felony which would carry a seven-year maximum prison term, and altogether dash Wicker's brave new dream of parenthood.

Fuming, Wicker gathered a flock of like-sexually-orientated agitators who also yearned to bear young, styled the group the "Clone Rights United Front", and set it marching about town in defiance of Marchi's law, brandishing signs that bleated, "Keep Your Hands Off My DNA!" and "Anti-Cloning Zealotry = Homophobia". "Why the rush to judgment," Wicker protested a few hours before heading off to a television interview, a radio show and a raft of other appearances. "Why knock cloning before they've tried it?"

And yet, by last week, splitters had already formed within the pro-cloning gay and lesbian New York coalition, who seemed inclined to knock some forms of cloning - viz cloning of men. As the most outspoken woman in the group, the columnist Ann Northrop, explained: "This is sort of the final nail in men's coffins. Men are now totally irrelevant. Men are going to have a very hard time justifying their existence on the planet, I think. Maybe women may not let men reproduce."

Still, for solidarity purposes, she was quite willing to tolerate the notion that Wicker might reproduce himself. "Cloning will never beat out the old nasty-nasty," Wicker acknowledged. "People are always gonna want to mix it up. But I have a right to bear my identical twin son."

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