You can say this about Harvey Fierstein: He's no shrinking violet.
There's that voice-a basso rasp that has been likened to a backed-up vacuum cleaner. Then there was the 1984 Tony Awards: When the actor-playwright won the statuette for Best Book of a Musical (La Cage Aux Folles), he used his acceptance speech to warmly acknowledge his male lovernot a first, but still startling to many viewers.
''It was this great scandal,'' recalls the Brooklyn-born Fierstein, 40. ''Now you watch the Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, and everybody thanks their lover. It's no big deal anymore.''
This fall he breaks taboos again as prime time's first openly gay actor to play a gay principal character: Dennis Sinclair, the sassy couturier in Daddy's Girls. Prior to accepting the role, Fierstein had spent several years mapping out what would have been a groundbreaking all-gay sitcom, complete with a hetero-hating ''reverse Archie Bunker.'' His needling drew two development deals from CBS, but network advertising concerns always blocked his plans. In Daddy's Girls, he has settled for playing second fiddle to star Dudley Moore, but Fierstein knows he will still come under scrutiny- particularly from the gay community.
''There are (gay) people saying, 'Oh, that Harvey Fierstein, he wants us to be just like heterosexuals,''' he explains. ''Then you have the other half saying, 'Oh, that Harvey Fiersteinhe portrays us all as stereotyped drag queens.' I hope (the series) will take some chances. I don't want to get into a routine.''
Fierstein has already proved himself capable of avoiding routine: He won two Tonys in 1983 for his semiautobiographical play Torch Song Trilogy and put the ''Mrs.'' in Mrs. Doubtfire as Robin Williams' makeup-expert brother. These days, he divides his time among taping Girls, performing in cabaret productions, writing, exercising (42 pounds lost so far), and bemoaning his social situation (''single and looking'').
Even during rare moments of downtime at his home in rural Connecticut, Fierstein remains as uninhibited as ever. ''I don't wear any clothes at all,'' he says. ''I just walk around naked.''