Saturday, 18 February 2017

‘Titus Burgess on Laundry and Love’



Have you ever heard of Titus Burgess? I had not seen nor heard of him until, recently, I happened on a horrible commercial that features him. Let me say right off the bat that Burgess is a very talented actor (and I’m sure, singer) and none of this is his his fault. I don’t hold him responsible; he was offered a high paying gig and he took it.
I do, however, hold our homophobic culture responsible. 
The offending commercial can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlvgDQhEBZI .
In this commercial, Titus Burgess extols the virtues of -- of all things --  Unstopables In-Wash Scent Boosters by Downy. 
Please do rush out and buy these pretty little beads so you can drop them effortlessly into your wash.
Titus Burgess is a large, effeminate, out, gay black man. But it should be evident to anyone that he is gay because he has made somewhat of a career being Broadway’s premiere ‘gay’ actor/singer. Wikipedia tells us that he is known for his high tenor voice. In 2013 he performed "And I Am Telling You..." from the Broadway musical Dreamgirls at Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fundraising concert. He was the first male cast as The Witch in Into the Woods in 2015. 
Let me tell you, nothing could be gayer than Titus Burgess.
So let there be no doubt that Titus Burgess -- being the only out gay Broadway star I’ve ever heard of besides Nathan Lane -- is, in this Downey commercial, meant to represent all gay men, since -- when was the last time you saw a real gay man playing a gay man in a commercial, anyway?
In this detestable ad Titus says “Downey Unstopables last up to twelve weeks -- which is longer than any relationship I’ve ever been in!”  Then he cries. That is, he cries fake tears about his inability to maintain a long-term relationship.
I know what you’re thinking. Can’t I take a joke?
In a word, no. What if there was a joke in a commercial about how Asian men have small penises? Or about how women aren’t very good at math? These ‘jokes’ might be funny to some people but that wouldn’t stop me from finding them offensive.
Just to set the record straight, what this commercial is saying about gay relationships is not true. Have you looked at the heterosexual divorce rate in the USA? Basically one third of marriages will end in divorce. Gay marriage, in fact, holds a much greater promise of success than straight marriage because we queers tend to be more honest about infidelity than straights; some of us even admit to having open relationships, or champion polyamory.
I have to say it’s disheartening to see the old gay stereotypes trotted out once again in 2017. Has nothing changed? And this commercial is not just homophobic but racist. Downy thinks the ‘exotic’ quality of a black man will help us to tolerate his flamboyant gayness (blacks are very, well - flamboyant, don’t you know?)
This commercial is homophobic and racist and should be off the air.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

RENT COMES TO TORONTO FOR REAL



If you’re like me, you’re tired of those gorgeous young people stepping forward to stand and deliver those sappy, untuneful songs from RENT, reducing us all to tears with their mundane stories about pretty dying drag queens who -- conveniently for all of us -- have had very few lines to say and very few gay kisses to share onstage.
If you’re like me, you’re hoping that RENT -- that smarmfull heap of sentimental liberal garbage -- written so that middle class people can congratulate themselves on how much they care about the poor and the sick -- will never be produced in Toronto again (especially at the actor-exploiting Lower Ossington Theatre).
Because, unfortunately, RENT has now come to Toronto for real. Apparently THE STOREFRONT THEATRE has been kicked out of it’s downtown digs, where it has been providing challenging Toronto theatre fare for years, because of (what’s he excuse?) oh yes, fire regulations.
Right. If the City of Toronto and the Government of Ontario care so much about fires, why don’t they give the TAC and the OAC enough money to fund THE STOREFRONT THEATRE so that they can bring their old space up to code? Instead these governments are complicit in destroying Toronto’s most vital performance spaces.
I’ll tell you what the problem is. People are moving to downtown Toronto so that they can be a part of a vital culturally exciting city that nurtures the arts, right? But what happens when there is no vital culturally exciting arts city anymore -- because real artists can’t afford to live and work there?
I don’t know how to tell you this, but not everybody is old and rich -- which means that not everyone prefers to hobble to their seat at the Opera, the Ballet and Soulpepper.
Not everyone is a young trendy Annex family that wants their ‘experimental’ French Canadian dance/theatre piece at Canstage to be over by 9 pm so they can hurry home for a cup of cacao-free cocoa.
No. Some of us want to drink and stay out all night, and yes -- get laid. And to facilitate all that, we want the theatre to be stimulating, perhaps shocking, and perhaps even cause us just a little  bit of very sexy discomfort (there’s nothing like a little friction to turn you on!).
I fondly remember Brandon Crone’s foray into gay kink -- NATURE OF THE BEAST that featured a sexy boy tied up in the basement. I remember Tyrone Savage directing his own parents in WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF -- if that’s not perverted, what is? I remember a lot of other shocking, groundbreaking productions at STOREFRONT, and some of them were actually Canadian.
The Storefront theatre is now looking for a new home -- and I sure hope they find it. But what if they don’t? And what if they can’t afford the new space? And what is happening to the small theatre community in this town? Does anybody care?
Think of that the next time you’re crying your salty tears for Angel in RENT and patting yourself on the back for caring about the arts community by going to see a stinking pile of hypocritical crap for the thousandth time!
Yeah. Think about it.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Will Shakespeare Go Out of Style?



Today I was trying to figure out what movie to see and I googled the reviews for Trespass Against Us, a new flick in which Michael Fassbender appears shirtless.  This seemed to me to be a good reason to go see it, in any case (by the way, it’s a great movie!). But Rotten Tomatoes made it very clear that I should not go to see it because the leading characters were amoral. All the more reason to go, I thought -- amoral, shirtless guys -- I can’ imagine anything more lovely!
But it did get me to thinking.It seems to me that panning a film because it does not improve us sets a bad precedent. Is a work’s didacticism the measure of its success? Apparently it is these days. People seem to think artists should base their work on real incidents and true stories, and deal with big issues like child trafficking, and the murder of aboriginal women. I am all for politicians and journalists tackling these important subjects, but it has never seemed to me that great art comes from moralizing.
I predict that in a few years Shakespeare will fall from his exalted position as the penultimate Western literary genius for one reason alone: his work is singularly amoral. This may be why his plays were so neglected for more than a century after after his death. Unlike his contemporaries Spenser and Sydney, Shakespeare’s work is devoid of overt Christian preaching, neglecting to take a stand on the most important issue of his day. One critic calledTrespass Against Us a ‘violent drama about [an] unlikable criminal family.’ The same of course, could be said of Hamlet. And no relationship would have been considered quite as immoral, in Renaissance times, than the affair between Antony and Cleopatra -- she a whore; and he ‘unmanned’ by her sly womanly wiles. Yet Shakespeare devoted an entire tragedy to this notorious twosome whose only possibility of redemption was in his poetry.
It isn’t that we don’t know Shakespeare’s opinions about anything -- for that is not entirely true. It is true that Shakespeare’s works display an obsession with critiquing the very notion of truth. Shakespeare was the first post-modernist. Post-modernism, does not posit (as many would have us believe) that there are ‘alternative facts’ (Trump style). Post-modernism and post-structuralism suggest instead that everything is fiction, and that we should treat anything that passes for ‘truth’ with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Shakespeare was obsessed with the notion of art as lie; and yet he was a poet. Unlike Sydney, who (in his Defense of Poesy) suggests that poetry is valuable because it instructs, Shakespeare’s plays foreground the discombobulating paradox that art is both a holy, mystical truth, and a dangerous, immoral lie. 
The suspicious lack of preaching in Shakespeare makes his work irrelevant to us now. We need quick, clear answers. We expect art to take positions on the issues of the day.
Because most of all, we want to know -- what is the truth?
And we want to know now.

Friday, 13 January 2017

What About Gay Washrooms?



There has been a lot of talk lately about transgender washrooms.  
What about gay washrooms?
I know you might think I’m kidding. But most decidedly, I’m not.
I understand the importance of transgender washrooms in schools -- young people who self-identify as being of a different gender than the gender assigned them at birth need a safe place to go to the bathroom without being bullied.
But the same can be said about young gay men.
Let me tell you a story. I was having lunch the other day at the Nations grocery store. I sat down beside three high school age young men who were working there, and obviously on a break. I don’t know whether it was my proximity to them (I do tend to be paranoid about these things!) or just well, something in the air, but soon after I sat down they proceeded to have a pretty homophobic chat. One of them was talking about eating a popsicle and that set it off. “That’s such a gay thing to eat man!” Much hilarity. “That’s so gay man!” “You are gay!” etc.
Now despite the earnest efforts of many --  even people who are gay -- to claim that when kids use the word ‘gay’ in high school it doesn’t mean ‘gay’ (the usual excuse is -- “‘Gay’ is just another way of saying ‘stupid;’ it’s totally innocent!”) the truth is that when kids in high school use the word ‘gay’ it is usually in a homophobic way.
Young gays and lesbians in high schools are still afraid of coming out despite Will and Grace and Ellen DeGeneres. Hence the ‘Rainbow Program’ in Toronto -- a Toronto high school to support gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students who don’t feel safe in regular schools. The Rainbow program is still going strong.
But gay washrooms should not be merely safe spaces. It should be okay for young gay students to cruise them without policing, and a bulletin board should offer information on condom-less sex and PrEP. Gay high school students often have no outlets for their sexuality except meeting strangers online. Wouldn’t it be great if the authorities at school gave them a safe  space to explore their sexuality that offered lots of information related to their health and safety? PrEP is a new drug that prevents AIDS if you are not HIV positive. And these days, if you are HIV positive you can be arrested and put in jail if you do not disclose. Young gay men in high schools need to know about these things.
Okay, did the last paragraph shock you? Did you think ‘Hey, I was with this guy until he said that high school washrooms should be safe spaces for gay students to cruise?’
I hate to say it, but -- gay or straight -- if you find that offensive, that’s homophobic. Hello! Young people, gay and straight alike, want sex and they will get it, one way or the other. And sex is a good thing! Gay high school boys will end up hooking up with some older guy online if they don’t have a gay washroom where they can be as gay as they want. And these days when HIV is now a chronic illness and HIV positive people are regularly put in jail, they need as much information as possible about health and safety.
I know my idea may not be popular, and is unlikely to be instituted in any high school soon. 
Instead, we prefer to watch as young gay men continue to be bullied and beaten up.
What does that say about us?
 

Saturday, 31 December 2016

David Bowie was a Poseur; George Michael was the Real Thing



I am not speaking here about music. What I know about pop music you could fit into a thimble; my favourite pop composer is Donizetti. 
No, Im talking about sexual politics. David Bowie and Prince may have been great musicians -- and in terms of output and originality they may have towered far above lesser mortals (as I say, I am not one to judge these things!). But when it comes to the representation of their sexuality, Prince and Bowie had no courage -- they merely flirted with gender irregularities and bisexuality from a position of heterosexual privilege to make money. George Michael was the real thing: a slutty fag who -- in later years -- was also relentessly proud of his sexual exploits. 
Im not saying that Bowie and Prince didnt stretch certain borders and boundaries by wearing makeup and acting girly. But straight men are allowed to do that as long as their fans are assured they are straight. No matter what the antics of these girly heterosexuals they kept their careers; a real gay man cant do that.  The gender irregularities of straight poseurs are just an alluring kink or  fascinating blip on the sexuality radar screen -- nothing to be fundamentally bothered about. And the credit that we give them for being brave is largely unjustified. However, even more unjustified is the credit we give ourselves for embracing them.  It takes no courage to be a diehard David Bowie fan -- but it takes a huge amount of courage to be a fan of George Michael.
I have to admit that for years I too was influenced by the homophobia surrounding George Michael. And when he died, I was so sad about Carrie Fisher that I didnt have time to think about him. In fact, I would posit that at this moment there are probably more gay men mourning the death of Debbie Reynolds than the death of George Michael!
I know whats like, because I was saying Whats the big deal?  George Michael had to be dragged out of the closet, didnt he? And when they finally dragged him out, wasnt he kind of ashamed of being sexual guy who cruised toilets? I mean he never really embraced his promiscuity after they caught him in that washroom, did he?
Well he did.
In 2006 he spoke in The Guardian of the representation of gay people in pop culture: Gay people in the media are doing what makes straight people comfortable and automatically, my response to that is to say I'm a dirty filthy fucker and you can't deal with that, you can't deal with it.He was tired of the chatty menand loving gay couplesthat dominate television shows. When the police and tabloids followed him into Hampstead Heath he was arrested for a second time for having sex in public. He promptly admitted to lifetime love of cruising, saying The handful of times a year it's bloody warm enough, I'll do it. I'll do it on a nice summer evening.He was even honest about having an open relationship with his lover.
When I realized I had been duped into ignoring George Michael by a homophobic media, I finally watched his fabulous video Outside. Outside is an unabashed tribute to non-denominational public sex. George Michael made it soon after his first arrest.  The video ends with two male cops sharing a passionate kiss. Nothing could be more honest, more sexual, and more queer than that!
But I dont remember anyone, anywhere -- in the straight or the gay communities -- praising that video or congratulating George Michael for the courage of his statement at the time. Though the song was somewhat of a hit, it was not featured on any album except a best ofGeorge Michael. And as far as I can tell, it was not reviewed or spoken of at any length in music magazines in English.

George Michael was the real thing: an out gay sexual man and consummate musician. But he paid a real price. A real man like George Michael can never really make it as a luminous celebrity in the commercial music star system. Only poseurs like Prince and Bowie can achieve the status of pop icons.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

What I Hated Most About 2016



Skirt-Shirts
Really, I don’t know what else to call them. They are….hard to describe. They are very long shirts and guys wear them, but they are like….very very long. Not many guys look good in them. I mean I saw this one guy who had huge muscles wearing a skin-tight sort of sweater-shirt that went down to his knees and he sort of looked sexy — but he would have looked good in anything. I mean if you’re going to do it, do it okay?  Put on some makeup and go out in drag. In fact, I highly recommend it. But please don’t wear a skirt-shirt.

2. Donald Trump
Need I say more? What’s appalling right now is the way America tries to pretend that Trump’s not so bad, saying ‘We have to respect the election results’ and ‘Let’s give him a chance.’ Well don’t. Just admit: ‘We elected a lecherous, lying, cheating, con man to be the President of the United States. He is going to destroy the country and perhaps the rest of the world.’

3. Truvada Whores
Okay: news flash. There is now a pill that prevents AIDS called PrEP. Except straight people have never heard of it, and gay men hate themselves so much that instead of celebrating, they are calling guys who use the new pill ‘Truvada Whores.’ Crucify me for mentioning the unmentionable, but could it be that some of us don’t want AIDS to go away?

4. Kelly Anne Conway 
She is Trump’s new White House Conselor.  This Catholic pro-lifer who makes a living apologizing and obfuscating the unforgivable actions of the lecherous, lying cheating con man who is now President makes me want to bring back the word bitch. Are you with me?

5. Screaming Girls
Basically I have no problem with screaming girls, unless they scream in gay bars.  It’s not their fault, they’re dragged in by young gay men who scream just as much as they do. Really, do you guys have to scream? Is it that much fun being in a gay bar?

6. Bad movies 
I used to like going to the movies but there just are no good movies anymore. Oh Gosh — Harry Potter and the Dreadful Dustbin sold more tickets last weekend than the screen adaptation of Sartre’s No Exit starring Marianne Cotillard and John Malkovitch? Uh….Duh.  How tough is that to understand that?

7. Trans Politics
Trans politics has turned into a pompous, politically correct, finger pointing, no fun shitshow. Yes I know your pain is much more than mine and I’m not calling you the right thing.  But shut up already!  Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are trans people and they agree with me! And besides I’m a drag queen, which means I’m trans too!

8. The Modern Digital World
Arizona is licensing driverless Uber cars, and certain bars have managed to figure out how to serve drinks without a bartender, and you might as well do all your shopping online. But what about us lonely people? The best friends I ever had were taxi drivers, bartenders, and store clerks. Does that mean now I have to make real friends? Ugh.

9. Donald Trump
President Obama seemed pleased to discover that Trump was ‘not an ideologue.’ But believe me this is not a good thing. Trump is capitalism!  This means he is simply amoral. Like capitalism, Trump approves of anything that you do or say that makes money. Period. A president who is capitalism is much more dangerous than an ideologue! Watch out!

10. The Continued Lack of Recognition for the Pursuit of Brilliance
They’ve officially ignored this song since 1949 when it was cut from In The Good Old Summertime. If the fact that I ponder this means that I’m a sad old faggot; so be it. It’s Judy at her best, and even now, 67 years later, nobody cares.



Friday, 2 December 2016

A Clean Well-Lighted Place



There are no more bars in Toronto.
I know this might be somewhat of an exaggeration, but let me tell my story.
I was trudging up Yonge Street with a friend. Because her car was parked near Yonge and Wellesley, and we were down by College, we were looking for a bar there.
We couldn’t find a single one.
Pardon me - there was an establishment that featuring a flashing light that said LCBO in the window, but the place was called, I think, Fry. 
The name suggested it was something more of a restaurant than purely a drinking establishment.
You see, I remember a day when if you walked up Yonge Street from College to Wellesley you would find a number of bars.
Now. Nothing.
Let me make it clear; I am not including in my category of bar a licensed restaurant. A licensed restaurant is something else entirely. I do not wish to go out for a drink and find myself surrounded with parties of any kind. I use the term party in both senses; quite literally a celebration, as well as a large group of people. Families, for instance. All celebrating Aunt Maisie’s birthday and eating chicken wings. Or a bunch of guys pinching waitresses and watching a ball game. That is not what I consider to be a bar.
Where have all the bars gone? 
My suspicion is that it is a sign of the times. First of all, nobody goes out anymore, now that there’s Netflix. And secondly, condos are not conducive to bars. They are considered noisy by condo dwellers who also suspect that they have the capacity to attract the ‘wrong’ crowd.
The concept of a bar— for those young-un’s who may never experienced one - is most cannily described by Ernest Hemingway in his short story A Clean, Well Lighted Place. This story offers a great way to get a down and dirty introduction to Ernest Hemingway’s oeuvre — if you would rather skip his more ponderous macho masterpieces.
In A Clean Well-Lighted Place a lonely man explains his reason for looking for a bar: he quite simply needs a refuge from the overwhelming ‘nothingness’ of life.
This is exactly what I imagine a bar to be. 
In my imagination, this is a bar.
There is a woman on a barstool, a bit frowzy — she’s certainly been around the block. She’s easy — or was easy — in better days. The bartender — there’s something welcoming about him; you long to tell him your problems. There is a man sitting at the other end of the bar, all by himself. He is talking very obsessively and semi-philosophically with the bartender about something — the bartender is only half listening. The man appears to be quite thoughtful but perhaps also somewhere on the autism scale. (I sat next to a man like this in a bar in Hamilton the other day —yes, they still have bars in Hamilton — and he kept talking about his dog — ‘I loved that dog,” he would say and then, after a short pause “I mean I really loved that dog.”) Off in  the corner somewhere would be a young man, with a guitar, rolling a cigarette. He would have long hair and be darkly handsome. He would be lonely, and be looking for someone to talk to or— (best case scenario) whatever.
That’s my idea of a bar.
And nobody would ever ask you  —“Would you like some wings with that?”