Saturday, 24 June 2017
I’ve had it.
I’ve had it with cisgender and transgender folks who keep saying ‘gender is over.’
Don’t get me wrong. I’m got nothing against transsexuals, or drag queens (I am one!), or drag kings, and certainly I’ve got nothing against transgender folks who personally reject the gender binary. I only object to those who wish to eradicate the gender binary completely, for everyone.
Because has it every occurred to anyone that if gender is over, then ‘gay and lesbian’ is over too?
In a recent article in the Globe and Mail a Queens University professor named Airton (who uses the pronoun ‘they’) says “Love is love -- this is more of a young person’s discourse than -- I can choose to marry a man if I’m a man.”
I find this rhetoric hateful and homophobic.
The problem with getting rid of gender is that if there is no more gender then there are no more homosexuals or lesbians (duh!). Gays and lesbians are same sex people. We love people of the same gender; that is how we define ourselves. If gender is over, than we can no longer love someone of the same gender. No longer will we be able to celebrate ‘man on man’ and ‘woman on woman’ love and sex.
Simple, isn’t it?
On top of these objections -- getting rid of gender simply won’t work, and is not ultimately desirable.
People are mostly born with either penises or vaginas. They naturally tend to think in terms of male and female. Penises and vaginas, masculinity and femininity -- all that stuff is sexy -- the only problem comes (as Judith Butler tells us) when you think that only men born with penises can be masculine, and only women born with vaginas can be feminine. So sure -- rip the categories of male and female apart, criticize them, deconstruct them, reapply them in radical ways, challenge them -- but you cannot and should not do away with them.
I don’t blame the trans theorists who want to rid of gender. (I used to know Kate Bornstein and she is a lovely, lovely person). I doubt there is conscious agenda on the part of trans theorists to erase ‘gay and lesbian,’ (at least I hope not) but it is nevertheless the logical outcome of those who propose there be no gender for anyone, anymore.
In fact it is my suspicion that trans theorists are merely being naive, idealistic and aspirational (all, potentially good things!). But remember our shared queer history: early gay and lesbian theorists believed that the goal of gay liberation was to destroy all sexuality categories. But it is now nearly fifty years later and those labels have not disappeared.
‘No gender’ trans theory may be well intentioned -- but it is an undesirable goal that will never work.
And I have to say it.
Whatever their intentions, those who call for ‘the end of gender for all’ are being homophobic.
Saturday, 17 June 2017
So there I was.
At my usual gay hangout (no, I’m not going to tell you the name) and yes, truth be told, I was having sex. This was a couple of days ago, exactly ten days before Pride 2017. Suddenly, a staff member at the establishment came up to us and said “Okay cool it, stop -- no more” I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something like that. And then the staff member disappeared.
This never happens. What was going on?
I spoke to another staff member: ’Why did someone try and interrupt us having sex?’ I asked.
‘Oh that’s because of the fire inspectors,’ the staff member said ‘they always come around at Pride.’
‘So you’re saying that that the police --‘
“No it’s not the police. It’s the fire inspectors.’
‘So what you’re saying is --‘
‘I’m saying they don’t want it to look like the police are harassing us so they send the fire inspectors instead.’
Ahh. I get it. So the City of Toronto makes a habit -- in fact it is actually part of City of Toronto policy -- to harass gay people every year a few days before Pride -- to send men in uniform to intimidate queer people in their own clubs. Why? Not because these gay places are filled with people, or over capacity (the establishment I attended was nearly empty) -- just because it’s Pride!
I’m tired of reading articles in the Toronto Sun saying ‘Why shouldn’t the police be able to march in their uniforms at Pride?’
I’ll tell you why -- because the police still harass queers.
I know what you’re going to say. You are probably straight or gay and happily married with children -- ‘I’m sorry but I don’t agree with PDA (public displays of affection). People should not have sex in public.’
And I would say: ‘Okay. Let’s say you are a teenage girl on a date and you decide to offer your boyfriend oral sex in a car. Expect the police to put you in jail. Let’s say you are a married couple kissing in a remote corner of a park, late at night, and your hand wanders down to your partners’ bum. Expect the police to shine a light on you and arrest you. Let’s say you are a man and a stripper in a strip bar, and the stripper is sitting on your lap. Expect the police to haul you off to jail for having public sex.’
This is a double standard. Fire inspectors marching around gay bars at Gay Pride in lieu of police is homophobic.
Gay, lesbian and trans people are still unfairly harassed. I know. In 2000 I was working at a gay sex club called the Bijou that was raided by the police. Have the cops ever apologized? Have they ever explained why they were harassing us twenty years after the infamous 1981 bathhouse raids they claim to regret?
No. Nothing has changed.
And that’s why policemen in uniform are not welcome at Toronto Pride.
Saturday, 20 May 2017
Recently, there has been a lot of publicity about Jackie Shane, a drag performer from the 60’s in Toronto. Shane was a consummate artist and a gender warrior, and a significant part of our queer heritage (see Carl Wilson’s excellent article on Hazlitt).
But misinformation has appeared in some recent articles; principally the false idea that Jackie Shane was a ‘transgender’ performer.
This is not true. Jackie Shane now reportedly identifies as a transgender woman and uses the pronoun ‘she.’ I respect that, and we all should. But during the 60’s when he performed in Toronto at various Yonge Street coffee houses and recorded an album, he identified as gay, and as a drag queen -- part of a proud tradition of American ‘tent queens’ who used the pronoun he.
Why do these distinctions matter?
Because recently there have been concerted attempts to erase the history of drag, and to disrespect drag itself. I don’t think this is Jackie Shane’s fault. It is the fault of those who are trying to use Jackie Shane to further their cause.
At a queer academic conference this summer, I had to endure young queer people saying that drag is misogynistic and drag queens appropriate black music. I do not understand these accusations. When it comes to appropriation, drag queens are not the culprits. Capitalism and the record industry are to blame, not some struggling gender warrior on a street corner trying to make a few pennies performing at a gay bar. In terms of misogyny, anyone who accuses drag queens of being misogynistic hasn’t read their Judith Butler (or are we throwing her in the garbage now too?) who valorized drag as the exemplary pioneer of gender freedom; releasing us from the notion that men must act like men, and women must act like women.
I am a drag queen. I met Leslie Feinberg back in the 80’s. Leslie -- like Jackie -- is a significant gender warrior (Stone Butch Blues) who bravely broke down gender boundaries back in the 80s. S/he was wearing a signature masculine ‘power suit’ when we met. Back then, I talked to Leslie about my drag persona ‘Jane,’ and Leslie was eager to meet Jane; s/he hugged me, and we bonded. I’ll never forget that moment.
Unfortunately it seems solidarity like that is now a thing of the past. Nowadays there are ‘good’ gender warriors and ‘bad’ ones. Drag queens are ‘bad’ gender warriors -- not only because of accusations of appropriation and misogyny, but because they are considered ‘gender tourists.’ However, the fact is drag queens are not masculine men who choose to drop their privilege for a few moments a month to perform for their friends, but effeminate gay men who have been vilified and bullied all their lives, men for whom drag is a safe refuge to celebrate the best part of themselves -- their femininity, vulnerability, and gentleness.
Let me say it here -- to all those who wish to erase the history of proud drag queens like Jackie Shane:
I, for one, won’t let you do it.
Wednesday, 3 May 2017
There is a lot of talk about Aaron Hernandez. Understandably. He was football star -- a New England Patriots tight end who was convicted of murder and recently committed suicide in jail. Hernandez was convicted of shooting his friend Odin Lloyd on June 17, 2013 and sentenced to life.
But the case appears to be more complicated than that. Hernandez did not just commit suicide, he wrote ‘John:16’ on his forehead, and scrawled ‘Illuminati’ on the wall. Though he had a fiancé and a child, there were rumours that he had a gay relationship with a best friend (whom he allegedly tried to leave large sums of money in his will), and that teammates made fun of him for being bisexual. On top of that, it appears that Hernandez may have had a male lover in prison -- and that he may have written his lover a suicide note.
Who cares if Aaron Hernandez was gay, or bisexual or whatever?
I care very much and you should too.
We will never know the details of Aaron Hernandez’s sex life; we will doubtless never know the details of anyone’s sex life -- what happens behind closed doors is inscrutable and personal.
Nevertheless, Aaron Hernandez’s sexuality matters -- not because of what we know about it or will ever know -- but because of public reaction to such speculation.
Let me explain.
The general consensus in both the liberal and conservative media seems to be that now that Aaron Hernandez is dead we should stop talking about his sexuality. This isn’t so objectionable in and of itself. But why does the media think this? Because they believe it is disrespectful to speculate on whether or not he was gay. For instance, Hernandez’s attorney, Joan Baez states “These are malicious leaks used to tarnish someone who is dead.” Cyd Zeigler, founder of the GLBT sports publication Outsports.com says “What relevance is there to the public interest of who someone has sex with, particularly in prison? If that’s of public interest, why don’t we start outing everybody?””
First of all, why is it malicious to suggest someone is gay? It’s great to be gay. I love being gay, and I think more people should be gay, including Aaron Hernandez, whether dead or alive. Secondly, you can’t ‘out’ a dead person. I understand that it’s not fair to reveal the sexuality of a living person against their wishes. But once they are dead, our only responsibility is to the truth.
What is distasteful is not the idea that Hernandez was gay, or that he cheated on his wife, or that his son may now find out that he was bisexual. What is distasteful is the homophobia that that is revealed by the fear of discussing his sexuality after his death.
And I’ll tell you what’s malicious: the jokes about Aaron Hernandez being a ‘tight end.’
Do you find yourself laughing at that, just a little bit?
Could it be because homophobia isn’t ‘over’? Could it be that we are all still more than just a little bit afraid of the idea of a massive, athletic, masculine, straight-looking, sports-loving gay man?
And that -- not speculation about Hernandez’s sexuality -- is the real problem.
Sunday, 16 April 2017
First of all I want to say this: I am very pleased J. Kelly Nestruck exists. It’s heartening to know someone is writing a column in a major newspaper about theories of the theatre. In this bottom-line, mega-corporate, digitally dominated world, the fact that a heterosexual male holding a position of power is interested in debating aesthetics gives me hope.
That said, I must take issue with all this talk about ‘liveness.’ J. Kelly, like Jordan Tannahill before him (in his recent book Theatre of the Unimpressed) is intent on stressing the seemingly statutory imperative of the day -- that all theatrical performances must acknowledge that they are ‘live,’ and that we must immediately cease attempting to suspend our disbelief.
Respectfully, I disagree.
I am certainly tired of having ‘liveness’ stuffed down my throat. I saw two productions last week in which an actor from the play stepped forward at the end and spoke directly to us to remind us that we were watching a play. One of the plays was fabulous, the other was not -- this device didn’t stop me from enjoying the one play and hating the other -- but I am just dreadfully tired of a technique that has become trendy but doesn’t make sense.
At the heart of this discussion is the fallacious notion that there is such a thing as ‘reality’ in the theatre. The notion that if we are watching actors who are playing themselves or who -- as is mentioned in J. Kelly’s recent article -- even bother to acknowledge that they are acting in a play, then we are watching something that is more ‘real’ than a play in which actors are playing fictional characters saying made-up lines. But why would anyone think actors onstage are ever being real? Let’s leave aside the ultra-loaded post-modernist question (What is real?), or the issue of whether or not we are ever ‘real in real life. As soon as people walk onstage and perform, they are doing something fake. They are, at the very least, being themselves for ‘public consumption,’ and in this era of celebrity worship we know exactly what that means. Let me tell you, I know a lot of actors personally, and as much as I love them, they are masters at keeping you away from what they are really thinking -- because they are, well -- actors. That’s their job.
As far as I’m concerned, Brecht took the whole matter as far as it can go. Everyone loves the notion that we are improving, that our theatre is getting more and more ‘real’. But though Brecht acknowledged a play could alternately engage you and alienate you, that actors might step in and out of their parts -- he never completely abandoned plot, or the notion of fiction or characters. He was smart enough to know it was folly to imagine that theatre could ever be ‘real.’
When directors create what they think is the ultimate ‘reality’ in theatre it usually ends up feeling a lot like group therapy.
There is no craft. (I know, I mentioned that horrible word, craft).
Anyway, pillory me if you like, or just ignore me (which is most likely) or call me old-fashioned (which many have done before).
But I’m awfully tired of ‘liveness.’
Saturday, 1 April 2017
There’s something wrong with theatre these days.
There are two, maybe ten people turning up sometimes. Is it because the plays are bad? Or is it because the audiences are stupid?
I’ve long enjoyed bashing audiences. And as condo-dwellers take over the downtown core and we all becomes more suburban, I can’t help noticing that audiences are becoming stupider.There’s not much we can do about that. Kinky Boots sure seems experimental for those whose main entertainment diet consists of Batman and Cinderella.
But I’m not going to complain about Toronto audiences here; I’m going to complain about the plays.
After all, a really good play can tempt even the most complacent suburban patron to leave the house.
But the plays these days are dull. No wonder people aren’t going.
In Theatre of the Unimpressed, Jordan Tannahill makes the case that the best theatre emphasizes its liveness.
I think liveness is important, but you can be as ‘live’ as you want, and still devise a bad play
These days, from the moment a play starts you know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Period. And I’m not talking about melodrama, or ‘whodunnit.’ I’m talking about the moral issues that a good play might choose to debate, present, or hide as subtext.
These days plays are about oppression, or wrongdoing, or evil, and the author always tells us who the oppressors, wrongdoers or evildoers are.
So where’s he moral suspense?
Where’s he dangerous fun?
We don’t know much about Shakespeare; but we do know he could write a great play. And it isn’t so much that Shakespeare isn’t interested in ideas or opinions (actually his plays contain lots them) it’s that he mastered one of the most important principles of classical rhetoric:
Never let the audience know where your real sympathies lie.
A great debater can convincingly argue both sides of the abortion issue; a great playwright can make us believe that any character -- even Macbeth, Richard III or Iago is still somewhat sympathetic.
Bad plays aren’t going to stop me from going to the theatre; believe me, I love all theatre, no matter how bad it is.
But if we’re going to lure Toronto audiences away from Broadway pap, we’re going to have to do better than that.
Thursday, 16 March 2017
Dear Stephen Sondheim,
I'm writing this because I was sitting on the bus this afternoon listening to Barbra Streisand sing ‘Send in The Clowns’ on my ‘Best of’ Barbra Streisand album. Now usually, when I’m listening to anyone sing ‘Send in the Clowns’ I can’t get Elizabeth Taylor from the movie version out of my head. You know that moment Steve (can I call you Steve, like Oscar Hammerstein used to?) -- that moment when Elizabeth Taylor gazes down at her own humungous breasts in that terrifyingly low-cut gown and inquires “Are we a pair?”
But today it was another lyric that struck me --
“Isn’t it rich? Isn’t it queer? Losing my timing, this late in my career?”
Okay, I’ll say it.
Why, oh why Steve, did you have to use the word ‘queer’? I mean couldn’t you have written --
“Isn’t it rich? Isn’t odd? Losing my timing this late in my job?”
Hm. I guess that’s not quite as good.
Maybe that’s why you’re Stephen Sondheim and I’m not.
But you see the point is Steve that there are loads of words that rhyme with ‘career’. The problem with queer is that it doesn’t just mean ‘odd’ it also means ‘homosexual.’ And I’m sure you’re aware of this Steve -- as you are gay -- a lot of little gay boys just love your musicals. And when they run to their parents to play them their favourite song they have to watch as Dad winces when Barbra (Elizabeth Taylor, or Glynis Johns) sings ‘isn’t it queer’ thinking ‘Oh no, Dad knows what that means. It means....me!’
Now I could understand if you don’t want to do this right now. Maybe you don’t want to change the lyric at this late date.
I mean after all, A Little Night Music is kind of a masterpiece, and all.
I have another idea.
There’s still time for you to write that big, gay musical! (Jerry Herman did it!) I mean do you want to die (sorry to bring that up, really I am, but-) without writing your big gay ‘opus’? You don’t want to end up like Edward Albee, do you? Gay, dead and no gay opus?
I wouldn’t think so.
I hope I haven’t offended you.
It was...well it was just a suggestion.
And I hope I didn’t step out of bounds by calling you Steve, Mr. Sondheim.
It’s just that after hearing your work I just feel we are so close.