Wednesday, 27 May 2015
Sunday, 24 May 2015
Recently I was chatting with someone about gay activism. He turned to me and said “But you know, I have to tell you something, the weird thing is, I’ve never really felt ‘different’ because I’m gay. I mean…I feel different as an immigrant, different because I’m tall and large-bodied, different because I’m a nerd, but never different because I’m gay. I just wanted to tell you.”
People say this to me a lot these days. Especially when I am talking to them about what I consider to be the waning of gay activism. And I know what they really mean. They just want me to shut up. They’re thinking: why is this guy going on about gay gay politics? In 2015? Now that we have gay marriage in Canada and in some American states, why is it necessary to be a gay activist anymore? Why in fact, be concerned about anything ‘gay?’
Come on, after all, isn’t ‘gay’ kinda over?
Well the first thing I did was say to the guy “You know, you pass — so, if you don’t come out to people, they don’t think you’re gay, so…of course you wouldn’t feel different because you’re gay.” I mean the guy was definitely nerdy looking. People would think, when they met him, for sure ‘nerd’ but not necessarily ‘gay.’
In other words he was a ‘Jim Parsons from Big Bang Theory’ sort of person.
But looking back on it, I might have said much more.
“Okay, so the situation is that you don’t look gay or act gay. But so what if nobody knows you’re gay unless you tell them, and when you do tell them they say ‘Cool! ’ or ‘That doesn’t make any difference.’ So what? Unfortunately there are still very important contemporary gay issues these days including: drug use among gay men, unsafe sex practices, the criminalization of AIDS, porn and body fascism, the marginalization of older and effeminate gay men within the community etc etc. etc.. Never mind the fact that as a teacher I constantly come in contact with teenagers and twenty-somethings who talk about the difficulties of coming out (Should I…shouldn’t I? What will my parents say?)”
Yes. Even in 2015 the kids are still afraid to come out!
Never mind the fact that I recently met somebody who works with an organization called Pride at Work. The mandate of this organization is great. They believe — “Sharing knowledge accelerates the pace of change. By providing organizations with the information they need to bring about change (the “how”) and demonstrating the benefits of a diverse workplace (the “why”), we empower their leaders to make positive decisions.” The organization was started in 2008, because apparently even though you can’t fire somebody for being gay, there are still lots of organizations where there is homophobia at work, and people are not entirely comfortable coming out. Pride at Work believes that with their help “LGBT employees will be more able to be themselves and, ultimately, to be more productive.”
It’s all very nice to think that everything is fine now that we have a few more civil rights and we can all watch Will and Grace in reruns. But if queers still need to be ‘helped’ in order to come at at work— well maybe we haven’t come such a long way baby….
But what is MOST odious about this guy’s point of view? The attitude: “If it doesn’t effect me, why should I care?”
It’s kinda like someone saying ‘So the German’s gassed a lot of Jews. I don’t really care because I’m like…I’m not like …Jewish, so it doesn’t effect me.” Or — “So white cops are shooting black men for no reason in the States, well what do I care? I’m not black. I don’t live in The States.” Or — “So what if my pants were made by some underage kid in some third world country who got paid almost nothing, working for long hours until he’s sick and practically dead. That’s not my problem. I got the jeans for $5. — that’s all I care about!”
Do you get what I’m saying?
Friday, 8 May 2015
You’d better get used to it.
Last night I had the privilege of attending the workshop of an outstanding new play called Idle Lessons, devised by the Raw Matter Project. This is a fascinating, challenging — and yes — exceedingly raw — project created by a group of recent York University graduates confronting the controversy over the new sex education curriculum in Ontario. The play is an incredibly important one. If nothing else, the actors’ intensely personal, revealing confessions are stunning.
But silly me. I spent much of the performance gazing at a leaky pipe in the wall.
Yes, Idle Lessons is one of the many new plays you are likely to find in Toronto occupying a basement or squeezed into the back of a store.
And here sadly, lies the future of Toronto theatre.
And sadder still — the newest generation of Toronto’s theatre practitioners seem to be eagerly embracing their fate.
As far as I can tell, it’s a case of Stockholm Syndrome. Perversely, the victims have come to love their torturers. Artists today have grown up being told that there is less and less money available for the arts (oh, we’re so sorry, they say). And they had also better understand that they will be held to a corporate model if they hope to get any funding at all (Is your board raising money? Do you have a ‘brand’ for your ‘product’?).
Before going to see Idle Lessons I saw a play at one of the ‘storefront’ style theatres that are so much in vogue. It was in another basement. The kitchen of a restaurant was overhead, which meant the banging and clanging of pots and pans distracted the audience during the show. But that didn’t stop the artistic director (an older chap, close to my age — he should have known better!) from bounding onto the stage, flashing an endearing grin, and bragging: “We do all this without government grants.”
Wow. There was a time when the fact that you couldn’t get government grants wasn’t something to be proud of! When I began doing theatre in the early 1980s, my colleagues taught me an important lesson: “Because you’re work is so challenging, you must pursue government grants for your work. It’s what you deserve.”
It took me a long time not to feel guilty for taking what many saw as ‘government handouts.’ But I became part of a generation of Canadian theatre artists who built many of the theatres that are considered part of the alternative theatre scene in Toronto today.
Never before has our culture so needed the arts. The global mega-entertainment industry is beyond depraved; preying on the vices and weaknesses of the young, churning out endless violent superhero movies for boys and princess flicks for girls. Children don’t read Dr. Seuss and move on to Shakespeare and Lord of the Flies, instead they play video games and move on to Harry Potter. When they grow up, modern culture offers them the choice between two bewildering and decadent lifestyles: mind-numbing consumerism or mind-devouring fundamentalism. We live in a world where nothing seems to have value anymore except getting rich enough to buy a condo, a car, and fancy clothes fashioned by slaves working for a penny an hour in a third world country. And who besides Linda McQuaig is ready, willing and able to challenge our western capitalist excess? Certainly terrorists of the extreme religious right.
Well I think art might get us out of this mess. Art teaches, inspires, challenges, and insures we remain spiritually alive.
But, alas, there is no space for it in Toronto because it rarely makes any money.
I feel really sorry for the Raw Matter Project who are must workshop their fine play in a basement the size of a postage stamp, lying on cold bumpy floors under leaky pipes that look as if they might burst and drown us all at any moment — and on top of that they have no choice but to be happy about it!
But hey, welcome to Toronto theatre in the 21st century!