Saturday, 31 December 2016
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, I’m 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.
I’m not saying that Bowie and Prince didn’t 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 can’t 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 didn’t 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 what’s like, because I was saying “What’s the big deal? George Michael had to be dragged out of the closet, didn’t he? And when they finally dragged him out, wasn’t 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 men’ and ‘loving gay couples’ that 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 don’t 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 of’ George 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
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
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.
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?”
Monday, 28 November 2016
Conflict Is Not Abuse is the simple, eloquent title of a fascinating and controversial new book by Sarah Schulman. Schulman’s thesis is that conflict and abuse are very different things. However, in contemporary culture they are taken to be synonyms. Though Schulman is an American, she recently spent some time in Canada, and her observations are particularly relevant to Canadian culture.
Schulman is very careful to explain that she certainly understands people are abused, and that abuse is a significant, often tragic issue. But she dares to challenge what I would call modern ‘victim culture’. Schulman uses case studies referencing social work, Israeli/Palestinian relations— as well as HIV criminalization — to make her points.
Schulman’s argument concerning HIV criminalization is especially relevant to Canada, where an inordinately large percentage of black heterosexual men (along with some white men and women, both straight and gay) have been charged with assault and/or murder for not disclosing to their sexual partners their HIV status. Emotionally volatile reactions to this sexually transmitted disease cloud the issue. However Schulman asserts that those who charge their sexual partners with assault or murder for not disclosing their HIV status should instead themselves be responsible for protecting their own health. These so-called ‘victims’ should demand their partners use condoms. And now of course — in addition to condoms — we have access (for those who can afford it!) to the enormously effective HIV preventative drug PREP. Schulman reminds us that HIV education traditionally recommends that everyone take responsibility for their own health. This philosophy has done much to prevent the spread of HIV. Why should we abandon it now? The non-disclosure issue is conflict — says Schulman — not criminal abuse.
But, possibly because Canadian culture is essentially kinder and gentler than American culture, we are particularly prone to confusing the two notions. This is particularly true where it comes to hate speech. I have always opposed this legal concept — not because I don’t think that some speech is regrettable and hateful — but because as a writer I would not wish to see language criminalized. My most recent novel is Sad Old Faggot. This title might seem offensive or even abusive to some. I think it should be my right to use these words.
Schulman’s thesis sheds light on two recent contemporary Canadian issues. First there is the case of Jordan Peterson, a professor at the University of Toronto who has refused to call his transgender students by their preferred pronouns. This is conflict, not abuse. It should not come under the criminal or human rights code. However Peterson’s actions are beyond insensitive and the university should discipline him for not treating his students with respect, as this is a primary responsibility for any teacher.
Similarly, there is much discussed Steven Galloway case. It’s important to remember that Steven Galloway, formerly a professor at UBC, was (rightly or wrongly) accused of abuse. Margaret Atwood, on the other hand, is not an abuser and should not be accused of it when she defends him. It is deplorable that the defense letter which she signed felt it necessary to shed skepticism on the claims of the victims in the Steven Galloway case. But this is conflict, not abuse.
It’s about time that we begin to ponder the difference.
Friday, 18 November 2016
Brent Hawkes —Toronto’s beloved gay pastor — is on trial for molesting a 16 year old boy in Nova Scotia. I must say, this animates my animus towards him. For years, I have hated Brent Hawkes. There, I said it.
If you are part of the Brent Hawkes fan club, perhaps you should not read on.
I will disclose. I’ve been watching Brent Hawkes from the time that Buddies in Bad Times Theatre was having trouble with the City of Toronto (and Rob Ford — at that time a rookie on city council). We were in trouble because we wanted to take over the 12 Alexander Street building (which Buddies presently calls home). We had a lot of opposition from Christian Right homophobes (and the Toronto Sun) who were trying to block our bid for the building.
At that time we were looking for support from well respected members of the gay community — in fact we needed that support to survive. And we couldn’t get Brent Hawkes to make a statement in support of us. We didn’t know why. Finally I enlisted a spy — a young man who was going door to door to raise money for the Buddies’ cause. He went to Brent Hawkes door to ask Brent for a donation, and this very attractive young person was somehow able to pry loose Brent Hawkes tongue — for Hawkes confessed to him that he would never publicly support Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.
I will never forgive Brent Hawkes for that betrayal.
This incident is at the heart of my anger at Brent Hawkes; but I also feel it’s relevant to the present trial.
I believe the Reverend Hawkes was unwilling to get behind Buddies in Bad Times Theatre so many years ago because Buddies philosophy has always been pro-sex. This means we always thought that sex is fine, in fact joyful — even when it is not part of marriage or a loving relationship. I personally believe that any consensual act of sex is, in fact, love — and that people who are promiscuous are not bad or sick — just joyful — and they should not be judged but prized. To quote Hannah Jelkes in Tennessee Williams’ Night of the Iguana: “Nothing human disgusts me, Mr. Shannon, unless it's unkind, violent.”
Apparently this philosophy was a bit foo dangerous for Brent Hawkes to be associated with.
Now I am not going to suggest that Brent Hawkes is guilty of molestation. I really don’t know.
But I will make one small — but I think important observation — that comes from all this.
Unfortunately Christianity has become a very good place for molesters to hide.
Consider Donald Trump who, as we all know, likes to grab women in the ‘you-know-what’ — without consent. And yet, the Christian Right in American is supporting him, many whole heartedly. Then there are the molestation scandals that were carefully hidden by the Catholic church for so many years.
If you ally yourself with Christianity, some will think you are respectable. But nowadays being Christian is no guarantee of respectability. Christianity has become a religion that -- though it may boast some kind, caring, understanding believers -- also welcomes a significant constituency who have lost their heart, their love, and their tolerance, and replaced those (once considered Christian) virtues with ‘unkindness and violence.’
Welcome to ‘Brent Hawkes Trailer Party!’
For me, this invitation is a symbol of the lies, hate, and molestation that have infected Christianity, and now, with the election of Donald Trump, threaten to infect us all.
Friday, 11 November 2016
I’ve been complaining about this for a long time, but what is actually going on here?
Try and find me a play with an intermission; they no longer exist.
Last night I went to see Breathing Corpses at Coal Mine Theatre. They lady at the door said the play would last one hour and and half.
I timed it; Breathing Corpses clocked in at a cool one hour and forty five minutes.
Nothing against Coalmine, it’s happening all over; and this was the latest hit from The Royal Court Theatre. Well obviously they will have no truck with intermissions in London, England, either.
Dare I ask; what does ‘intermission’ mean?
You might say; well people just had shorter attention spans back in the day.
Is that really true?
We know that years and years ago (like in the late 19th century) plays had three acts, and each act was a half hour long, and there were two fifteen minute intermissions between each.
Sure — you might say — time to have tea, have a drink, socialize.
I think it’s something more.
It all has to do with our relationship to reality.
Nowadays you can you can’t see a movie without these words popping up before the title:
“Based on a true story.”
Yes, from Ravi Jain chatting up his Mum to a couple of guys trying to figure out whether they are winners or losers, we live in the era of reality theatre, reality TV, reality everything. Hey, we’re not interested in anything that’s fiction, anything that’s made up.
The ‘no intermission’ thing started way back with Strindberg (incidentally, the founder of naturalism). You see, intermissions are too ‘metatheatrical’ too ‘suspension of disbelief’ — for those obsessed with truth. After all, what do you do at intermission? You turn to your friend or lover, and say “Here we are at the play, and you ask them ‘What is the theme of the play?" And they ask you — who is the best actor in the play, that is, who is the most convincing at pretending to be someone else?
But nowadays we don’t want to be reminded that we are watching a play. We do not wish to remember that what we are seeing is fiction.
After all, the new theatre buzzword is ‘immersive.’
But along with our insatiable hunger for reality, we may have forgotten something…….
theatre is not real; it’s unabashedly, perversely and deliciously, fake.
And though we like too imagine that some of us are more truthful than others, that some of us speak the truth and value the truth, more than others — could it be that we are all quite happy to live in our own separate fictions?
I dare you.
Come out into the lobby.
We can share a cigarette and a drink, and gossip a little bit about who this actor is sleeping with or this actress is flirting with, about what’s going on behind the scenes.
Because after all it’s just a play.
Remember what it was like — long ago and far away?
When there was ‘make believe’?
Sunday, 23 October 2016
Condos are not housing.
They are investments. Housing is affordable; investments are designed to make the maximum profit for a corporation. Houses are built to live in; condos are built to make a profit. Statistics Canada tells us that more than 16% of Toronto’s condominiums are owned by people who have several other residences. (I expect the percentage is higher!). Macleans tells us that “most condominiums have been turned into corporations with their own shareholders and boards of directors responsible for multi-million-dollar budgets.” So even if you own your own condo and live in it, your living space has now become a business. Is this a good thing? No.
2. Donald Trump’s candidacy has nothing to do with economics.
The only reason people are devoted to Donald Trump is because they are racist and sexist. That’s what ‘Let’s Make America Great Again’ means. Trump and his followers like to pretend that it’s all about raising the standard of living for the working classes. It’s not. Not only do Trumps economic plans not make sense, but like Adolph Hitler and Rob Ford, Trump’s appeal to the ‘old days’ is an appeal to a gut affection for racism and misogyny. And please stop thinking it’s a contradiction that people of colour and women support Trump. Many learn to love their oppressors; it’s called the Stokholm Syndrome.
3. There are no plays with intermissions anymore.
Yes I’m going to go on about this again. I had to sit through a play recently where they announced beforehand ‘The play is two hours without an intermission.’ What are they, some sort of sadists? The human body and mind are not equipped to sit for more than hour and a half in a play without an intermission. Sure, we can sit thought a two or three hour movie — because movies do not require our participation — the actors don’t know we are there. Our laughter and clapping and listening and crying, our getting up and leaving — is all noticed by the actors in a play. This saps the audience. At the hour and a half mark of the two-hour-with-no-intermission play my friend and I simultaneously looked at our cellphones, because the body knows that an hour and a half is all it can take. You can’t do this to people. Stop doing it. It hurts the work.
4. GO doesn’t get you there faster than a car.
I have a four hour round trip commute to work. This is unacceptable. Coach Canada and Greyhound are for-profit corporations that only now run routes to make money so GO is the only choice for most of us. If you complain to GO about your four hour commute they will say ‘We are not an express bus service, we are a commuter service.’ Right. Then why don’t you have washrooms on your buses for my 2 hour commute? We are paying for GO with are taxes and it’s criminal. Period.
5. You think gay is over? That’s just pretend.
You think Gay men are just like straight men, same rights, privileges and lifestyle? Well let me ask you a couple of questions. Do straight men have GRINDR? Do straight men like watching porn about guys fisting other guys in bars? Do straight men spend a lot of time trying to figure out when to start their AIDs drugs? Is it likely straight men will be arrested for spreading HIV if they are not black? Are straight men worried they are too fat or too feminine to get laid? No? I didn’t think so. We are not anything like straight guys. Gay men would like you to think we are. But take it from me; we’re not.
6. All those movies that say they are based on a true story are trying to convince you that what you are watching is more important because it’s true but take my word for it: just because something is based on a true story (like all movies seem to be these days) does not mean that it’s more relevant, meaningful, honest— because it’s all just the same lie which is the lie that is all entertainment and art, okay, so stop fooling yourself, okay?
&. And finally…
Your Facebook friends are not your friends. Friends are people who you meet with, hold and touch. You have to be able to look in their eyes and see their faces. You have to hug them when it’s cold and feel their tears on your shoulder when they cry. You have to be nervous about
their disapproval in real time (you can’t wait to deal with their emotions at another time; they are sitting right in front of you). It’s called love.
I’m just telling you cuz I think you should know….
Tuesday, 11 October 2016
I am the girl on the train
I am played by Emily Blunt who is a much better actress in this movie even than she is usually because she has been allowed by the director and producer to retain her British accent.
I don’t exactly know why they call me a girl. As I am a woman.
I have a problem.
It is difficult for me to talk about the problem because, well, it’s difficult for me to talk about pretty well anything as I am an alcoholic.
You can tell I am an alcoholic because my hair has not been washed recently and I speak slowly and with difficulty and I walk down roads in the rain looking lonely and I gaze at you pitifully looking for some sort of pity because I am so pitiful
Every day I ride on the train and you think I’m going to work at first but it is revealed at a later point that in actual fact I am just traveling on the train every day for no reason because my life is hopeless
And every day I see a beautiful young woman with slanted eyes named Megan Hipwell who is much more beautiful than I am and who has a handsome boyfriend with an extremely well-toned body who is constantly having sex with her
I know this because they often have sex with all the windows open or on the deck of their lovely Dutch Colonial house
I wish I had her life, I wish I was blonde and had slanted eyes and a boyfriend who screwed me constantly in front of other people
I wish for what any woman would want because I am just that, I am any woman, no pardon me every woman
I want to have a baby like every woman does but I cannot have one and because of that and because I am a nasty drunk my husband dumped me like an old sack of potatoes which is what I look like and feel like every day when I ride the train
Emily Blunt who plays me aspires in fact, to embody the mood and general demeanour of a sack of potatoes when she plays me
And let me say she completely succeeds.
And then one fateful morning I wake up and I discover as I slowly open my bleary eyes that oh no I blacked out the night before and I actually have no idea at all what I did
Can you imagine such a thing?
Let me tell you Amy Schumer the feminist comedian made a movie about the same thing called Trainwreck i.e. alcoholism in women — only she treated it in a lighthearted manner
But I, the girl on the train do not think that a woman getting drunk is a laughing matter
For I know that being drunk is a very bad thing, nay tragic, and I know this ever since I woke up on that fateful morning and I had blood on me (why? why blood? whose blood was it?) and there was an empty liquor bottle that happened to be lying near my face so it made a great closeup shot and my hair was even dirtier than usual which as you can imagine was nearly impossible and then my roommate yelled at me
And then a mean detective played by Allison Janney accused me of killing the blonde girl with the perfect life and the slanted eyes named Megan Hipwell
Did I kill her? is it possible that I killed the girl with the perfect life in my drunken blackout just because I was so jealous of her? Could I be that evil?
This is certainly my darkest night of the soul that I am experiencing now.
Experience it with me.
I think I will stagger down another alley and perhaps fall down and you will pity me and someone will call me a slut.
But then just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, lo and behold, they don’t.
All of a sudden I meet Lisa Kudrow who is being very brave in this movie for showing her wrinkles for the first time on screen. (Wow, a closeup! Wow what wrinkles! Even TV stars get old. At least some of them do. Jennifer Anniston doesn’t. I guess it must be the fabulous wrinkle cream she uses.)
Anyway Lisa Kudrow tells me not to worry and reveals to me that in fact to my surprise and chagrin I never got drunk at her party and never embarrassed my husband and I am not a messy drunk at all
Lisa Kudrow changes my life, just as she changed the lives of so many on the TV show Friends, by just being her cheery empathetic self but in this case specifically suddenly revealing to me in the nick of time that I am a good person and that my husband is the evil one and everyone knows that he is evil because he can’t keep his dick in his pants
So, ergo, therefore, his new wife and I — she is another blonde woman I forgot to mention who I am also very jealous of — well I bury my jealously and we act — two women — as one, and we stab him to death with a corkscrew
It’s lots of fun but what else can you do with a man who can’t keep his dick in his pants?
Wow this is a feminist movie after all!
Now it’s the end of the movie and I have finally washed my hair and bought my self a new white coat.
I am going to visit the grave of my husband who I killed with a corkscrew but of course he deserved it and I am also visiting the grave of Megan Hipwell the girl with the blonde hair and slanted eyes who I was very jealous of but that’s okay because I didn’t kill her
You are allowed to imagine that I will probably hook up with Megan’s boyfriend who used to screw her with all the windows open on the deck of the Dutch Colonial House
even though he is a little violent
You probably shouldn’t imagine I will end up with him, but I know you will.
I mean, come on who cares if he’s violent and throws glasses against the wall — I mean all men are violent, aren’t they?
And isn’t that kind of sexy?
Where are you going to meet a guy who is not abusive? I mean isn’t that just after all, part of what it means to be a sexy man? So don’t you usually just pick the least abusive guy and hope for the best?
But I probably shouldn’t say this or even think this
And in the movie I don’t actually get together with Megan’s ex, but you can imagine that I might
That is your right as a woman
It is also your right as a woman, to watch this movie
We’ve come a long way, baby, from Joan Crawford starring in Mildred Pierce in 1945
Unlike Mildred Pierce I don’t have a job, or struggle as a waitress, or pinch pennies
We’ve gone way beyond that
And anyway you’ll be glad to hear
I’m not a bitch like Joan Crawford.
Sunday, 2 October 2016
Imagine what it must have been like to be a person of colour, living in North York back in fall of 1993, watching the pre-Broadway run of Harold Prince’s production of Showboat. You’d see a black ‘stevedore’ in the racist American south happily singing about ‘ol’ man river,’ and a mixed-race woman moaning about her forbidden love for a white man. Well of course you’d be pissed off! As modern day person of colour in Canada, you were being forced to be a witness to ancient images of yourself and your community that simply have no relevance in the present. And it was all the more offensive because there were many racial issues brewing in Toronto’s Jane/Finch community at the time that really demanded attention.
So imagine what I must have felt like sitting in the audience at Soulpepper last week watching a brilliant pair of actors (Jason Cadieux and Damien Atkins) tackle Hosanna — a Canadian masterpiece written in the 70s by Michel Tremblay. I should have enjoyed it — I wanted to enjoy it. But the antique representation of gay men and their ‘plight’ was almost unbearable for me to see.
A masterpiece of magical realism, Hosanna rivals Streetcar Named Desire with the power of its poetic storytelling. But Hosanna is also a play about a homosexual whose tragedy is that he’s just not quite masculine enough.
One can’t blame Tremblay. Hosanna was first produced in 1973, just after gay liberation. Gay liberation was created by gender outcasts - dykes, sex trade workers, drag queens and nelly boys. And it was all about being proud to be a pansy. But soon after, gay men were intimidated by the patriarchy into being afraid of what they had achieved. The Village People were lurking around the corner spreading the notion that gay men could be as masculine as construction workers, cowboys and cops. Then came the 80s gay clones in their plaid shirts, workbooks and moustaches. Tremblay was writing in the shadow of a particularly oppressive paradigm that consumed the gay community in the late 70s. Some gays said simply -- and quite rightly -- that it's okay for gay men to be masculine. But others decreed that we shouldn’t be feminine anymore.
In the meantime our wider culture broached some pretty major theoretical changes that moved us in opposite direction. Judith Butler discovered that gender is an illusion, stating that it’s okay for men to be feminine and women to be masculine. And more recently, we’ve learned from the transgender community that the sexual equipment you are born with doesn’t necessarily define who you are.
So at the end of Hosanna — when Claude stands before us naked, repeating over and over again ‘I’m a man, I’m a man, I’m a man’ — I know I’m supposed to feel triumphant. But I just can’t. I just feel sad, hurt or worse yet — deeply wounded for gender outlaws everywhere.
Because the fact that Hosanna has a penis doesn’t mean he can’t wear a dress.
Or am I wrong?
Tuesday, 27 September 2016
There’s been much talk about Xavier Dolan’s new film It’s Only the End of the World. Critics are bitterly divided; there were walkouts at Cannes, but the film went on to win the Grand Prix.
What’s all the fuss?
The film is beautifully shot and acted. All Dolan’s films are. His endless closeups — though not exactly unprecedented — come with with an honourable pedigree: they do homage to the elegant masterpieces of John Cassavetes and Andy Warhol. And Dolan’s radical form seems to suit his subject matter.
Oh yes— and by the way — what is the subject matter?
I must say I’ve never seen a movie in which the subject matter was actually invisible. Perhaps that’s why critics are so confounded by the film.
Not very much happens in It’s Only the End of the World. Set in the recent past, the film tells the story of a man who returns to his family after a long separation. The family argues. He is mainly silent. When the young man phones another man, it becomes clear that he is preparing to talk to his family about something. So what does the young man finally tell his family at the end of the film?
He loses his nerve.
Sorry for the spoiler; but it’s hard to feel bad for revealing that nothing much happens in a movie in which, well — nothing much happens.
What’s astounding is that nowhere does the movie tell us what the young man is longing to tell his family. But, oddly, the reviews all say that the film’s subject matter is AIDS.
How do they know?
The young man is handsome. And he is a playwright. And he has weary eyes (ringed with red). And a flashback reveals that the young man once kissed a boy with long blonde hair.
So, ergo; therefore - what? Well it stands to reason. The young man must be dying of AIDS. If this film was discovered in a time capsule a thousand years from now, no one would have any idea what it’s about, but we sure think we know, because we are, for some reason, so very fondly attached to what are now the much too familiar, old narratives about AIDS.
I’m tired of this. As a gay man who has lived in a community dealing with this illness for 35 years, I’m tired of the shame, the secrecy and the lies. Very few young gay men die of AIDS these days. Most who are diagnosed with HIV live to a ripe old age. And most HIV positive gay men are not getting all red around the eyes because they have to tell their parents they are going to die. Instead they are negotiating condom-less sex on GRINDR with guys on PREP, while dealing with the fact that although AIDS is now a chronic, manageable illness, they still have to fight the stigma of being a ‘Truvada Whore’ and the fear of being criminalized for spreading a so-called lethal disease.
When do we stop imagining we are living in Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart and face the future? Or even just live in the present?
No, for some reason, gay men would rather not be honest about the realities of AIDS. Instead we prefer to imagine ourselves as the sexless, pitiful characters from those ancient AIDS plays, men who cried in the darkness about their secret affliction — men painted as enduring lonely, tragic deaths, harangued by angry families, supported only by tortured lovers and the requisite caustic nurse.
All I can say is, I wish it would just stop.
Saturday, 10 September 2016
It put my cellphone in flight mode. That’s how good a movie it was; and how wonderful a storyteller Clint Eastwood is. But it’s important to note that Clint Eastwood in real life shares politics with the vigilante he played in Dirty Harry. He’s a tough ol’ cookie, and pretty much as far right as he can be. (Remember when Eastwood somewhat famously and wackily directed a speech to a chair at the Republican National Convention four years ago?)
So I’m not going to deny that Sully is damn good entertainment. But what I am going to say is that the politics of the movie will offer up solid votes for Trump in November.
Who is Chesley Sullenberger, after all, but Donald Trump? Like Trump he is a very white man — in this case not blonde — but white haired with a white moustache. But much more importantly, he is a man who stands up to the government, to the establishment (in this case represented by the NTSB, The National Transportation Safety Board). And Sully does it alone, except for his trusty sidekick — played by the much too good looking. personality deficient and also very white Aaron Eckhart (Mike Pence, anyone?).
But Trump hasn’t just convinced his supporters that he is standing up to the establishment. He stands up in his own particular way — in a manner which is quirky, surprising, and even scary, at times — but fun. Sully Sullenberger was supposed to save 155 passengers by turning the plane back to La Guardia Airport, but he didn’t. He saved the passengers by executing a daring landing on (not in as he reminds the NTSB) the Hudson River. This is very important. For what people like about Trump is not just that he stands up to Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama and The Affordable Care Act, and all of the bureaucracy of big government that would tax people to death and take away their gun privileges, but that he does does so in his own crazy way. In other words, he is an individual.
This means that Trump, for some, can do no wrong. He can say all the crazy things he wants and do all the crazy things he wants, because that’s the most American thing about him. Rob Ford ultimately became pretty unpopular in Toronto; only because we are boring Canadians (thank God!). Up here we actually value good manners, tact, and the rule of law more than we admire ‘individuality.’ But Trump does it (as Sinatra sings) ‘My Way’ — and that’s about as American as it gets.
In addition to all this, Sully — like Trump — is a hero for the working man: ordinary guys buy drinks for him in the movie, and a sweet female motel worker hugs him, just out of — well — admiration overflow. And in Eastwood’s movie Sully’s challenge is compared to the 9/11 tragedy. Who saved New York after that? Well the man who takes most of credit for it is none other than Rudy Giuliani — a Trump sometime surrogate and hardcore supporter.
No, you won’t convince me otherwise. Eastwood made this movie and released it
to get Trump elected.
And the sad news is that it might work.
I saw the movie at Cineplex Odeon Varsity in Toronto. The Cineplex Odeon Varsity reminds me of an entertainment centre in a very upscale seniors’ building. Many of the people in the audience are so old they move with difficulty.
But lots of them put their hands together and clapped.
Be afraid folks; be very afraid.
Saturday, 3 September 2016
I’ve had it with this recent trend. The fashionable yet stupid idea that drag queens should stop ‘appropriating’ black culture reached it’s apotheosis in Sierra Mannie’s article 'Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture’ published in TIME on July 9. Mannie argues “at the end of the day, if you are a white male, gay or not, you retain so much privilege. What is extremely unfairly denied you because of your sexuality could float back to you, if no one knew that you preferred the romantic and sexual company of men over women.”
Mannie’s offensive and idiotic article does not stand in isolation. I recently attended a queer conference at which a trans person made the argument that drag is misogynistic, that drag queens appropriate black culture, and that drag queen humour is offensive. People in the audience applauded the remarks.
These arguments against drag queens betray more than just a basic misunderstanding of drag; they are indicative of deep seated homophobia. I am a proud drag queen. And let me tell you, I’ve been pressured lots of times to take ‘drag queen’ off my resume. Once, when I was being introduced at Canadian Stage many years ago the artistic director asked me “Should I really read what it says here — that you are a ‘drag queen extraordinaire?” I told him: “Yes, that’s why ‘drag queen’ is on my resume!” Very embarrassed, the artistic director somehow manage to include ‘drag queen’ in the introduction. And he was a gay man.
Before my father died he implored me to take ‘drag queen extraordinaire’ out of my author’s bio, saying —“You don’t really do the ‘dressup thing’ anymore, do you?”
I lied to my father, because he was dying. I said: “I’ll think about it.”
But drag queen is still on my resume. Once a drag queen, always a drag queen.
And here’s why.
Drag queens — contrary to what Sierra Mannie may think, are not masculine, straight acting gay men with a lot of privilege who decide they want to make fun of women at weekend parties. Look into the heart and soul of every drag queen and you will find a young man who was exiled, othered, criticized, and — most likely — physically abused, for being effeminate.
Sure. There are some butch gay men who don a wig for a party or Halloween, so their friends can reassure them they are far too hot to dress like a lady. But those gay men are not drag queens. What is a drag queen? A drag queen is a gay man who dresses like a woman for entertainment, or business, or personal pleasure, on some sort of regular basis (i.e. more than once in a lifetime!). Drag queens are gay men who are either startlingly effeminate in real life (no, they are not putting it on — that’s the way they are, they were ‘born that way’ to quote LADY GAGA!), or, at the very least they are easily identifiable as gay when they are not in drag, because they are never quite masculine enough. These gay men carry with them a stigma related to their effeminacy, which they — in contrast to what Sierra Mannie says — cannot jettison at will. It is part of who they are, and it forges a clear barrier between them and other people, even other gay men — who treat them like garbage because they are effeminate (see the GRINDR ads: ‘no fats or fems’).
Drag queens were there at Stonewall, and they were some of the first (if not the first, because no one knows who the first person was) to throw rocks at the police. The trans movement in fact, owes its history to the brave drag queens who were the first trans people and who should still (in my view) be considered trans.
Drag queens do not ‘appropriate’ black music. They consume racist mass culture like everyone else, because racism is endemic to capitalism. Drag queens (many of whom are black) love and worship black women. To attack drag queens for doing so is homophobic. Period.
You heard it here first — from Canada’s one and only ‘drag queen extraordinaire.’
Sunday, 28 August 2016
Donald Trump worms his way into everything these days.
He’s even managed to wiggle his way into a summer movie hit.
Don’t Breathe is a very entertaining movie which needs no help in order to take its pride of place at the top of its genre. But it does get help — and from the darn’dest things.
All entertainment is, after all, political.
So beware of those who say ‘It’s just a movie.’
I’m not suggesting a vast right wing conspiracy. But filmmakers want money. And the best way to get it is to make sure a movie —without being evidently controversial — strikes the deepest emotional chords possible.
Don’t Breathe is all about race and sex.
On the one hand there is a man with a dark complex past living alone in a house, and on the other hand there are three juvenile delinquents who attempt to rob him.
All these people are white.
Race enters the film (craftily) through the characters’ hair. The least sympathetic juvenile delinquent (and the gang’s leader) is called ‘Money.’ He also has a dollar sign tattooed on his neck, and sports dreadlocks. The man living alone in the house, on the other hand, sports — atypically — a quite magnificent head of perfectly coiffed white hair. He also wears a white t-shirt. He is very white.
The film is not accidentally set in Detroit — a poster-child for the abandonment of the American worker.
The very-white-guy-who-lives-alone also happens to be war vet, and also happens to have kidnapped a young woman — who he thinks is responsible for running over his daughter with her car.
This rather convoluted and somewhat unlikely ‘dark past’ (as ‘dark pasts’ in these movies go) clearly makes the very-white-vet into a very-angry-very-white-man-with-a- gun who has decided to take the law into his own hands, because he doesn’t trust the legal system to right the wrongs that will plague him until the day he dies.
In other words, he is a Trump voter, for sure.
And then we get to the climax.
You think it takes a lot to scare people these days? Well this movie is so scary, it will frighten not only pretty straight girls, but big butch dudes as well. The very-white-vet — when he is trying to impregnate a young woman with a turkey baster filled with his own sperm (don’t ask!) is then forced to eat his own ejaculate.
I’m not kidding!
I just thought you should get the news here, as most people will probably neglect to mention the sperm-eating incident. They will say they liked Don’t Breathe because it reminded them of Wait Until Dark.
At the showing I attended, the sperm-eating moment caused the biggest reaction I have ever heard from a thriller movie audience. Several young men generally indicated an extremely high level of manly discomfort.
All of which goes to show that if you want to scare straight guys, decapitation and disembodied entrails won’t do the trick.
But this rather seminal discomfort, I would posit, is highly hypocritical, as most men have tasted their own sperm at one point or other. (Or somebody else’s.)
Out of curiosity, if nothing else.
That this sperm-eating moment is a hugely ‘gay’ event in the film needs hardly to be remarked upon. And who do we habitually associate with sperm and turkey basters?
Why lesbians, of course.
Take my word for it: Don’t Breathe is one uncannily frightening thriller — and it’s destined to be the hit of the summer — but for reasons that perhaps, so far, I suspect, no one has mentioned.
Friday, 26 August 2016
I want to say she's a a bigot.
You can’t say that.
Because it’s not a good idea.
But she called me a bigot.
Yes, but just because she called you a bigot, doesn’t mean you should call her one.
I told you, it’s not a good idea.
What about if…if I say I won’t deport all the Mexicans.
You would say that?
Sure, I would say that.
Yes. For sure. If I can call Hilary Clinton a bigot.
But if you call Hilary Clinton a bigot, you have to have a reason.
I have a reason.
She didn’t help them.
That’s not enough.
When didn’t she help them?
Whenever. In the…past…she had a powerful position, she was running this country, and the blacks aren’t doing any better. Why can’t I say that?
Okay Don’t say ‘blacks.’ Don’t ever say ‘blacks.’
African Americans. Say it with me. Right now.
Okay, okay. (pause) African Americans. (pause) But why can’t I say she’s ignoring African Americans then?
Because ignoring African Americans is not really bigotry.
It’s just not.
Look, what about if I say, okay, we’ll let the Mexicans stay and they’re not bad people,they’re good people and maybe just maybe, there’s a path to citizenship and…and I’m sorry I hurt their feelings.
You’ll say you’re sorry?
Yes, I will. I’ll say…I’ll say — I shouldn’t have been so harsh. I’ll say I have feelings. I feel for them. The Mexican people.
You’d say that?
Yes of course. Of course I’d say that. I’d say that in a heartbeat. I’d say that now.
But I really want to call Hilary a bigot.
Why? why are you so obsessed with calling Hilary Clinton a bigot?
I told you, she called me one.
Come on. That’s schoolyard stuff.
I don’t care. It’s what I want to do.
So…you’re willing to give amnesty to the Mexicans?
I’ll give them whatever they want. Whatever the Mexicans want, I’ll give them..
Sure. Amnesty. If that’s what they want. If that’s what you want.
Well maybe we shouldn’t say amnesty. But you can say you have feelings for them.
Okay. I can do that.
And you regret…
I should say, regret?
Yes you can say you regret. You’re not sorry, you regret. (pause)
But -- dammit. (pause) Shit.
They'll say it’s a flipflop.
But -- dammit. (pause) Shit.
They'll say it’s a flipflop.
If they do, that’s not a problem.
We’ll just say it’s not a flipflop.
I should just deny it you mean.
I should deny it just like that?
Just like that. That’s not a problem. If they ask us if it’s a flipflop we’ll just say, a candidate's opinions evolve. Especially a thoughtful candidate, who listens to his constituents. A candidate like Donald Trump. In fact, it could be a good thing for you to change your position.
Okay. Makes sense to me.. (pause) So I can say Hilary Clinton is a bigot?
Yes. This morning if you like.