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

SULLY: A Vote For Trump

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

It’s Time to Stop Bashing Drag Queens

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.’