Monday, 4 September 2017
I don’t know what made me turn to HBO that night.
Yes I do. They usually show great stuff.
But this night it was Neil Patrick Harris’ Circus Awesomeus.
Let’s just talk about the Neil Patrick Harris thing. He is our one and only out-of-the-closet top level TV/Hollywood gay actor in 2017.
So what does he get to do?
Well, apparently, though straight people are increasingly tolerant these days they can’t handle real out-of-the-closet actors and actresses in gay or lesbian roles in mainstream movies. And they certainly can’t handle out gay actors in straight roles (the reviews always say ‘the chemistry wasn’t convincing’). But what they can handle is when we host. (See: Ellen!) We now host straight lives. After all, this our calling isn’t it? To facilitate the lives of straight people: serve them drinks, renovate their houses, and most importantly -- make them laugh?
But it isn’t just the host thing. The acts on Circus Awesomeous are -- almost without exception -- boring as hell. There is the ‘Beardyman’ who just makes boom box sounds as far as I can tell. It’s kinda like being very good at farting. It is this behaviour we should be rewarding him for? Then there’s the midget standup comic who I tried so hard to like, until I realized that the funniest thing he did was run. Yes, unfortunately his major talent seems to be displaying for us a body that is -- well, to most people -- odd. Then there is a large woman in a shiny dress who talks dirty. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against large women in shiny dresses who talk dirty -- some of my best friends are large women in shiny dresses who talk dirty. But the ones I know are actually funny.
The act that really tells it all about Circus Awesomeous is Sammy J and Randy -- an effeminate gay man who sings with a foul-mouthed redneck gay puppet. The puppet (of course they could never let a real gay guy do this on TV) shouts out the details of gay sex acts while the effeminate guy looks shocked.
I’ll tell you what this show is. it’s a taste of ‘homosexuality’ for straights. It’s kinda like the old days when they used to snicker and throw eggs at drag queens in the Pride Parade on Yonge Street. This show makes it all too evident that straights think we are a bunch of freaks. Nevertheless they welcome the opportunity for a voyeuristic peak into our titillating sex lives -- something Neil Patrick Harris allows them to do.
Sunday, 27 August 2017
I don’t know what to say about ATOMIC BLONDE. I wish I could be as terribly modern as everyone else and say that it’s a step in the right direction. No. Sorry. I know the attitude we’re supposed to have is to just take it for granted that Charlize Theron has a lesbian affair in the movie. She’s not a lesbian, though -- that would be old fashioned -- because the ‘Atomic Blonde’ of the movie’s title was in love with a man at the beginning -- at least that’s what’s insinuated. So Charlize Theron is not a lesbian in the movie then. She’s a bisexual -- no. She’s just....fluid. Right? Cuz sexuality is fluid, right? And if you are a modern-millennial-type person you will watch this movie and go -- ‘Oh yes, I get it. I didn’t even notice who’s having sex with who. That’s what a long way we’ve come, baby.’
Okay. Don’t get me wrong. I think the movie is incredibly stylish, gorgeous really, and addictively watchable. I mean I hate complicated plots and the plot of this movie sure is complicated but I still enjoyed it. (Who is ‘Satchel’ anyway?)
But dare I mention -- and you know me, the last thing I would want to do is upset anyone, but -- um, isn’t it kind of crazy that Charlize Theron is so incredibly proud that there is a lesbian sex scene in the movie? I mean when I google ‘ATOMIC BLONDE lesbian’ all that comes up is Charlize gushing about how much she loved doing the kiss with Sofia Boutella so....? I mean if lesbian sex is just well -- everywhere, and so accepted by everyone -- then why is Charlize so proud of herself for having lesbian sex in this movie?
And the fact that there is a ‘Charlize Theron and Sofia Boutella Kiss’ clip on youtube -- well I’m sure straight men aren’t jerking off to it. I mean this is not straight porn right? I mean this movie isn’t straight porn, if anything it’s lesbian porn, right? Or lesbian love, or something lesbian? Or bisexual? Or fluid? Yes, that’s it. It’s fluid porn.
But what I actually think this movie is, is violence porn. Charlize is kicking people’s heads in and the blood is gushing out -- practically every thirty seconds. Good for her, eh? I guess. She’s a strong woman then, I guess.
I mean come to think of it, I’ve convinced myself. I really think this is a step forward, not just for ‘moviekind’ but for ‘humankind’ everywhere.
And certainly for ‘womankind’
Yes, Charlize I congratulate you. Not since MONSTER have we seen such an important and forward-looking representation of a ‘fluidly sexed’ character. In MONSTER, you murdered men -- but in this movie you just kick them in the nuts over and over and over and over.
That’s a step forward, isn’t it?
Gee, I sure hope so.
Monday, 7 August 2017
Let me start by saying that if 5 Toronto gay men are indeed dead, and have been murdered by a serial killer during the last 5 years, then they and their families have my heartfelt sympathy. But that’s not what this article is about.
What upsets me is the way the problem of ‘missing gay men’ is being handled by the straight and gay communities at large.
I tuned into the CBC today, and there was lots of concern being expressed about these missing men.
Then, they posted a ‘profile’ of some of the men.
The physical description of each of the men was followed by this: ‘frequently used Grindr and Scruff phone apps.'
Now I wanted you to imagine, for a minute if several women had been found sexually assaulted and then murdered. And let’s say that information about them was posted on CBC and it said “known to be promiscuous” after several of the names.
There would be outrage, right?
But it’s okay if there’s a missing gay man to mention that he frequently went online looking for sex.
The CBC stated these ‘facts’ about the missing gay men’s private lives all in the name of helping out. The posting was followed by a lecture given by a member of the gay community saying things like “These apps can be dangerous. If you pick up someone online and something happens to you, there may be no way to trace you or find you. It’s a good idea, if you pick someone up online, to make sure and get their email, that way the person can be traced.”
Oh what a great idea. The next time somebody wants to go down on me, I’ll ask him to give me his email address, just in case.
This is homophobia pure and simple. What happened to us is this. AIDS appeared in the early 1980s. There was an anti-sex backlash. Gay men became afraid to pick up gay men in bars, they feared that they might get AIDS and die. But gay men do need to have sex with other gay men, and yes, sometimes they need sex that is outside of a conventional ‘relationship.’ So gay men began to look for sex on line. This offered not only convenience but secrecy: it’s not like walking out of a gay bar with someone; no one knows who you are having sex with or how often. And if the person you pick up is HIV positive or ‘sketchy’ you won’t have friends on your case about getting AIDS or being a slut, in an era when all gay men are supposed to be getting married. So, for awhile, gay men have had lots of sex by hooking up online.
But now, members of the straight community -- and uptight members of the gay community -- are declaring that online sex is dangerous.
The availability of PEP, and PrEP, pre and post-exposure prophylaxis (when utilized with condoms) have made it possible for gay men to have sex again without fear of dying of AIDS.
Anti-sex homophobes however (and some of those people can be gay men!) are now trying to stop that.
Thankyou, CBC for doing your bit to drive gay sex underground, and make gay men afraid again.
Friday, 21 July 2017
I was at the bar the other night (surprise) and a ‘being’ entered (I’m not sure how this person would identify but I thought she looked like a ‘she’) and she was butch, and I wasn’t sure whether she was male or female, so I looked at her breasts and she didn’t seem to have any (what is normally thought of as) female breasts, so I thought she might have identified as male....but I am pretty sure she had a vagina.
What is going on here?
Why does it suddenly sound so politically incorrect for me to wonder whether or not this being had a vagina?
My thesis is this: the trans movement devalues vaginas. (it also devalues penises, but penises are not really as important).
Can I can tell you something about vaginas? Vaginas are a big deal, and whether you have one -- or you don’t -- is big deal. Vaginas are important because:
a) you came from one
b) they give enormous pleasure
It’s hard to say which of these two is more important. I suggest ‘you came from one’ is important because no matter how queer or trans or whatever you are, nevertheless we all came out of vaginas and you wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for a vagina, so it’s important that you don’t forget them.
The fact that a vagina gives enormous pleasure (to both the owner and the one who is the intruder into -- or whatever -- the vagina) is important too.
But the trans movement doesn’t seem to care.
Trans people say:
“It doesn’t matter whether you have a penis or vagina. It’s the person you love.” Or they say
“Genitals don’t matter”
I’m sorry, but they do.
Why do genitals matter? Because we are sexual people, and we have sex, and sex is involved with genitals, and generally speaking (I don’t know how to break the news to you but) people are interested in either penises or vaginas. Usually not both. But if they are interested in both, it’s not usually at the same time. But, if they are interested in both at the same time they still know (and this is very important) THE DIFFERENCE between a penis and a vagina.
VIVA LA DIFFERENCE!
I remember I had a friend once who was a female dyke who is now gender/sexuality indeterminate. When she was a female dyke she used to rant against scrotums. Yes she did. More power to her. I, personally, have always somewhat enjoyed scrotums, but I appreciated it that she did not. And I respected it. But ‘she’ (as a female person) is now gone. And the person she has become hasn't mentioned scotums in awhile.
The only way that trans activists have been able to get away with pretending that genitals don’t matter, is that they are taking advantage of the anti-sex times we live in (yes sex is everywhere on the web, but that doesn’t matter, we just pretend it isn’t there, the web has become a way for us to universally sublimate sex, pretend it doesn’t exist, because a lot of us have sex with our computers, and pretend no one knows!).
And frankly, I’m beginning to feel sorry for vaginas -- and for the women who are either are born with them, or somehow acquire them on the way -- because they are being devalued too.
As if women don’t have enough trouble already, without us further devaluing their vaginas.
So I say -- be trans, be gay, bi. lesbian queer whatever.
But let me just say vaginas are important, and they mean something.
(And just for the record, the same is true of penises, too.)
Saturday, 8 July 2017
I was at the foot doctor’s today. She finally figured out I’m gay.
She is an intelligent, tolerant and very politically savvy woman.
So, what -- for an intelligent, tolerant and politically savvy chiropodist -- is the immediate ‘go-to’ when she finds out her client is gay?
“Have you seen that TV show with Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent?”
No, I had to honestly say that I hadn’t.
“They had this daughter with a surrogate, and sometimes the daughter is on the show, and they are home designers -- and you really get a glimpse into their lives. Sometimes you can see them kidding each other the same way straight couples do. It’s very -- real”
I was somewhat flabbergasted. I didn’t know what to say.
You see, there was a time when admitting to someone that you were gay might have brought other images to mind, like -- well, maybe drag, or maybe -- leather chaps or maybe even (call me crazy) fellatio?
Not nowadays. No, nowadays tell someone you’re gay and all they can think about is pair of designer guys with a daughter they paid big money for -- and oh yes how ‘similar’ these guys are to a regular, ordinary, normal straight couple.
And of course, most gay men seem pretty happy with this new image of themselves.
So when dumb straight film actors like Andrew Garfield say they are ‘culturally gay’ or
when straight, pretentious matinee idol, avant-garde wannabes like James Franco say “I’m gay in my life up to the point of intercourse, and then you could say I'm straight. So I guess it depends on how you define gay” -- well, we only have only ourselves to blame.
We gay men have rejected everything sexual about ourselves (‘I don’t like bathhouses, I don’t hang out on Church Street’) and everything gender bending (‘No fats and no fems please’). And we are sure to tell everyone over tea, that despite the existence of GRINDR what we all really want is to settle down, get married and adopt a baby
So this is what we get.
No wonder dumb straight guys want to be ‘culturally gay.’
But you know what?
I don’t like it that James Franco gets to be gay without ‘doing the dirty.’ In fact I find it pretty insulting. I’ve spent my whole life being treated like a pariah because I like to dress like a girl and take it up the rear end.
So it kinda bugs me that entitled assholes like James Franco and Andrew Garfield get to appropriate only the un-sexual, home designer, daughter-loving aspects of our lives. They get to be homo, without the sexuality.
In fact, I’m downright offended.
So, you heard it here first.
There’s no such thing as being ‘culturally gay.’
Andrew Garfield and James Franco, I hereby challenge you to pull down your pants or
If you wanna be one of us, I’m afraid you’re going to get down on your knees, and well...play the bagpipes!
And I think you guys are intelligent, tolerant, and politically savvy enough to know what I mean.
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.
Saturday, 11 March 2017
I eagerly attended the documentary about James Baldwin called I Am Not Your Negro. I was especially excited because Baldwin has always been somewhat of a hero for me; a gay misfit whose iconic and beautiful gay novel Giovanni’s Room changed so many lives.
Well lo and behold, as I sat through the flic I became more and more befuddled. Had I imagined it? Was James Baldwin actually straight? He certainly doesn’t talk about his gayness in this particular documentary -- although at one point in the movie Baldwin answers someone’s accusation that he was a homosexual (without speaking of being gay).
So just to set the record straight (or should I say crooked?): James Baldwin was gay. Or perhaps to be completely accurate, I should say he was homosexual (as the term ‘gay’ didn’t come into common parlance until the end of his life). His sex life was somewhat complicated by the fact that he was quite effeminate and not beautiful in a traditional way. Also, his preference was for straight and bisexual men. The love of Baldwin’s life was Lucien Happsberger, a 17 year old, white, bisexual Swiss artist whom Baldwin met in Paris. Baldwin’s novel Giovanni’s Room (published in 1956) tells a very tragic -- some might say discouraging -- gay tale; but no one could argue that it was not enormously revolutionary for its time.
So why make a documentary about Baldwin and ignore the fact that he was gay?
The most obvious answer is homophobia. It would appear that anti-racists are afraid of muddying their cause by bringing sexuality into the discussion. If you are trying to convince racists in a homophobic society that black people are okay it might hurt your argument to admit that some black men are gay.
However, the buck doesn’t stop with I Am Not Your Negro. The film is just one of many instances of race trumping sexuality. When someone is black and gay it seems to be more important to talk about racism than homophobia.
I heard via the grapevine that the Academy Award winning film Moonlight was a film about a gay black man. I went to see it, and outside of one brief scene of adolescent masturbation the leading characters are unable to come to terms with their sexuality; as adults they can hardly speak of their teenage shenanigans, and they barely touch. The website rogerebert.comsays the film is about “a boy and then a man who has trouble figuring out his place in the world.” Elsewhere I have seen the film described as being about ‘friendship.’
I am (as you may have guessed) a white gay man. Some will say that I don’t have any right to talk about this because I don’t understand what it means to be black. I will accept the latter but not the former.
Believe me, I don’t want to write about this. But someone has to.
Thursday, 2 March 2017
Have you heard about PrEP?
Well if you have, you could be forgiven for being confused.
PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) is a drug that stops HIV negative people from becoming infected with HIV. Simply put, if you are HIV negative and you take it and then have sex with someone HIV positive who is not wearing protection, it is highly unlikely that you will become infected with HIV.
But exactly what you know about PrEP depends a lot on where you get your information.
The San Francisco AIDS Foundation says that “for people who take 7 PrEP pills per week, their estimated level of protection is 99%”
Sounds great! I’m gonna get some PrEP!
The Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta says “Daily PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90%.”
Hm...that doesn’t sound quite as good.
And what does Toronto’s own associate officer of medical health Dr. Rita Shahin say? “People on PrEP … could be more likely to acquire STIs because they may not be using condoms.”
Gee Whiz. Thanks for the useful information, Rita!
What is going on here? What is the conspiracy of silence -- which is really a conspiracy of lies -- surrounding a drug that could change our lives? Why is it that the only time we hear about PrEP on CBC is when a doctor is advising us not to take it? PrEP is a major breakthrough in the fight against AIDS. HIV negative people can now protect themselves from being HIV positive. Why isn’t this news being shouted from the rooftops?
Most importantly, why aren’t gay men happy about PrEP and why aren’t they ‘spreading the news’?
Could it be guilt? Could it be shame? Could it be that all these years of people telling us that AIDS is God’s punishment for our sexuality has actually made us hate ourselves? I understand that PrEP doesn’t protect against Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia and Hepatitis, and people should still wear condoms. But that is a separate issue.
The real news is this: THE PLAGUE THEY SAID WOULD KILL US ALL IS NOW UNDER CONTROL!
Is there some reason why no one seems to want people to know about the effectiveness of PrEP?
It’s a question that plagues me.
And honestly, I’m very afraid of the answer.
Saturday, 18 February 2017
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
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
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.