Monday, 30 July 2018
One Properties is planning a new condominium building at 66 Wellesley Street, the northwest corner of Church and Wellesley. There have been various proposal put forward; the last one I read about was for a 442 unit building with a sheltered, two level high, 320 square metre public plaza, one that will have sliding doors that open during the good weather and that can be used ‘for community events throughout the year.’
Well if what is meant by ‘community’ here is gay and lesbian community, I’m not entirely sure if there is a gay community anymore, nor am I sure of where it is located. I know that what is left of what used to be called the Toronto gay and lesbian community can be seen in the handful of bars and restaurants near the corner of Church and Wellesley.
But if One Properties wishes to honour that community, I, for one, could care less about a public plaza and, apparently, (gee whiz!) another grocery store.
What we need — prominently displayed on the property — is a memorial to Danny Cockerline.
I remember looking at that cheery old four story apartment building at 66 Wellesley Street East and feeling sad because it was going to be demolished.
Then I remembered why. Once I went to visit Danny Cockerline in his apartment there, which as I remember it, was very charming and colourful (like Danny himself) at the back of the building on the second floor, with a lovely deck that overlooked the alley.
Who was Danny Cockerline? You can read a beautiful memorial for him by Rick Bebout at the url below.
Danny was an out of the closet male sex trade worker/activist/pornstar at a time when that particular type of individual could actually exist. He stood up for gay men — and most of all for sex in general — at a time when few were willing to do so — throughout the scourge of AIDS. In fact, he was HIV positive, and he took his own life in 1995 — at a time when AIDs itself and the treatments for HIV were mostly lethal. And the rest of us slutty gay guys — the ones who refused to feel shame about our sex lives — we understood why he had decided to commit suicide in the prime of his young, proud life.
I know this suggestion may fall on deaf ears. Times have changed. Gay men don’t take to the streets and proudly defend their right to have sex for money, in bathhouses, on the street, or in a backrooms. Gay men wear cute little bowties, get married, and try to assure the world that they are just the same as straight people. We live in a world where most gay men have sex secretly on online apps, and scorn the notion of ‘flaunting it’ in one of those ‘old fashioned’ gay bars. They certainly scorn what Danny Cockerline could so often be seen doing: standing outside his signature place — Woody’s — scantily clad, camping it up. But Danny Cockerline is an important part of our history and I, for one, am proud of him, and I believe he must be remembered.
I doubt anyone will listen to what I say here. But I had to say it.
One Properties must build a memorial to Danny Cockerline.
Saturday, 14 July 2018
It’s so sad that people are wasting time attacking The King and I. Yes, this gorgeous Rogers and Hammerstein classic (no one is creating anything that matches it today!) is racist.
Yes it is old fashioned. Yes it presents stereotypes of non-white people. And yes it underplays the atrocities of western oppression and destruction of non-white cultures by the very premise of a western ‘teacher’ cheerily warbling her wisdom to the King of Siam.
May I ask a simple question?
Why is The King and I being revived now?
I’ll tell you why. Because we are so culturally bankrupt that we cannot come up with a work of art that measures up, yet is modern and relevant .
I am gay. If I visit New York I am to be treated to a revival of The Boys in The Band. The Boys in the Band is the gay theatrical equivalent of The King and I. It was a supremely entertaining, ground breaking play in its day. Nowadays, with gay marriage, AIDS, meth culture, and PrEP, it’s about as relevant as my great grandma’s handbag.
Yet everyone seems very excited to see it again.
Because people who go to the theatre these days are afraid to see anything that deals with gay culture as it is, now, in 2018.
Our culture is bankrupt. We have two choices, equally unappealing.
First we can go to old revivals of musicals at Lower Ossington Theatre/The Royal Alex, and when we’re done, curl up in front of the computer and turn on Netflix, and when we’re done with that, lie in bed watching 30 second youtube videos of cats (those are my fave things! they don’t require a helluva lot of concentration! And God knows what I can get up to at the same time!).
We can attend an avant-garde production of a not very well written, preachy play about how horrible cis-gendered people are, or about how horrible men are, or about how horrible white people are. These plays have admirable premises— as an aging drag queen I’m not big fan of straight white men! But the only alternative to corporate-mind-numbing-mega-musical-Netflix culture is plays that bore you to death with their self-righteous moralism because they are not so much plays as they are preachments to the ‘woke.’
The fault dear Brutus, likes not In these old classics, but in our cultural bankruptcy.
So please don’t blame The King and I.
Saturday, 7 July 2018
The theatre has always been ours; I’m happy to say it will be gay men who save theatre.
The theatre was always my place to hide. When I was an adolescent people remarked on my fluttering hands and my dramatic way of speaking. They were concerned and…uncomfortable? When I decided that I was an actor it all made sense — to everyone. It wasn’t that I was gay, it was that I was an actor. I started a gay and lesbian theatre in Toronto many years ago. Much of the opposition was from gays themselves. The problem was that a gay theatre was a contradiction in terms; theatre was a place where gay men went to hide. Everyone knew that. Promoting a gay theatre meant that the hiding place now had a bright light shining on it. When I ask people abroad if there are gay theatres in Europe, they say ‘’Oh no, all theatre is gay here.” Indeed it is. What they mean is that theatre is a place for gay men to hide.
Why not also speak of lesbians and the theatre? Because, unfortunately, in a sexist society, it is men’s mannerisms and actions that are remarked upon with the greatest concern. We’re supposed to be running the world. We’re not supposed to be girly!
The fact that theatre is where gay men hide became explicitly clear to me when I read Simon Callow’s autobiography. In Being an Actor he spoke of acting as a disguise. He said that as a little effeminate gay boy, putting on the mask of a character was the only way that he could feel good about who he was. I recognized this syndrome in myself, and I see it in many closeted gay men.
That’s why we gay men will always save the theatre. These days there are two opposing political movements that are gradually changing the world. One is a move to right wing dictatorships (it’s happening in America, we all know that, but we are afraid to say it). Probably in the next year the U.S. Supreme Court will repeal gay marriage (along with Roe vs Wade’s precedent making abortion legal). In the future, Canada may be one of the few countries where gays will be safe. At the same time there is a cultural wave of political correctness and a ‘reality theatre’ trend that have combined forces to wage a war on what is the very essence of the theatre: disguise. Avant-garde and thoughtful artists these days are challenging whether they do, or should, have the right to put on a disguise, to create art about anyone who is not exactly like themselves.
It is the closeted gay artists who will speak out about this, I guarantee it. They are gay, their friends know, but these artists don’t feel the necessity to talk about it too often. Just being in theatre is enough. Their work is not about gay things, not about being a gay man. No, no. Their work is sensitive, looks back in history, is colourful, innovative, design centred — it’s often about women and feelings and usually music is central. Closeted gay artists have worn a disguise and made theatre that was not about gay subject matter for centuries. I expect they will continue to do so, and be applauded for it.
As the world becomes more and more oppressive, as our little Glad Day — our time when we had our civil rights, and felt we could celebrate our sexuality by dancing and kissing in the street — becomes something to remember (a thing of the past!) the closeted gays will be very motivated to hide again, in their favourite hiding place.
And the one good thing about all this is: the closeted gays will save the theatre.