Sunday, 20 March 2016

Sex is Gay Again!

On February 25 Buzzfeed announced the first ever documented case of someone on PrEP testing positive for HIV. 
First of all, its important to note that PrEP is almost 100% effective at preventing men who are not already HIV positive from contracting the HIV virus.  Just as one example of the 1,400 people taking PrEP in an ongoing study led by the Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco, not a single one of them has contracted HIV.   
The fact is that PrEP is a kind of magic pill. By that, I mean that gay men who have been living under a cloud of fear (since the advent of AIDS nearly 35 years ago) can at last have guilt-free, worry-free sex. 
Gay sex is gay again.
The reason I dont set much store by this single case of PrEP failure, is because, infuriatingly, ignorant attitudes around AIDS have always been informed by the notion that we can never be 100% sure.Remember when people were uncertain about letting their kids go to school with other kids who had HIV? After being reassured that it was highly, highly unlikely that their children would ever get AIDS from contact with a child who had HIV, over and over the parents would come back with the inevitable question — ‘But is it not possible that my child might get AIDS from an AIDS infected child?And which point the medical expert would be obliged to say: Well its possibleanything is possible, but —‘ 
The same logic has been used around oral sex. There is very little risk of getting HIV from oral sex. It would have saved countless lives if gay men had been told they could substitute worry-free oral for worrisome anal. But no, AIDS organizations have always insisted on reminding us over and over well of course its possible to get AIDS from oral sex.
Yeah, right. And its also possible I could win the lottery and get hit my lightening at the same time.
You see, when people are wielding the politics of fear, there is always cause for worry.
The important thing to remember about this person who contracted HIV while taking PrEP is this: the evidence is completely and utterly unscientific. Proof that he actually did get HIV while on PrEP is entirely dependent on whether the man was faithfully taking his meds. But the only confirmation for that is his word.
Now Im not calling this guy a liar. And I certainly dont wish to demonize him. But he has stepped forward with information that simply cannot be scientifically proved. Add to this the fact that during the period when this man claimed to be taking his meds every day, he was taking anti-depressive drugs, and having serious health problems. And the way this man talks about what happened to him, shows some misconceptions about AIDS, if not a certain bias: Its important for people to know that there is the possibility, as opposed to the fantasy that there have been no recorded infections on PrEP.”  
Why is it important to note that, with due respect, sir?
Facts are facts. But could we admit there is an agenda out there? Could we admit that there are lots of Catholics, members of the religious right, and yes even uptight fags who would rather gay men were not having sex without guilt? 
I dont call it living in a fantasy world to believe in the countless scientific studies that affirm the efficacy of PrEP,
I call people taking advantage of on one guys undocumented claim that he faithfully took his meds  — another kind of fantasy.

And Im kind of frightened to think of the prejudice, sex-hatred, and ill-will that might be motivating it.


According to the IATSE Local 58 Facebook page, the stage technicians at Factory Theatre voted unanimously for union representation on February 3, 2016.
Respectfully, I ask these employees to reconsider their decision before it is too late. This is a horrible precedent to set. IATSE is a sexist organization.  It is incredibly ironic that IATSE has decided to set up shop at the only theatre of size in Toronto that is run by a non-white woman (Nina Aquino is the Artistic Director). I can only see this as an attack on her.
First, let me be completely clear about my position on unions. I am a union member and a card-carrying ‘leftie.’ I have been very active in my own union - Canadian Actor’s Equity Association — for more than 30 years. My activity has consisted mainly of trying to modernize the organization in a desperate attempt to pull it out of the sexist, homophobic, and ‘commercial- theatre’ focused Victorian mindset. I have met with some success in trying to make those in charge at Equity understand that their organization serves no one if they are sexist and homophobic, and if they do not understand the difference between entertainment and art. I have not entirely succeeded. During my many campaigns to bring Canadian Actors Equity into the 21st century I have been called many things, among them, ‘union hater.’
I am not a union hater. I believe that workers need and must have representation and empowerment in the battle against corrupt employers. They must have unions. However, I care so much about my union that I want it to make sure that it is as responsive as it can be to all of its members. However, union administrators who have vested interests to protect (i.e. personal money and power), insist on calling me a union-hater.
When it comes to IATSE, I have tried my best to find out statistics about the membership of IATSE worldwide, and have met with no luck. As far as I can tell there are absolutely NO statistics available anywhere online about the number of stage technicians in Toronto who are women or persons of colour. This, in itself, is suspicious. I went onto the IATSE 873 website, which seems to represent Toronto film employees. I looked at the charter members listed there. Of 60 names, there were 52 men. I did not find any names that were recognizably African, or Asian, or recognizably ‘not European.’
This isn’t my only reason for calling the organization sexist. I have worked with many female colleagues who are set, lighting and costume designers. These women have told me uniformly, across the board, they have been treated with  more than just disrespect by members of IATSTE; they have been treated with contempt. IATSE members treat women who hold powerful artistic positions as idiots —simply  because they are women. Just ask any woman who has had to give orders to IATSE. Just ask any male member of IATSE who has been forced to take orders from women.
You’ll see.
I understand that  there may be important labor issues going on at Factory Theatre, and 
the workers there may very well be underpaid and oppressed, and may not have felt that their needs will be met without help.  That is no reason to become members of this antiquarian organization, without at the very least taking time to question their policies.
If all mid-size theatres were to become IATSE in Toronto it would be the end of non-commercial theatre in this city. Mid-size theatres will simply not be able to afford to pay them. This of course, is another reason to oppose the IATSE takeover of Factory. IATSE needs not only to respect women theatre-makers, but to respect not-for-profit theatre, theatre that cannot be funded by mega-corporations like Mirvish or TD bank — because the scripts of not-for-profit theatres  contain radical, controversial ideas that threaten the conservative, capitalist-centric corporate world.
For years I have watched the Canadian Actor’s Equity organization use the fact that they speak for working class people as a shield to protect them from accusations of sexism, racism, homophobia, and even classism.
But unions must not be beyond criticism.
I plead with the stage technicians at Factory; only go ahead and join IATSTE if your first demand is that all of the IATSE stage technicians working at Factory be non-white women.

If you are not willing to do that…then you are taking the first step towards killing Toronto theatre.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

The Theatrical Closet: Just a Question

In the past few years I have been asked to contribute comments to the odd biography of the odd deceased theatre person here and there. That is, biographers of the said dead theatre persons have contacted me, saying “I know you have a history with this dead theatre person, do you have anything to say about them?” In several cases I have sent back quite a long essay. And if the theatre person was closeted, then in my essay I always speak at length about the person in the context of their sexuality and mine. This is not to be mean, or to ‘out’ a dead person in ‘spite.’ It is because their actions — which had very much to do with their closeted sexuality — affected Canadian theatre very deeply and importantly, and the facts should be known.
You see, when you are an ‘out’ theatre person (not as common as one might think!) the opposition you receive in terms of your career is not so much from straight people, but from closeted gay and lesbian people. Why? Well they are the ones who have the most to lose.
I have a long history with queer, closeted theatrical types (some now dead) who gave me a lot of trouble. What kind of trouble? Well they would denounce my work, call it worthless or irrelevant, and just generally dismiss me. For by dismissing me, they also commit the very important act of distancing themselves from homosexuality. “I’ll have none of that Sky Gilbert business! I don’t like it, and it’s not for me!”
I’ve had to endure this kind of treatment for years. I remember when I was on a Canada Council jury with Eric Peterson back in 1983. (I was barely an infant! And so was he!) Now let me be clear, Eric Peterson is neither gay, nor closeted, nor any more homophobic than the Average Joe. But at one point he leaned over to me and said “I wish I had visited Buddies in Bad Times, but you know…a lot of people would be kind of afraid to go there — without wearing a paper bag over their head!” 
I knew that he was actually trying in his own way to reach out to me — to be kind — and I didn’t hold it against him. But it has always struck me as a perfect expression of the atmosphere within which I was forced to work.
So recently when people have asked me to comment on this or that dead closeted theatre person for a biography, I figure, well — why not just tell the truth? 
I mean, they are dead, after all.
Who can it hurt?
Well, it turns out, the living family.
The living family don’t want anybody to know that the unnamed (and unnameable) dead theatre person was gay or lesbian or bisexual or whatever they were. So the biographer says to me “Well I will try and use some of your memories of this dead closeted gay or lesbian theatre person, but not the memories of their queerness, because the family would not approve.”
When this happens, I always think of that scene from Carrie.
Many years ago I worked as an usher at the Uptown Cinema. At the end of the movie we ushers would rush to the doors of the theatre just to hear all 500 patrons scream at the same time. You know the scene; Amy Irving bends down to put flowers on Carrie’s grave and suddenly a bloody hand pokes out of the ground and grabs her, trying to pull her into the earth?
It’s a cold dark hand from the gaping maw of hell trying to yank the living into the land of the dead.
That’s kinda what it feels like when I’m told I can’t talk about the sexuality of this or that dead closeted gay theatre person even after they have died.
You know what? I know you value your family. But so do I — my gay and lesbian family. A family of people who share a history.
But  how can we and love ourselves, how can we even believe in the reality of our lives when we are asked to hide the truth forever?
Just a question…..