Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Noel Coward Outsmarts Justin Trudeau

The recent apologies to the LGBT community on behalf of the Canadian government are certainly admirable. But one wishes they might be more comprehensive and look towards the future, rather than the past. Interestingly, the apology at this point has not extended so far as to offer compensation to those who were victims of the Bawdy House Laws during the 1981 Toronto bath house raids; men who were publicly exposed for being gay ‘perverts’ and in some cases jailed as found-ins. I find this interesting because -- although straight culture seems comfortable with granting queers civil rights -- straights are still not too comfortable with the gay ‘lifestyle.’ No one has ever really defined the gay lifestyle -- though in most people’s minds it seems to have something to do with ascots, extravagant vacations, and an effeminate drawl. However the real gay lifestyle is this: honestly admitting that a separation exists between love and sex, and that the two don’t always happen at the same time -- and what’s more; that's perfectly okay.
In terms of the ‘gay lifestyle,’ Trudeau (and most present day heterosexual culture) still trails behind Noel Coward. I treated myself recently to the new movie release of Present Laughter brilliantly directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel and starring Kevin Kline (the entire cast was superlative). The play -- which recently closed on Broadway -- is often dismissed as a trifle. But it is actually one of  Coward’s three great comedies; plays that are not only witty and touching explorations of human love and loneliness, but have a particularly modern attitude to sex.
Present Laughter offers us not only a funny and touching portrait of a man who has an irritating tendency to perform his own life, but the leading character Garry Essendine reveals, in one of his several hilarious speeches, that sex is ‘over-rated.’ What Garry (with two ‘R’s -- he is a star!) means is that we should just stop worrying about sex, and instead start having lots of it. All of the characters in the play, married or not (just as in Coward’s two other comic masterpieces Private Lives and Hay Fever) are engaged in different varieties of promiscuous activity outside of the marital bed. Essendine implores all of his friends, essentially, to -- calm down, forget about ‘sacred institutions’, and have a good-old time, carnally. 
In the post-1950s sexual culture we now live in -- where even gay men get flushed and embarrassed by their own profundity when describing the precious holiness of matrimony -- it’s refreshing to know that Noel Coward would have had us do precisely the opposite (something present day gays promised to do but never have) open up relationships, and ‘queer’ marriage.
Shocking ideas, eh? 
In 1942 they were shocking for Coward’s audiences, and here they are, shocking us yet again today.
Everything old is suddenly new again.

Friday, 3 November 2017


Sexual abuse is serious. Anthony Rapp’s accusation against Kevin Spacey may serve his career but it will do little to halt the sexual abuse of women -- because it sets up a false equivalency. By raising this issue at this particular time, Rapp’s abuse inevitably becomes part of the ‘Me Too’ campaign, implying that Harvey Weinsten and Kevin Spacey are somehow comparable.
They are not.
Harvey Weinstein is a rich white heterosexual man. Heterosexism gives him the power and in fact congratulates him on ‘conquering’ women. Kevin Spacey is a rich white homosexual man. He was in the closet until Anthony Rapp ‘outed’ him without Spacey’s consent. (Rumours about Spacey’s homosexual orientation were inflamed after an Esquire article in 1997. Spacey moved to London in order to avoid Hollywood homophobia.) 
Gay men are part of an maligned and hated minority. Queer youth are still afraid to ‘come out’ to their parents; Gay/Straight Alliances are still contentious issues in high schools. The fact that Rapp was abused by a closeted gay man doesn’t excuse Spacey’s actions. But if we really wish to fight the abuse of women then we must dare to be unforgivingly critical of heterosexual culture and stop making false equivalencies. We must come to the painful understanding that male abuse of women is rooted in heterosexual sexism which can no longer be tolerated; it is not simply a ‘universal’ problem that everyone faces on daily basis.
Why did Anthony Rapp ‘out’ Kevin Spacey in this manner? It’s important to note that Rapp himself is not fully ‘out.’ He’s been playing the same game Spacey has been playing for years -- because like all gay actors in Hollywood, he is frightened by homophobia in the entertainment industry. He has been quoted as saying “I have been in loving relationships with men...I haven't said 'I am gay.’” Rapp wants us to know that -- unlike the ‘gay’ Spacey (meaning the lecherous, profligate Spacey) -- he is a good person (which means a loving, not very sexual person). And, let’s face it, Rapp is obviously quite thrilled to be famous. And like so many gay men today, he wants everyone to know that though he may not be straight, he is just the same as every straight person in practically every way.
Well, he’s not; he is part of a very different culture -- gay culture.
I was told recently by one of my students that young straight men these days actually speak of female sexual conquests as ‘kills.’ 
We might think about the implications of that.
And forget about the opportunistic Mr. Anthony Rapp.