Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Kevin Spacey and #MeToo

Recently Kevin Spacey was charged with sexual assault. He has released an odd and fascinating YouTube video ("Let Me Be Frank')  in his own defence. He was accused by Heather Unruh of buying liquor for her son William N. Little — when he was 18 -- and then molesting the young man, in July 2016.
Kevin Spacey has been called a ‘#MeToo pariah.’ 
But the accusations against Kevin Spacey have absolutely nothing to do with #MeToo.
This is not a defence of Kevin Spacey. If Kevin Spacey is found guilty then few would argue that he does not deserve to be punished. But the #MeToo website states that “Women in Canada live at greater risk than men of domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment” and that this violence is “gender based" and related to “sexism.”
What does all this have to do with Kevin Spacey? NOTHING. Kevin Spacey is a gay man. Gay men are not the same as straight men. And what makes them different is not simply sexual desire, but — homophobia. Young gay men are physically and verbally attacked while growing up at school, and often lose the emotional and financial support of their parents. (For instance, The Williams Institute tells us that though the homeless population only makes up 7% of young people in American; 40% of them are LGBT.) Then as they grow up, these gay young men must decide — as Spacey did — whether or not to come out at work.
Homophobia is, arguably, the reason why Spacey is not presently a major U.S. film star, In 1997 Spacey was the subject of a homophobic column in Esquire which gossiped  about his sexuality (‘Kevin Spacey Has a Secret’). Spacey subsequently moved to England and became the artistic director of the Old Vic. He refused to identify as gay in an interview as late as 2010, and didn’t actually come out until he was accused in October of 2017 of making ‘sexual advances’ to Anthony Rapp — at which point, he was attacked on all sides for using his confession as a distraction/defence against Rapp’s accusations.
I would argue that Kevin Spacey is a deeply damaged human being who has endured a lifetime of torture over the conflict between his sexual feelings and his career ambitions. It has been impossible for him to be both a successful Hollywood actor and an out gay man. This is not an excuse for his actions, whatever they are. It is a plea for us to tell the truth about his life.
The whole incident with William N. Little is so mired in issues of sexuality and homophobia that it is almost too dense to analyze. One doesn’t dare speak of William N Little — or his sexuality — as that would be ‘blaming the victim.’ But why hasn’t William N. Little himself spoken out publicly against Spacey? Why has he left that to his mother? He is 20 years old at least — not a child. Little’s mother, Heather Unruh, a television personality, has two children. Her son founded the organization SWEAR — Stand with Everyone Against Rape, at his High School. Her daughter now runs the organization. Is it a co-incidence that Unruh has raised two children as anti-rape activists and that one of them is now accusing a closeted gay man of sexual assault? And why is she is speaking publicly for her son? What’s going on?
I ask this because Kevin Spacey’s situation has nothing to do with gender-based violence or #MeToo. Spacey is not a heterosexual male who has committed an act of sexual violence due to sexism. He is a damaged gay man whose actions in the past have yet to be determined. 
If he is guilty — and thus deserves to be called names — let’s at least call him the right ones.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

There’s no point in talking

to me anymore. For some. It’s been very interesting for me to see who wishes to talk to me these days, and who doesn’t.
You see once, I had a little bit of fame. (It was a long time ago.) Soon I was surrounded by people — but I didn’t know their motives. 
For example, a few years ago a young man wanted to talk about playwrighting. People don’t usually want to talk to me about playwrighting. But I love talking about it, so I said sure.
And when he sat down  in front of me I was impressed by what seemed at first to be intellectual passion. But a couple of sentences in, my fascination disappeared. 
He leaned forward. “What I want to know is — how do you write a hit that’s as popular as The Drawer Boy? I just want to know how to do that.”
I was speechless for a moment, as I had really been looking forward to talking to him about playwrighting. Then I told him that there was a formula for writing a popular play; in fact Eugene Scribe had perfected it many years ago. 
I won’t explain that formula in terms of The Drawer Boy — as I certainly don’t mean to suggest that Michael Healey is merely a craftsman. But I don’t mind speaking about it in terms of Come From Away.
The secret to writing a hit play — in case you want to know — is this. First, try not to challenge the audience’s basic assumptions about themselves. If they come into Royal Alexandra Theatre thinking that middle class white people are essentially good people — like the Come From Away audiences do — then they need to be congratulated on that fact. Also, your piece should centre around a controversial topic (something ‘edgy’), but the play itself must not be controversial, or ask any deep or probing questions about that topic. If you want to, you might add a suspenseful plot — you know, withhold some information until they very end. But audiences are a little less literate than they used to be, and don’t care as much about that anymore. Add a little romance, set your play in a locale that the audience will find ‘exotic,’ and you have the basics for what Scribe would have called a well-made play.
I told this young man the magic formula, and he went away. I don’t remember his name. Maybe he’s one of the creators of Come From Away.
But why in heaven’s name did this young man think that someone like me could somehow help him make his fortune in the theatre? 
That’s what it was, the fact that I was — or had been — somewhat famous at one time
Well I have news for this young man and anyone else like him. After all that’s happened, no one can ever mistake me for famous; I am merely infamous. That means (please write this down!) talking to me will no longer get you anywhere. In fact, if you are ambitious in the theatre, I suggest you stay away from me.  If you want to  be rich and famous and/or solidify for yourself a position in the 'entertainment industry,' you’d better talk to someone else.
Of course, if you want to have a serious (or perhaps oddly funny) discussion about art, theatre or sexual politics—I’m still available for discussion.
Just so you know.
Otherwise there is, in fact, no point in talking to me.
Thank God. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Ten Good Things About Spending Christmas Alone

It can be depressing, can’t it? Christmas. Especially when the forces of circumstance cause you to spend it alone. Well I can think of at least 10 reasons why spending Christmas alone is better than spending it with other people:
  1. You don’t have to listen to that boring instructor at your Aquafit classes monologue anymore because your Aquafit classes have been cancelled ‘for the holidays.’

2) You can always find a seat at one of those insanely popular Christmas movies (i.e. a movie written by an actual scriptwriter — not a committee, a movie written by and for adults — to win an Oscar, a movie which is actually a good movie — with absolutely no superheroes) because there is usually one SINGLE seat left (not two mind you, but one).

3) The only guys in gay backrooms are the guys who take sex very seriously in exactly the right way. (Look for the the guys wearing Santa hats. Really. They are really fun.)

4) Listening in on other people’s conversations is easy and the conversations are so fucking sad (well, it’s Christmas), that you could write a Christmas story that is even better than ‘The Gift of the Magi.’

5) You don’t have to visit with any boring relatives because all your boring relatives are finally dead.

6)  You can finally give your cat the love she deserves (and she will finally stop staring at you like that!).

7) You finally have time to read all those long, obsessive texts that people send you, texts that rest, stylistically, somewhere between an 18th century novel and crack inspired glossolalia.

8. Masturbation.

9. There’s really no reason why you can’t watch your favourite movie for the five hundredth time (mine is ELECTION).

10. You can finally admit that it’s better to be with people who you truly like (like, yourself) than people who you see out of obligation or because you are married to them or related to them or because you have this crazy idea that being alone is the same as being lonely. 

Hey, here’s a newsflash for Christmas: it’s not.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Sky Gilbert Says Goodbye to Buddies

I am withdrawing the workshop of my opera Shakespeare’s Criminal (composed by Dustin Peters)  from the 40th Anniversary Season of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. It’s time for me to go. Listening to people at the ‘Long Table,’ it became clear to me that Buddies is no longer a Gay and Lesbian Theatre, as it was when I was the artistic director. It has evolved into a space for a new generation of people challenging the mainstream in a new way. In order for those who have been wounded by the white colonial capitalist patriarchy to heal, they need their own home, and they must take power in that home.  Buddies is now a home for people representing a range of intersectional genders and identities. This is a wonderful thing and I applaud it.  I have no doubt that in the future Buddies will produce plays which will have powerful messages. And also, significantly, Buddies will host concerts, speeches, films, rallies, wakes, celebrations, demonstrations, protests and ‘Long Tables.’ There will be laughter, there will be tears, there will be rage, and there will be redemption — all for important causes. Social justice, trans activism, reconciliation issues and the rights of people of colour, importantly define the youth of today — and our youth is our future.

I took over Buddies in Bad Times Theatre from George Luscombe of Toronto Workshop Productions in 1994. George Luscombe was also a social activist and pioneer  — a socialist whose idol was Joan Littlewood (a disciple of Brecht). We had very different artistic visions, but we both saw ourselves on the ‘left’ of things. George Luscombe handed the space over to us acknowledging that we were the rightful heirs. I wish to do the same now. I no longer want my name, my voice, my essays, my ideas, my plays, my novels, my poems, my art — or anything about me — to be associated with Buddies. I'm happy to make space for others. Someday I’m sure, Evalyn will do the same.

As for me, I will continue to fight for what is important to me (and hopefully not to me alone) freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and the rights of gay men and drag queens — the rights of sex-positive people of all genders, sexualities and colours. 
I stand for effeminate sexual men, s/m dykes, sex trade workers, sexual spaces (like bath houses, porn shops and strip clubs), HIV and sexual health activists, gender and sexual outlaws, sexual liberation, the fetish community and all those who explore alternatives to monogamy and marriage. 
I will fight for freedom of speech because I think ‘art’ is very different from ‘politics.’ Both must be nurtured, but nurtured separately. Poetry must not bear the weight of society’s approval or disapproval.

Poetry must be free.

Sunday, 18 November 2018


          Buddies in Bad Times was founded and then run for 17 years by gender nonconforming individuals. Founder and past artistic director Sky Gilbert is a gender nonconforming gay person assigned male at birth (and a drag queen). Past president Johnny Golding (formerly Sue Golding) is a gender nonconforming person assigned female at birth. In the early 90s, controversially, Buddies invited Patricia Wilson — a transsexual female — to be our publicist, and for nearly two years she was the public face of Buddies.

There have been several times in Buddies history when bullies have tried to intimidate Buddies’ artists. However, in the past, it was conservative politicians — not the artistic director. 

In 1993 Christina Blizzard, a columnist for the Toronto Sun wrote an article about about two Queerculture events: S and M Workshops, and the Female Ejaculation Pajama Party (led by Shannon Bell). The S and M workshops, organized entirely by lesbians (some of whom were sex trade workers) involved “live demonstration on creative bondage, sensory deprivation, implements (floggers, paddles, canes) and their use, and brute force.” Another workshop explored “abduction, fisting, knives, forced confinement, bloodsports, rape play, etc.” After Christina Blizzard’s article, Toronto City Council (with the support of a young counsellor named Rob Ford) tried to stop city funding for what is now the 12 Alexander Street theatre, saying Buddies ‘was a theatre that shows violence and perversion.’ Did Johnny Golding (formerly Sue Golding) and Sky Gilbert turn their backs on these radical lesbian artists? Certainly many people found their words, views and performances controversial, and personally hurtful — even hateful. But no, Queerculture events were part of our artistic programming, and unlike the present artistic director, we stood behind the work being presented at the theatre, and the artists who presented it. This is the kind of theatre that Buddies used to be.

What Evalyn has done is not censorship; it is something far, far worse. Evalyn is an artistic director who has exhibited bullying behaviour towards me — one of her selected artists — and tried to intimidate me to the point where I have felt condescended to, humiliated, isolated, and unsupported. But most of all she is an artistic director who does not seem to fully understand an artist’s chosen voice —  specifically, the fragile, dangerous, nuanced, heart-crushing, searing, soaring, uncompromising language of poetry.

In 1989, federal Revenue Minister Otto Jelinek spoke at the Milton, Ont., Chamber of Commerce saying that it was time to stop arms length funding of the arts, using my play Drag Queens on Trial as an example. Now, many years later, here is an attempt by the artistic director of Buddies to silence my drag queens once again. I literally don’t know what to say. I will let Lana Lust speak: “I have not been afraid to look inside myself, to live on edge of morality, society, of the world itself — and if I must die for it — so be it. And to all the little boys out there who dont want to wear their little blue booties but pick out the pink ones, to all the little girls who would rather wear army boots than spike heels, to anyone who has ever challenged authority because they lived by their own lights. I say dont turn back. Dont give up. It was worth it!” (Spontaneous, canned applause.)

Saturday, 10 November 2018

I’m Afraid of ‘Woke People’

for Vivek Shraya, upon reading her book -- I'm Afraid of Men

I’m afraid of ‘Woke People’ because they divide humanity into either ‘us’ or ‘them.’
I’m afraid of “Woke People’ because they taught me to fear being gay. It was something that I worked very hard to be proud of, and now — once again — I am ashamed.
When I go to a theatre event or a sexuality conference, I am careful not to dress in a sexual way, because I know that for many ‘Woke People’ it fits an evil gay stereotype.
When I go online I brace myself for the postings about how politically insensitive, hyper-sexual and super-rich gay men are.
I’m afraid of ‘Woke People because they can’t see that I’m gay, but only that I’m a man. 
When I send ‘Woke People’ emails, I have to go out of my way not to appear too gay, too sexual, or too irreverent. I do not want to offend them. 
I’m afraid of ‘Woke People’ because if I mistakenly use the wrong pronoun to describe them, they may become furious and never forgive me.
I’m afraid of ‘Woke People’ because, for them, good intentions are not enough.
When I dress in drag, I fear I will be ‘dressed down’ by a “Woke Person,’ screamed at for enjoying appropriated music, for making fun of trans people, and for my camp sense of humour.
I’m afraid of ‘Woke People’ because when I appeal to them for generosity and kindness they see it as trying to make them weak.
I’m afraid of ‘Woke People’ because I am worried they will measure my lack of privilege against theirs, and find it wanting.
I’m afraid of ‘Woke People’ because they have said to me ‘your time is up.’
When I see a group of ‘Woke People’ laughing and tittering in a corner, I can’t help but imagine they are laughing about me.
I’m afraid of ‘Woke People’ because my intersectionality does not have enough intersections.
I’m afraid of ‘Woke People’ because our very human imaginations may not be able to survive the rigorous scrutiny of social justice.
I’m afraid of ‘Woke People’ because I’m afraid they will kill art. 
You see I believe (gulp!) that we should try and love everyone, even (gulp!) the people who hate us.
I’m afraid of ‘Woke People,’ because — I’m sorry. 
Because I’m sorry I exist.

Monday, 29 October 2018

An Open Letter to Vivek Shraya

I have not read your book I’m Afraid of Men. I apologise. 
I am a man. I will not apologize for that.
I’m sure that you have had the best of intentions, and like so many of us, you have had a lot of pain in your life. And there may be truths in your book. But that doesn’t justify it’s title. (And it doesn’t matter if the back cover says ‘Men Are Afraid of Me’). I appeal to you. That title is hate. Hate, in any form is reprehensible. And any statement which vilifies any group on the basis of race, gender or sexuality is wrong to do so. What if someone titled their book ‘I’m afraid of Jews?’ (and they were not a Jew)? This book’s title, unfortunately is akin to the hate filled rhetoric that fills our public spaces and endangers us all. Can’t you see that no matter what your feelings are, and how deep they are — and I’m not questioning the depth of your pain — that hate will not relieve it?
I must speak on behalf of men. (I must speak for them, if no one else is willing to do so!) There have been some very great men in our history, and many are still living to this present day. They have put their lives on the line for gay people, trans people, and people of colour. I am thinking particularly of Marsha P. Johnson and Patrick Califia. 
Marsha P. Johnson was a drag queen, and one of the founders of the gay liberation movement. People today call her ‘trans.’ But to be fully accurate she embarked on her brave crusades before the word ‘trans’ was in common usage. She identified as a proud drag queen — like so many who founded the gay liberation movement at Stonewall, like so many who fight so valiantly for our man rights. She was a man who loved to dress as a woman, and everyone loved her. She disappeared — was probably murdered — because she dared to declare her identity loudly and publicly.
Patrick Califia is a trans man who has been an active spokesperson on behalf of queer love and sex for nearly forty years. He identifies as male. He also thinks that masculinity can be sexy and empowering, And he speaks eloquently of the triumphs and adversities of being driven by testosterone.
These are just two of the many kind, brilliant men who have spoken out for us all. When you say ‘I’m afraid of men’ you erase these brave and passionate men from our history.
I have one more point to make.
  Please do not be afraid. I know it’s hard to be brave. But fear looks backwards. Be angry at men who hurt you, at the men who are sexist, racist and transphobic and homophobic; but do not be afraid.
As a young drag queen, I strutted confidently in many ‘unsafe’ spaces. I read poetry in front of crowds of straight people, I led tours of my favourite sexual spots in the gay village, and I took a ragtaggle group of queers shopping for dresses with me in the Eaton Centre. I’m not bragging. But I am saying that to fight what is wrong demands courage. We must all have the courage to stride unabashedly into ‘unsafe’ space, straight space, alien space, oppressive space, and look the oppressor in the eye. Yes, we may be vilified, beaten, even murdered for our honesty. But we must do it if we are ever to win.
Vivek, I urge not to go the way of hate and fear, but instead to gather your courage and your gentleness.
It’s an old rage, and it must be cast aside.

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Hating Hadrian

I’m not a reviewer. If I was I’d have to evaluate this damned thing. I’d have to talk about those little diapers the pretty chorus boys wear (why not jockstraps or just, well — why not just nude?). I’d have to talk about Michael Gianfrancesco’s set and it’s over-liberal use of tired projections. I’d have to talk about Rufus Wainwright’s gorgeous music — music that I so loved listening to — and the complex challenges Daniel MacIvor’s poetry presents to a willing and open audience.
But I’m not a reviewer, thank God! So I’m not going to talk about any of that.
What I am going to talk about is a new Canadian hobby — hating the COC’s gay opera Hadrian. Now that the reviews are out and there are so very few bums in seats — ‘hating Hadrian’ has become a Canadian pastime — as common as not being politically engaged, or whining about the CBC.
When I attended on a Friday night, there were many, many empty seats. And people seemed to be making a little performance of their exits. John Terauds in the Toronto Star said it all: “We are never given a good reason why we need to see this.”
Right. I won’t list and/or analyze all the ideas in Hadrian, because this is not a review. 
I will ask one question though. Speculating about the foundations of early Christianity, the continuing origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the true nature of love — are those ideas?
In fact, if this opera could be accused of anything, it would be of having too many ideas. (But I won’t do that, because this isn’t a review.) 
Critics, however, have also called Hadrian ‘pompous.’ 
Certainly Hadrian, if nothing else, comes with a strong sense of it’s own weight, importance, and seriousness.
Why might that be?
I think Hinton, Wainright, MacIvor and the COC have done a very brave thing here. They have dared to produce a gay opera. That is revolutionary. When it comes to homosexuality, the classical music establishment is just slightly more open minded than the Taliban. Try mentioning at a gathering of composers and musical historians that Schubert was gay. You’ll get shouted down. And if there is a rock around, it will be thrown at you. Try suggesting (don’t you dare!) that Handel composed his early cantatas (1706-1723) for a coterie of homosexual aristocrats in Florence, Rome, and London, and that his operas have a clear ‘homosexual subtext’ (Harris, Ellen. Handel as Orpheus, 2004). Don’t you dare say it — someone might throw a harpsichord at you! And most of all don’t even think of imagining that either Samuel Barber or Gian Carlo Menotti (lifelong romantic partners) wrote any music of any value, or that their collaborative operas Vanessa and Antony and Cleopatra are anything but garbage.
Yes, Hadrian, is self consciously big, and elaborate, and important — but how could it be otherwise — when everyone involved knew from the start that the cards were so heavily stacked against them?
Yes. I can forgive Hadrian anything, because of that. 
This is not a review. 
However I will suggest that for the first revival of the opera I would prefer jockstraps. 
Speckled with glitter, 
if the budget allows.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

It’s a Mad, Mad World!

I’m not sure that movie title would be allowed today (It was a very bad movie, released in 1963 — but it featured a lot of great stars!). In fact, I have concerns about one of my favourite old Beatles’ songs ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.’ Remember — it’s a song about an insane, brutal, serial killer who mainly kills women. And it’s quite a cheery tune. No —‘madness’ as it used to be called, is no a laughing matter these days. And as we get more and more politically correct in the arts, it may be time to bury some old favourites deep in the cold, cold ground.
I thought about all this recently when I attended a play that had been funded by an arts program for artists with disabilities. I was certainly very pleased that these artists (some of them forgotten by the world) had this opportunity for funding, and I must say, the work was nothing if not interesting.
But it struck me that I hadn’t seen these artists perform for quite a long time. At least not since I ran Buddies in Bad Times Theatre 20 years ago. Yes, they were Buddies in Bad Times Theatre alumni. And they are very talented people. I have no idea what their disabilities are; but when I worked with them I certainly knew what their abilities were. I also knew that for whatever reason, it was not just their sexuality that made them appear ‘different’ to the outside world. There was another elephant in the room. But at Buddies these people were known only as ‘artists,’ not as ‘artists with disabilities.’ And suddenly I wondered — is it a good thing that they are classified that way now?
I mean, of course it’s important that excellent work be funded — perhaps how it is funded doesn’t matter. But it strikes me that the aesthetic we were promoting at Buddies back in the 80s and 90s was perhaps more radical than we thought. I was a great disciple of Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. In his controversial book Jaynes suggests that in ‘pre-conscious’ civilizations (which we now view as ‘primitive’) everyone in society heard voices, usually the voices of the God(s). We have now, generally speaking, lost this gift. In the modern ‘civilized’ world, we classify people who hear voices as schizophrenic. Jaynes suggested that there are others able to hear voices — people we now call ‘artists.’
Shakespeare says much the same thing when he says that ‘the lunatic, lover and the poet are all of imagination compact.’ I know it sounds very romantic and old-fashioned, but I do think that most real artists are more than a little mad. At times, when I was the artistic director of Buddies so many years ago, I felt that I was running a lunatic asylum. Not that I classify myself a non-lunatic — in this case one of the inmates was running the institution! And in fact this was true — because some of the artists working there were in fact the documented walking wounded of the mental health care system.
So which is better? Is it better that we have a special classification for artists with mental disorders — that ‘sane’ artists now do ‘sane’ work, and artists who are ‘mentally ill’ do ‘mentally ill’ work? Or would it be better if we lived in a world where artists are not separated by medical classification. What if instead we understood that all art is by nature, mad, — and all artists, are, by vocation, unhinged? And that being ‘mentally ill’ is an important element of their ability to shake up everyone else’s rather boring, complacent little world? 
But then again, I might just be crazy.

Monday, 30 July 2018

We Need a Memorial to Danny Cockerline!

 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

Leave THE KING AND I Alone!

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.
Blame ourselves.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Closeted Gay Men Will Save the Theatre

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.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

The Election of Doug Ford Makes it Clear as Day

The election of Doug Ford makes it clear as day. How did such an obviously corrupt and inept man became the premiere of Ontario?
Easy. This situation mirrors the election of Donald Trump. 
Voters were afraid of the ‘assault of the new.’
The ‘assault of the new’ is what I call gender and anti-racist politics. In the west, we have recently become more and more obsessed with recognizing the oppression of non-white peoples, and with ensuring that women take their rightful place in our society. The ramifications of these beliefs are huge. If the government has a dedicated anti-racism policy that means if you are out of a job a person of colour may get a job before you do— or become your boss. Valorizing women means disempowering straight men — which means not only that abortion will be every woman’s right but also that queer and trans people will be given power and agency too.
If you don’t understand what is so frightening about all of the above, then you are a politically correct, anti-racist, and anti-sexist person. Period. You don’t have to be a white male to understand — there are plenty of racist people of colour (Kanye West, anyone?) and sexist women (Women for Trump, anyone?). You just need to be a person who is, for whatever reason — and it may have nothing to do with your skin colour or gender — afraid of the ‘assault of the new.’
And for such people, the election of a black president in the United States, and a lesbian as premier in Ontario, were both hugely threatening events. For those who are a afraid of the ‘assault of the new,’ nothing about a candidate matters other than whether or not they are going to bring back the ‘old ways.’
Erich Fromm wrote a book called Escape From Freedom, about why people yearn for dictatorships. One of the reasons was that people need to ‘conform to a group norm.’ 
No group norm is as appealing as white male racism/sexism.
Whatever complaints we may have against Kathleen Wynne and Barack Obama they did not deserve the hate that was directed against them. Doug Ford, in contrast to Kathleen Wynne, will Make Ontario Great Again. This means he will bring assurance to those who are deeply, desperately, anti-racist and anti-women. There will be a bunch of old white straight guys in power again; and everyone who is afraid of the ‘assault of the new’ can take a deep breath.
Maybe you were confused, and thought this election was about fiscal responsibility, or Ontario Hydro?

Well, think again.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Are You ‘Woke’?

I came to understand the word ‘woke’ the other day. It is, for me, a relatively new term. A young theatre person (a ‘millennial') asked for some advice about a producer friend of mine. They wanted to hire her but they weren't sure. They asked me -- "Is she....woke?” Of course I didn’t know what they meant by ‘woke.’ They responded:  "Oh - woke --- it just means -- is she aware and informed about the latest trans issues?"
I am somewhat put off by the term ‘woke.’ It seems to to me to have an ‘evangelistic’ smell. It’s as if those who fully understand trans politics consider themselves ‘born again,’and  have ‘found Jesus.’ It suggests to me that their thinking is not so much made up of ideas, but instead a shared belief system based on instinctual understanding and faith that is never to be questioned.
I find this unsettling. But it is much more unsettling that the veteran producer they were asking about was eminently and publicly queer and outspoken in her activism. She is  an older woman (over 50) who was on the front lines of queer politics in the 80s. She has performed as a drag king, and is working class. Why would anyone wonder whether she was ‘woke’?
Evidently, it was simply because she was old.
Now I’m not suggesting that all the surviving aging queer activists from the 80s are perfect. I’m also not suggesting that older queers should never be questioned or challenged simply because they are old.
But why do young queer activists assume that older activists don’t know anything -- that they are not ‘woke?’
Could it be that present day millennial queer politics exists in a kind of vacuum? It’s evident to me that many millennial queers have not read Judith Butler or their Michel Foucault. But more importantly they know nothing of queer history. They don’t know for instance that the heroes at Stonewall were not ‘trans’ people -- the word ‘trans’ didn’t exist then -- instead, many of them were sex trade workers and drag queens. These millennials don’t know that hate speech, prejudice, access to washrooms, and issues about the relationship between gender and sexuality are not new. We have been fighting these battles for many, many years. But some millennials just don’t seem to realize that their ‘politic’ has its foundation in the politics of earlier generations of queer radicals.
Is she .......’woke’? 
What a question. 

She was awake and raging, baby, way before you were born.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

I’m Like Peter Pan: I Still Believe

John Ibbitson in the Globe and Mail is trying to be nice when he says -- “Bars have closed, and bathhouses.” He goes on to say that Church Street is nevertheless still important because it’s a place to: “have a coffee, read a book...” among sympathetic friends.
It’s all very comforting to imagine that all gay men, lesbians and trans folk are ‘making love’ with their lifetime committed married ‘partners’ -- or even with someone they met on a ‘dating app’ -- in the wall-to-wall-carpeted privacy of their middle-class homes.
Well I, for one, am not comforted.
For though it's true that bars and bathhouses on Church Street have closed, it’s not true the present day purpose of Church Street is only to provide a place for people to have a coffee with friends.
What about Spa Xcess? What about Steamworks (an international chain of bathhouses that still flourishes all over North America and in Toronto?)
Woody’s and the Eagle pack ‘em in like sardines on weekends. What about the kids lining up to get into Crews and Woody's with their bisexual friends? And what about toilets in the business district downtown?  And dark rooms? And what about all the orgies, crystal meth parties and condom-less sex that goes on in rented and private spaces?
So why this lie that we don’t need Church Street, except for ‘coffee’?
Well, it’s become politically correct to suggest that gay men are not having sex anymore outside of committed relationships. It’s so ‘retro’ to think of gay men as sexual outlaws. And gay men love to promote this lie because we like to think of ourselves as respectable, like those nice straight people.
The fact of the matter is that even in the Toronto ‘tolerance bubble’ kids still go through agonies coming out to their schools and their parents. And no queer couple is going to get away with necking in straight bars on Richmond Street. And if you step just slightly out of the bubble -- to Northern Ontario -- never mind Utah or Iran -- you stand a good chance of being beaten up or killed for being openly queer.
It doesn’t help to lie about the realities of gay life. The realities of gay life are not going away soon. 
Though many wish for homophobia to disappear, wishing doesn’t make it so.
Like Peter Pan, I still believe in ‘fairies.’

And if you’re honest with yourself, so do you.