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.