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.