Sunday, 24 March 2019

Calum Marsh Gets It Wrong

Most people know me as a drag queen, a gay playwright and/or activist. So often — when I tell them what my 9-5 job is university professor — they say: “Good for you!” Yes, I’m not kidding. It is ‘good for me’ that I somehow triumphed over my crazy effeminate queerness and managed to snag a job. They do everything but pat me on the head.
I feel somewhat the same way about Calum Marsh’s latest article in the National Post: “Why Queer Eye makes me cry. Every. Time.”
Well ‘Queer Eye’ makes me cry, it really does, but for quite different reasons. 
Calum says that the old show ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’ was out of date because of ‘the stylish queen stereotype.’ Now, the show has been ‘revitalized’ with an ‘earnest unpretentious spirit’ of ‘infectious positivity.’ He portrays the queer-eyed-guys as therapists who help people by — instead of just dressing them up —  encouraging them, for instance, to eat more healthily, and to gain confidence.
Okay, got it. But these queer-eyed-guys are still helpers. The message of the show is that homosexuals are the world’s perpetual personal assistants. Gays don’t have a life of their own. (God help us if Netflix were flooded with shows about the real life stories of modern gay men!) No. Gay men exist to facilitate straight lives; to make straight lives better.
This justifies our existence, somewhat, because — without our knack for decorating, dressing and therapizing — we would be — for most people — merely pretty ornaments and/or dangerous sex fiends.
All of this flies in the face of history. Without gay men we would not have the modern novel (Proust) or the modern computer (Alan Turing). We would be without great scientists like Leonardo Da Vinci, George Washington Carver, and Alfred Kinsey. We would not have some of the most beautiful fiction ever written (Thomas Mann, Truman Capote, D.H. Lawrence, James Baldwin, Yukio Mishima) We would not have some of the most beautiful music ever composed (Handel, Lully, Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, Poulenc, Samuel Barber — and Schubert too, though the musicologists get very angry about this one!). Without gay men we would not have some of the greatest paintings ever created (Caravaggio and Michelangelo — to name two you might have heard of!), or two of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century (Wittgenstein and Foucault), as well as an ancient philosopher you also may recognize (Plato). And without Bayard Rustin — Martin Luther King’s closeted, gay, unheralded right hand man — we would not have the modern civil rights movement.
Oh yes, and we also happen to dress very well, and we also happen to be very good at helping heterosexuals sort out their inevitably screwed-up lives. 
(Just try being a heterosexual! I tried it once; it was a nightmare!) 
So Calum — why are you so obsessed with our modern Netflix identity as the ‘world’s personal assistants’ as opposed to our actual role in human history, which is being a major force in creation of human knowledge

Can you answer that one for me, Calum, huh?

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Why a Woman Should Not Play Lear

I shall have to wait until I’m dead before someone reads this essay and agrees with me.
Seeing Glenda Jackson in King Lear (previewing in New York City presently) was an enormous pleasure. She is an amazing actress and an amazing woman. At 82 to take command of this role in the way that she did — it was awe inspiring! 
I agree with non-traditional casting in general — and by this I mean that characters should be played by actors of any colour or gender — except in cases when such casting changes the meaning of the play in ways that are not intended.
This is what happens in Sam Gold’s production of King Lear.
Here is the first thing you will not agree with in this essay: Shakespeare was a feminist. ‘But,’ you say, ‘what about the fact that the leading characters in most of his plays are men — and his characters often say such awful things about women?’ True. But I would suggest that all Shakespeare’s tragic heroes suffer a crisis of masculinity — one that nearly destroys the patriarchy and kingship. Macbeth and Hamlet both find it difficult to act in manly fashion, and both Antony and Othello are brought down by their love of women. Lear is absolved of masculine privilege and his kingdom to boot — and ends up naked on the heath cursing thunder. Shakespeare is suggesting that Lear’s experience is a good one for a sexist, patriarchal male king.
Glenda Jackson is fully capable of presenting all the subtlety, strength, intelligence and hurt that is Lear’s. (At one point when she is wheeled forward slumped in a wheelchair, and she looks so much like Stephen Hawking — it will break your heart. And the ‘butterflies in a cage’ speech — it’s worth waiting for!). But Glenda Jackson is not a man. Part of Shakespeare’s dramaturgy is to bring a man with a male body and a penis under his clothes to centre stage and then humiliate him. The point is to decimate the male. This humiliation must be real or there is no drama. It is pointless to humiliate a woman in such a fashion. In fact doing so short circuits the feminist message. Are we to infer that women are just as bad as men? That they are responsible for the same sins as men?
One thing we can say for certain is that there is a patriarchy and male leadership is responsible for much of what is wrong with the world; this is what Shakespeare is saying. That message is undermined by putting a woman in the role; the play then becomes a less feminist play.
This is the problem with many stagings which attempt to correct the sexism of these old plays; it is done with no real understanding of the message of the play, or the message that non-traditional casting sends.
With Jayne Houdyshell’s brilliant portrayal of Gloucester in the the same production I have no casting problem. The character of Gloucester is not principally about the poisonous patriarchy; it is principally about blindness — it is about perception and reality. Thus, it makes no difference if a man or woman plays the role.
Years ago, I asked an artistic director of colour (who I won’t hold responsible for her remarks here) what her opinion was of what was then called ‘colour blind’ casting. She said: “As long as  the play is not a contemporary political one, where it would unintentionally change the meaning of the play, it’s an important thing to do.”
Because Shakespeare is, phenomenally,  still ‘our contemporary’ —  I must say, I agree.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

News Flash: Hormone Blockers Also Block Sexuality

The latest trend in child-rearing sees parents taking their children to gender clinics to deal with their children’s ‘gender issues.’ The CBC tells us “children's clinics across the country are seeing exponential growth in demand for treatment from teens who don't identify as the sex they were born with.”
What’s going on? Clinicians routinely say it all has to do with increasing awareness of transgender issues. But is that all that is happening?
It used to be that when boys were deemed ‘effeminate’  — that is, they liked to play with dolls — the psychological community used to think they were gay. Now boys who play with dolls (and girls who play with trucks) have moved from being labeled ‘gender dysphoric’ to the more politically correct label: ‘transgendered.’ We are told that their situation has nothing to do with sexuality, and everything to do with gender. But is it possible that these young people could be, in fact, gay and lesbian, and that they are are being told by well meaning but ill-informed clinicians and doctors ‘don’t worry, you are most likely transgendered?’
The likelihood of this scenario increases when you consider the effects of ‘hormone blockers’ which are the usual prescribed treatment for young people who come to ‘gender clinics.’ The effects have not been fully studied simply because hormone blockers have not been in wide use long enough to see the long term consequences. It is suspected, however, that they could effect bone development, fertility and brain function.
But it is a much more significant and immediate side effect of hormone blockers — one that is being universally ignored — that has me worried.  
I discovered this information in the Porto Biomedical Journal (available online at PBJ is “an open-access journal devoted to the publication of top quality original research conducted in the biomedical fields.The journal only accepts articles that undergo a strict revision process in a double-blind refereeing system.”
According to PBJ, hormone blockers do not simply block the process of menstruation and the development secondary sexual characteristics in teens, they also block the natural progression of teen sexuality. The journal states “the impact on sexuality has not yet been studied, but the restriction of sexual appetite brought about by blockers may prevent the adolescent from having age-appropriate socio-sexual experiences”….and also “in light of this fact, early interventions may interfere with the patient's development of a free sexuality and may limit her or his exploration of sexual orientation.”
Wow. So hormone blockers not only effect the gender of the child, but ensure that as they grow to adolescence they will be wiped clear — it seems — of all that pesky little thing called sexual desire! This is really scary. When parents come to a clinic with a little boy who plays with dolls, they can be assured that the child will not only have their gender changed to one more appropriate for their activities, but that their sexual experimentation during adolescence will be reduced, due to the restriction of their sexual appetite that comes with hormone blockers.
We live a homophobic culture. It is also a sexually schizophrenic one that recommends abstinence to combat venereal disease for the same young people who can easily access porn online. In this contradictory, damaged sexual culture, parents can  — utilizing hormone blockers —not only change their children’s gender, but also rest assured that their children’s adolescent sexual shenanigans will be ‘under control.’

Brave New World, anyone?