Gay In A Manger is promiscuous, filthy, dirty, kinky and for adults only. Gay has meant these things to outsiders (and insiders) for a long time. I began to ask myself, why is this? Is this what it means to be queer, and make queer art? And, does this bother me?
When it comes to queerness, radical expressions of sexuality are embraced. The split in feminism stemming from the 80s demonstrates this; the queer-feminist movement differentiates itself by being sex-positive. In fact one of its defining features is its support and involvement in radical sex practices – BDSM, Kink, Polyamory etc. I’ve experienced the positives of this not only in Rosana’s work but also in the Glasgow Feminist Collective. The LGBT community embraces sex positivity. That certainly doesn't bother me.
Does being queer mean you’re more likely to be involved in radical sex practices? Perhaps it’s not that homosexuality is any more filthy or promiscuous, but going against heteronormativity means a natural objectivity and distance from the norm = freedom to make a comment, & embrace the queer. Ok, all positive stuff.
So what part of the overtly sexual nature of GIAM was I having difficulty with? This guy sums up what I think is the niggling thing:
Finally I got it. As a queer person who to date has partaken in one monogamous relationship (and engagement), and is pretty much down with that whole shabang, I do get bothered by queer = sex. My sexual identity is not just about who I sleep with. Queer is my way of being, I act, think, believe and imagine queer. But if I can't embrace the fact that queer can be about sex, then who am I to call myself queer? What am I doing in a queer show? It was my own insecurities, not the nature of queerness that was getting to me.
Then, I was lucky enough to go to San Francisco. Land of the queers, home of the homos… you get the picture; you’ve heard the stories. So, I got a bit of a shock when I went to visit the Centre for Sex & Culture. They have an amazing library full of all things on queer sex/uality. I had the privilege of speaking with Robert Lawrence who runs the centre with his partner. He told me in great detail about the demise of the queer scene in San Francisco. The basic was this; corporate folk like Google and Twitter (‘the techies’) had moved in causing rent prices to rocket. The grass-root queers couldn’t afford it anymore. They were moving out of the city to cheaper places. What’s more, after consumerism rolled in during the 60s and slowly gay culture got assimilated in to the mainstream (check The Castro), queer spaces started dying out.
‘Gay’s the new straight, it’s a lot easier to live in a society than outside of it’ - Robert Lawrence
‘it’s going to die out, unless younger generations fight for it. And I mean really fight’
Yes GIAM is sexualised queerness, but damn is it important to see that on stage, in life. Promiscuity, being rude and crude, overtly sexual - these things aren’t bad, but our society is so inundated with sex-negativity that I had worried about GIAM being explicitly queer in that way.
I let it go and I re-realised; making something that is explicitly queer is vital to enhance queer visibility. To keeping queer alive.
‘Gay advocates have been extremely effective in their advocacy for the right to be “honest and open” about who “they really are”, though they often confine expression to the bed room, not to how they look, act or dress in public. This is like asking for the right to be gay, but not the right to look or act gay’ (Queer Theory, Gender Theory, Wilchins, 2004, p.15)
It’s the age-old split between assimilation and revolution, consumerism and anti-capitalism in the gay movement.
Changes in the way society is structured and policy changes within existing institutions are both important. But we must not forget to be defiant against appropriation and commercialization of queerness. Because you know what, how visible are we really beyond the ‘acceptably gay’? In terms of the law I’m much freer than I used to be to express my love/desire publically. Where the law once held older generations of queers back from visibility, it seems the social constraints these laws reflected as well as maintained still reign supreme.
So, actually, past me, it’s great that GIAM is full of queer tropes. It's addressing the right to look, act and dress gay/queer/other outside of the home.
Plus, it quells one massive trope – the tragic gay. The show is a celebration not a struggle.
Does this mean the work I make will always have this level of queerness? No. Rosana’s work is on a spectrum, Walking:Holding to GIAM, they are not explicit in the same way. Can I call myself queer? Absolutely.
As Elizabeth Daumer said:
‘In the queer universe, to be queer implies that not everybody is queer in the same way. it implies a willingness to articulate their own queerness’
(Who is that queer queer, p.170, 1999)
Also, this is a wonderful blog on identifying as queer that made me happy.