A Gay In A Manger

Dude, where’s my queer? Part 2; Further resistance by white-privileged me

There’s one problematic thing about the term queer, which is simultaneously the thing that makes it so great. It works as an umbrella term, to encompass lots of things. That’s great in theory, to aid in working towards a society that discards labels and categories. The problem is, we still live in a society, a world, full of inequality. But because queer as a blanket term to those who actually may have many Other identities (race, class etc), it runs the risk of silencing those who's difference in identity means a difference in privilege. This is perhaps one of the reasons why queer has often been at loggerheads with feminism.

‘Queer is used as a false unifying umbrella which all “queers” of all races, ethnicities and classes are shoved under. At times we need this umbrella to solidify our ranks against outsiders. But even when we seek shelter under it we must not forget that it homogenises, erases our differences’ (Gloria Anzaldua speaking in Who is that queer queer? Goldman, 1996)

As a white, middle-class woman, I am uncomfortably privileged. Goldman suggests in her essay that perhaps white academics and writers stray away from issues of race/class in fear it renders them ‘less queer’. I’m more worried about who my privilige is over-shadowing when I identify as queer.

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So I’ve checked my privilege,  what next? What's the best way to live with that awareness?

That said, I do still identify as a woman, and that has its own set of problems in relation to queerness.

‘Due to discourses centering around whites and men, as queer becomes more popular amongst these dominant groups, it will increasingly come to represent the dominant group’ (Who is that queer queer?, Goldman, 1996)

I’ve seen glimpses of this at Homotopia and Glasgay, women being written out of queer but it being harder to bring up due it being a queer (and therefore assumed equal) space.

Goldman seems to think that the answer, in relation to race and class in particular, is for more white queer theorists to write about issues surrounding these. Currently white academics dominate the discourse, and perhaps if they were to address how anti-normative identities effect queerness, it may become a more welcoming space for academics of colour.

In relation to my practice, this means not forgetting to call out sexism but also to remember my perspective is a privileged one. As Goldman puts it:

‘we should strive to continuously problematise that which we have created – that we identify the constructed silences within our work and transform them into meaningful discourses’ (Who is that queer queer? Goldman, 1996)

Indeed, I shall. This is why I’m all for the (queer) feminist movement that is swooping in. It’s instant and media based, which means anyone can jump on board. This recent guardian article calls for an intellectual voice. I disagree; I think we’re moving away from a feminism that lives in books written from a wholly white middle-class perspective. Today it’s opening up so that the queer feminist perspective is not just one perspective, the freedom for anyone to blog and tweet means queers of all kinds can contribute to educating each other. It’s not just about whether you check you privilege anymore, it’s how you act after obtaining that awareness.

Dude, where's my queer? My resistance addressed.

gaymen 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:

LGBTGnation.com - VCU students are cool

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

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‘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.

CLICK TO READ - GLBT history museum

 

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.

these antics are important

A Gay In A Manger. A full on Christmas show hosted by Tranny and Roseannah. A shocking, messy, provocative, chaotic, anarchic, queer, in-your-face, sexual, rude, crude, hilarious re-writing of The Nativity… The Arches Christmas show Rosana is making with Laurie Brown, Adrian Howells and unexpectedly Eilidh MacAskill, and… me. One massive, crucial difference to the show compared to all the other things I’ve got to observe, I’m in it. Now, it’s not that I’m highlighting this for my ego or to seem self-obsessed, I will get to dissecting all the interesting things it brought up as best I can - promise. I start with this point, as I’d like to think, it is a culmination of all my thoughts on Rosana’s practice. It’s a break down of the placement-placement provider relationship. It’s a step towards me as a collaborator beyond this course. I am by no means to thank for its creative genius, but I wasn’t just 'the placement', I was a performer. It is a great way to end the placement, alongside the artist. Not only that, but my role as ‘tiny tim’ who has to make drinks, clean and generally get bossed about by everyone else, directly addresses and satirises the usual treatment of ‘the work experience’. Basically, it deconstructs the hierarchical nature of institutions, and the art world. Hurrah. A Gay In A Manger

It’s pretty odd trying to be objective about a performance and trying to imagine what it must be like to walk in as an audience member. So I shall try to speak from my unique experience of being within it. A Gay In A Manger is a good hard kick against the Christmas Panto, and the general merriment that goes with the festive season. Christmas, Christianity, The Nativity, it’s all full of love and joy. As long as you’re part of a heteronormative, probably white, western, consumerist- family that is. You only need to look at Glasgow’s (and surrounding area) array of Christmas shows to see for yourself:

Aladdin - The King's Theatre

The Jungle Book - The Citizens Theatre

Beauty and The Beast, Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling

Hanzel and Gretel, Theatre Royal

The Tron dips it toe outside the mainstream with its version of Peter Pan

A Christmas Carol - The Lyceum

A Gay In A Manger is important for many reasons, but here are four key ones:

It kicks against the happy-clappy-everything’s-great-at-Christmas vibe

 

From its trashy, homeless setting, to its ventures in to glimpses of rape (involving an audience member in a donkey mask), nothing is sparkly or superficially joyous about GIAM. It brings up abuse, alcoholism, pedaphilia and poverty via comedy in the face of Christmas. There’s no ‘happy ending’ or good triumph over bad, just many moments which push the audience to ask themselves – have we really gone here? A slightly pervy Grandad, a gay couple turned away from a hotel for being homosexual, a poor junkie Inn-keeper, a dogs-body used to do everything for everyone, a scary birth of Jesus and ultimately death. Not the usual things you see in a Christmas show, or depicted in your Christmas adverts for that matter. Cue sigh of relief. That said, it also is an outrageous and rawkus party - you don't know where you'll be at the end of the night.

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It is unashamedly queer and genderqueer

 

Just from its title, it attracts (in general) an audience who are at least willing to attempt to deal with the kind of dark humour and blasphemy GIAM contains. It is subversive simply for using homosexuality in the same breath as religion. The title on its own, as pointed out to the few who complained to The Arches, is only offensive if you deem ‘gay’ as an insult. The piece for sure makes fun of the religious story, but for good reason. For a long time I’ve been frustrated with the amount politics and politicans seem to be up for satirising, but religion is always viewed as far too sacred.

GIAM plays with religion by the queering of the nativity. Mary and Joseph become two men named Mary and Mary. Even though this is done playfully, it really does bring in to question the complete eradication of homosexual stories from the bible, and in fact most of history.

 

The Angel Gabriel is a camp aerobics teacher in a leotard

God is a wobbling thing with gold cloth on its head (who actually has sex with Mary)

The shepards and wise men are all women

Jesus is a screaming naked head-shaved lesbian (being pulled from under a bed)

In fact gender-bending is a general given, what with the hosts being Tranny and Roseannah, and a woman dressed as an old man playing Grandad, and androgynous me probably looking like a 14 year old boy in an oversized coat. And hey, why not? As Riki Wilchins puts it in her book that summarises queer theory:

‘Homosexuality itself is the most profound transgression of the primary rule of gender; girls sleep with boys and boys sleep with girls’

She says from a political stand point it’s difficult – if not impossible- for gay activists to pursue the right to their sexual orientation without addressing issues of gender. (Queer Theory, Gender Theory, Wilchins, p.15-16)

Futhermore, it is not afraid to be grotesque, disgusting or deal with the abusive in its depiction of queer sex. From Tranny licking out a chicken to ‘prepare it’, Mary going cruising, the afore-mentioned donkey moment (donkey in strap-on), God shoving an audience member into its crotch and simulating sex, and many innuendos with Grandad, GIAM does not shy away from tropes associated with queerness. Promiscuity, Kink, BDSM (and wrongly abuse and pedaphillia) are all things synonymous with queer. Although obviously this is not true for all queers, GIAM does not shy away from them. And nor should it. It's about time we saw more queer sex on stage.

It holds live-art principals at its heart

GIAM is essential in its anarchy. It’s heavily improvised, heavily reliant on audience participation. The audience doesn’t just get to sit back and watch the moments, it partakes in many. The entire cast of main roles is made up of audience members. Similar to My Big Sister... the audience is given a live experience. They don’t just watch the queer, they join in with the queer.

‘What the sex/art community will tell you is that in order to challenge ‘sex negative’ culture, it is not enough to talk about, represent or even witness sexual practice as performance, but that the opportunity to participate has to be on the table’ (Forget Provocation, Let’s Have Sex, Dance Theatre Journal)

There may not be any sex acts between humans that literally happen, but there is much flirtation and the occasional boob-grab that make it not so far off.

Similar to Walking:Holding, the audience is a collaborator that makes the show what it is. Particularly the first night, I felt accuately aware of the audience and us being in this one room all together. We were a whole, going through this potentially transformative experience as one. It pushes the audience out of its comfort zone, to the point where anything could happen, but no one will made to partake if they don’t want to. There were comments I heard being thrown about about audience consent and the ethics around that. I ask, what’s a more ethical way to treat your audience? Making them adhere to the theatre etiquette of politeness and having to sit in the dark knowing they're powerless to the events on stage, or releasing them of that – they can shout, laugh, walk out, come on stage, and we directly respond to them? The latter, surely?

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It’s full of women

Three queer women, one guy. Not only does this make many moments less problematic (pedo Grandad being one), but it is direct action against a male-dominated art world. Rosana (tranny) being half naked through-out de-sexualises the female body, and her deliberately grotesque acts defy female nudity equating to beauty. All the female expressions of sexuality are queer, its androgynous, sometimes butch, it hits on audience members, it performs a ‘lesbian’ sex act on a chicken, on Mary. The women aren’t always dressed as typically feminine, or even identifiably female, they tell the story, they host, they are powerful, powerless, on stage, in the audience, lap-dancing, dragging-up, a woman playing a man playing a woman. They aren’t fairies, or queens, or mothers, or angels, or in sexy santa outfits, or written out of the story until they are invisible. Yes.

It's not for everyone. Glasgow was barely ready for it. But we all know where the queer's at this Christmas, that's for sure.

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