Thursday, June 23, 2016

(Privileged) Naked Boys Singing: The Sequel

Like yesterday, but with bigger, less entertaining words...

Yup, I was curt with a community theatre troupe yesterday. No, I'm not sorry.

I definitely experienced some typical *white man reacts poorly when confronted with privilege* behavior from more than one person associated with Toto Too's Naked Boys Singing. FTR, it's a privilege to declare when a critique is "convenient" or "appropriate". Most Torontonians don't want to think about a wealthy slave-owning family every time they're on Jarvis Street, but that's the unavoidable inconvenient context.

My post was an act of protest against the lack of effort on the part of Toto Too producers to create an inclusive show. I have no enthusiasm or solidarity to offer Naked Boys Singing, and I vehemently reject that queers should be less critical of queer organizations and events on the basis of assumed sameness. Our activisms will look very different more often than not. To the quick defenders of the play, I remind you that it is more fundamental to offer accountability than demand solidarity.

I reiterate; I directed no ill words toward any of the actors who performed, nor would I, having not seen the show. In truth, I commend their audacity. I commented on administrative and creative decisions. I did so because these decisions in combination created a palpable "gay men's club" pretext for the show.

There was no effort to use inclusive language in any of the advertising, and the styling of the promotional material unarguably communicated the idea that the objectification of gay men's bodies was a large part of the viewing experience. From everything I've read, the show purposefully resists lewdness. The difference between "musical with nudity" versus "peep show with music" was blurred to the end of reinforcing the ideal viewer as a gay man willing to spend 30$. The venue isn't wheelchair accessible, and I have no reason to believe that respects were paid for our presence on aboriginal lands at the onset or that the venue's bathrooms were made all-gender for the duration of the show. (I will happily retract these assumptions with proof to the contrary.)

There's nothing "wrong" with how Naked Boys Singing was produced, but they can't have their capitalist cake and eat their queer solidarity too. To most, queer solidarity looks like commitment to liberation spaces that take into account people's financial, physical, and social means to participate. By choice or complicity, the production unfurled in a way that was inconsiderate of disadvantaged members of Ottawa's queer communities.

In capitalist terms Toto Too's Naked Boys Singing is peachy. Free labour is propping up the non-profit industrial complex and delivering a service for which there is demand. Problem: a lot of us don't want a capitalist queer movement. "Queer community theatre" means a diligent commitment to creating inclusive programming.

I could have been nice. I could have written an email drawing attention to their ignorance, suggesting they apologize gingerly for the oversight and offer the remaining unsold tickets as pay-what-you-can, but we don't live in a world where being nice gets things done.

Instead, I took a strip off a presumed "ally", nailed a catchy headline, and got 500+ blog views. Yeah, #sorrynotsorry.

In real analog life, I probably stoked tens, maybe a hundred, meaningful conversations about what inclusivity in queer community theatre settings might look like. Addressing the shortcomings of the well-intentioned is no less an important task for social change than educating the masses.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

(Privileged) Naked Boys Singing

Ottawa's Toto Too Theatre group left out the "community" in community theatre when they produced Naked Boys Singing. The show stars seven Ottawans of diverse backgrounds and levels of talent, but this prose is not a theatre critique; it's a social critique.

Full disclosure, I inquired about the audition process when it happened in March. I withdrew after learning there was no compensation or honorarium for the performers whatsoever. Instead, any profits the show made would be donated to a partner charity.


There will have been a total of 12 shows with each cast member appearing in full nudity at least twice per show. The show also required weeks of unpaid practice sessions. I'm all about body positivity and free expression, but Toto Too's Naked Boys Singing production was cast with financial means assumed.

Production again assumed financial means by offering no sliding-scale or pay-what-you-can tickets. Tickets are $24-30 (discount applied to seniors and students).

The advertising campaign also left much to be desired. I would have run screaming from the photoshoot, but part of my personal artistry is having tight control of my image. The problem isn't personal taste; it's how alienating the campaign was to queer women in particular. When seven naked dudes holding meat tenderizers is the best poster, you may have a problem. For a show that purposefully eschews lewdness, I can't understand why the advertising wasn't more appropriate.

(If you read through the whole slideshow, you may have noticed "queer" wasn't written once...)

The director and production team lost their way curating a show for and by middle-class gay men. Needless to say, I don't feel the need to see a show fueled by ego and privilege.

Monday, June 13, 2016

On Tragedy: A Biopolitical Diary Entry

Bullets razed my sense of self for the third time. The first two happened within months of each other in 2014. First Moncton and then Ottawa were put on lockdown because of armed lone gunmen. Three RCMP officers and one Canadian Armed Forces member were the respective victims of those attacks. Two days ago, 50 were shot dead and 53 wounded at a queer bar in Orlando.

After the Ottawa shooting, I wrote that both my homes had been attacked; they had. The two places where my life has unfolded were rocked by gun violence, and three men with the same job as my father died.

Reports trickled in about the haunting millennial scene of cellphones ringing off the hook in the pockets and purses of dead bodies. Loved ones seeking word of their safety in vain and desperation. While this generational context struck me, sadness still managed to escape me.

It's not that I don't understand queer spaces are sacred. They're certainly as much home for me as Ottawa or New Brunswick. I'm a late-to-the-game club kid. Rocking a glitterbeard, led lights, or eyeliner out to a bar is pretty much my favorite. And as a non-binary, I literally can't tell you how much more comfortable a space feels with all gender/unpoliced bathrooms.

I learned I was three connections removed to at least one of the victims. It still didn't hit me.

The identity politics of the Orlando attack connected the tragedy to many queer people, but the "gay community" has never really been a source of comfort for me. I didn't have the "this could happen to me" moment many experienced. Largely, the bonkers context of American gun control failure allowed me to logically sever the possibility of this kind of violence.

This morning, I felt it. It wasn't "what if this happened to another queer bar?" It was "what if this happened to Carleton?"

I struggle with placelessness, and Carleton University is place on Earth I feel most at home. I've moved and changed so much in my decade of adulthood that few things have stayed constant, except Carleton.

Carleton University and queer bars are the poles of my relationship with home spaces. At one end Carleton, where I earned my place through every reasonable metric. At the opposite, queer bars and spaces are home because they require no earning of place.

Mass shootings happen at colleges and universities all the time.

And there it was, enough sadness and anger to write this post.

I do not place much value on mourning, personally. I understand its value and significance for others, but loss without action is the real tragedy.

Many are quick to point to gun control and homophobia as the "problems that need to be resolved". Well, and xenophobic dickbags will use the shooters religion to defame and discriminate against Muslims. While, I agree with confronting homophobia and gun control, I'm more concerned with the consequences these attacks have on fundamental freedom.

The violence at campuses and queer bars reveals two troubling things. First, spaces considered bastions of civil liberties are under physical attack. Second, the response to these events has been to protect freedom, rather than expand it.

Why are there specific spaces where being administered by the idea of equality is so noticeably different from the general setting that they can be identified and attacked? We must strengthen the pillaged pillars of free expression and trade in allyship for solidarity.

How many patrons of Pulse didn't have real freedom by nature of their gender non-conformity, immigration status, (dis)ability, lack of educational opportunities, or poverty? The struggles of queer people do not magically disappear at the bar.

Pro-queer sentiments and hashtags trended worldwide. So what? We have to build a better world because the world that killed those 50 people; it fucking sucks.