the NEXT good thing.

Always be yourself, unless you can be a unicorn.

This past week I went and saw the play Cock at the Duke theater here in New York.  This is a very sparsely written, sparsely staged show in which a young, handsome man must choose between his boyfriend and a woman who he has unexpectedly fallen in love with.  As Boyfriend and Girl battle for the attention of the indecisive, identity crisis victim there are many funny lines urging him to do what is natural: living a heterosexual social existence, or following his “born in” gayness.  Somehow bisexuality as a concept is only briefly mentioned, but mostly this play is about choice. choice choice choice.

Leaving the theatre I was talking to my companions about how much I liked the show, but how I was surprised that it had opened up this debate which I had thought we already finished. Aren’t we, I said, beyond the point where people believe they can choose their sexuality. We are Born This Way to quote Lady Gaga.  The response I got from my friend surprised me, and it was actually the second time in one week that I had someone describe choice as the next era in identity politics.

Please let me backup: Earlier that week my dear friend Cale and I had a long conversation over ramen about  Lady Gaga (it seems she enters all conversations about identity) and how she was “a disappointment” to Cale.  At first I was indignant.  Who could be disappointed? I balked.  I said it not as a worshiping fan, but as a person alive in 2012. Gaga might be an acquired taste, but she is notable enough and successful enough that “disappointed” felt like an odd word.  Cale explained, and I will now paraphrase:

We’ve already had champions for the just be yourself/just love yourself movement. This is something we covered in the 90s and earlier. “it’s ok to be gay.” “black is beautiful.” These kinds expressions are good because they confront discrimination but they are still based on one era of identity politics: the What-you-are is Who-you-are era.  When Gaga first came on the scene and was acting crazy I was really excited because she wasn’t just acting crazy she was defying categories. What type of person wears a meat dress? well no type. Gaga was creating this elaborate personality that wasn’t actually based on race, religion, or gender.  She was simply who she was, with no category of what she was. And so the underlying message wasn’t What-you-are is Who-you-are, it was: Explode-who-you-are and go invent yourself. This is an era of identity politics with much more choice. But then she released the album Born This Way and everything imploded because you don’t have any creative power anymore; you were just born this way. the end.

I’ve shared this conversation with several people and gotten a lot of mixed responses. But it opened up in my head the concept of looking toward choice as the NEXT good thing.  My theatre companion for the show Cock suggested to me: perhaps this play was operating in a space where this man’s sexuality was a choice and not inherent. After all, there was not easy answer for the main character.  He couldn’t just detect who he was attracted to, he had to choose. And it takes him a play’s worth of time.

So what do I think: I want people to believe it’s ok to be gay. And for now having no explanation other than your genetic makeup is nice. The fact that “it’s not a choice” has been a great defense for gay people, disabled people, and minorities. But as two friends in one week have expressed to me, maybe there’s a new era of social justice where (as long as your not hurting anyone) your choices should be respected too, not just traits that you were born with.  That sentence sounds really obvious when I read it back, but in my mind it was a subtle shift. Perhaps we can have it both ways? what you are is ok… and what you choose is ok too.

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La Cage vs. MJ vs. Gaga

Eventually I was going to have to mention that I work at Samuel French. SF is a play publisher and licensing house.  This means that theaters, churches or schools apply to us for performance rights for any of the titles in our catalogue.  Recently we were astonished when a public school in New York City (less than a mile from Broadway) was approved to perform La Cage Aux Folles.

We were suprised not only someone so near would be approved, not only that a school with kids aged 7-12 was doing La Cage,  But also …because it was school for children with special needs.  All of my office mates wanted to go, but I was really torn from the beginning. I wanted to absolutely make sure that we weren’t attending in a mean spirited way.  I went.

Before the curtain the director made a very impassioned speech at the beginning explaining to the roomful of parents WHY she had chosen to do La Cage aux Folles with Middle-School kids. She spoke out against gay slurs and general intolerance of difference. After a short scene inwhich young kids simulated calling each other fags on the playground the director resumed her talk, and explained that her greatest gift to these children would be to teach them that EVERYONE operates differently, but that doesn’t mean that ANYONE is less.

I was really moved by how she pulled everything together and later on I was really effected by the 12 year old boy from a special needs school singing I am what I am…but I did laugh. a lot.  Not at the kids, but at the show itself.  This school and changed, rearranged, added and cut and insane amount of material.  To give you a slight idea…here is the songlist from the evening:

We Are Family*
Speechless**
The Way you Make Me Feel**
With You on my Arm***
Human Nature**
I Am What I am***

Intermission

Bad**
Look Over There***
ABC****
Best of Times is Now***
Papparazzi*****
We Are Family (Reprise)*
I Am What I Am (Reprise)***
Human Nature (Reprise)**

KEY for Song credit:
*Pointer Sisters
**Michael Jackson
***Jerry Herman (the creator of La Cage Aux Folles)
****The Jackson 5
*****Lady Gaga

This show was hysterical. Aside from the fact that the whole show ended with the a reprise of Michael Jackson’s Human Nature, I most enjoyed “ABC” which was actually sung outside the story arc of La Cage by a student who was was discontent with the casting of “spring play twenty-ten” and wanted a solo although cast in the ensemble.  this was all explained in the preceding monologue.  How Meta!