Tagged under "literature" (2)
|Sister Spit Schoolz LA in Gay|
As a self identified queer girl with my privileged women's studies education behind me, I am constantly surprised by the efforts of gay Angelino's to mimic straight culture. Gay geography is LA is somewhat limited to West Hollywood, land of lesbians who look like straight celebrities, who aren't expressing their sexuality anywhere else but at the bar. Queer ideas of gender identity, sexual expression and social interactions expressed through aesthetics, personal intention and values have become harder to find here. Which is why I was beside myself to spend an evening in June listening to the writers of Sister Spit read their work at the Hammer Museum in West LA. The legendary touring company Sister Spit is a rotating crew of female novelists, performance artists, poets and the like who have been bringing queer art and lit to the stage since the 90's. To quote member Eileen Myles, "Sister Spit is a movement of brilliant losers."
Queer culture in la la Los Angeles consists of...um, well nothing...
In La La, you're more likely to see Tila dancing on the bar on Friday in West Hollywood than you are to find any diverse representations of gender and sex in lgbt spaces. But Tila Tequila is straight you say? Exactly.
We only do things in La La that can be packaged for cable. We have 'fierce' gay boys that make excellent stylists and lesbians that look like competitors on the latest season of the bachelor. Here, we are giant stereotypes of ourselves. Boys are still the effeminate comic relief they've been playing on screen for a century. Women are just now relaxing into our own palatable and empowered (?) on screen role as the lipstick lesbian. We look and act just as hetero-dominant culture asks us to.
That's what we do in LA, we export culture. We tell the world, through film and television, through media, how to dress, act, think, and be consumers of the dominant culture. Living here is like being in a constant reality show. We are always competing to be as beautiful, as thin, as tanned, as rich, as straight as the images we sell through movies and television. Here, the only way you can identify a lesbian is by who she sleeps with. The other signifiers of queerness that arise when rules of sex and gender are tested are barely visible.
Listening to the members of Sister Spit read, I thought about the discursive evolution of the term 'queer'. I thought about Michelle Tea's mesmerizing description of the relationship between her hap hazard femme narrator and her FTM boyfriend with strong but delicate hands. I don't see these relationships here in LA. There is no room for play with gender here. Once upon a time we tried. But when The L Word solidified lesbianism as a marketing demographic, dykes got tired and moved to Brooklyn and I had to grow my shaved head out to find a job. What I miss specifically about queer culture is the act of appropriating gender binaries for the sake of their blurring. I miss the fact that maleness can be, and is, known within femaleness. Sister Spit reminded me that in some spaces, queer women are seeking the empowerment that we all seek as a society, that which occurs only when we reach past systems of duality, male-female, hetero-homo, white-of color, wealthy-poor.
Tagged on July 9, 2008
|27 Rue de Fleurus: A New Musical|
Last weekend, I checked out a Saturday performance of a new off-Broadway musical, 27 Rue de Fleurus, which tells the story of the relationship between trailblazing writer and philosopher Gertrude Stein and her lifelong partner, Alice B. Toklas, which spanned most of the first half of the 20th century. Though much has been written about Stein's life, very little time has been devoted to Toklas' side of the story until now.
Featuring an all-female cast, mostly made up of Broadway veterans, 27 Rue de Fleurus is narrated by Toklas, brilliantly played by Cheryl Stern. The structure of the production consists of Toklas leading us through time, speaking from the vantage point of the afterlife. Stein (Barbara Rosenblat) is also present, but while she would have had the center stage during their life together, Toklas keeps her at bay and tells their story as she remembers it. For all of her bluster, Stein's utter devotion to Toklas' quiet strength becomes more and more obvious as the play unfolds, because as she tries to downplay moments of weakness and imperfection, Toklas' character is always allowed to give the final word. The musical score is at once raunchy and tender, with songs like "Role Play", which describes their ways of keeping a married sex life interesting, and "Be My Wife", Stein's proposal to Toklas. Perhaps the most touching aspect of this production is the simplicity with which their relationship is dealt. It does not dwell specifically on the issue of Stein's sexual orientation, though she addresses it briefly and makes no apologies to the accusations of her disapproving brother, Leo Stein. Historical contemporaries such as Pablo Picasso, Sylvia Beach, and even Jean Harlow appear to spice up the plot, mostly during the "salon" scenes taking place in Stein and Toklas' living room at 27 Rue de Fleurus in France. Each one helps to complete the full portrait of the incredibly vibrant and fascinating life these two women led together in the heart of early 20th century intellectual discourse.
What we have here is a love story, fraught with jealousy and passion like others, but most of all, it celebrates the incredible bond between two women who decided to share their lives, even during a time when it was relatively unheard of. Gertrude Stein may have been a strong and formidable figure, but the lesson the audience comes away with is that she would not have been able to reach her full potential without the incredible support offered by her wife, Alice. It's an old story, to be sure. But when was the last time it was told about two women in such a traditional setting? That alone makes 27 Rue de Fleurus worth an evening of your time.
Directed by Frances Hill, the production will be running until April 6th at Urban Stages (259 W. 30th St.), and you can buy tickets here.
Tagged on March 18, 2008