Times are changing – on theatre and ‘boyography’
Over the last twelve months theatres everywhere have been hit by the pandemic. Many venues may never open again. This is a reality that had been hitting queer venues over recent years, with London, losing 60% of its queer venues over the last decade, as its audiences become absorbed into the mainstream theatres. As a queer writer and artist I want to create stories that are uniquely queer, for queer people not just about queer people. And now, since the hetero-normalisation of the gay lifestyle, being gay has become the new normal… So, what happens now, in a post-gay world?
Times are changing. It can’t help but be noticed that the gay agenda is different now. We are no longer the rare exotic creature to be looked at, as if from another world. There are certain stories our community needs to have told. And what about those of us who still want to feast with panthers? What do we have to feed our souls?
No more than ever we need to create art and theatre that doesn’t just “preach to the pervert”. We are so over “it’s okay to be gay’’ and there is a new wave of exploration coming. These are stories that are not just queer stories, but works that still resonate strongly within a wider audience, foreshadowing and interpreting relationships and situations from an intrinsically queer perspective, and thus giving a unique insight into the human and universal condition which affects us all.
As a queer artist I feel a duty to a past that is generally unknown. Our history is self-erasing – when we die the record of our lives are lost. In the past it has been wilfully destroyed, censored and misinterpreted. We need proof of our past to give us meaning. If the proof of our past is destroyed, then we have no meaning. Their world has presumed us something we are not. It’s now time to set the record queer. As a writer I always start from the premise that everything is queer.
This is not just a restorative act, to readdress everything that has been misinterpreted, censored, ignored and destroyed. This is an act of vengeance. Now is the time to start reclaiming our stories, and curating our culture, so that our future will know our past, with the hope that our present will be richer for it. With an intention of gathering people who are not welcome to gather anywhere else – to celebrate lives that the rest of the world does not see worthy of celebrating. As a writer and artist, I want our queer existence recognised in all its colours.
As a British-born gay of a certain age, I was born a criminal under the same laws that incarcerated Oscar Wilde in 1895. I was born the day John Lennon recorded ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, exactly ten years before Punk was born with the “filth and the fury” on The Grundy Show1.
Then – almost ten years to the day after Punk was born – Margaret Thatcher introduced a Local Government Act that would be amended by a 28th clause2. These were my defining moments. That was the world I was born into. In those days you had to pick a side. You were either gay or straight. You couldn’t be fluid. Everything was political, and you became an outlaw by birth and by design, and into the Manchester gay scene I was birthed.
Manchester was different from London because it had a village. It was different from American gay culture because it didn’t become obsessed with the AIDS epidemic. We didn’t have a Bible Belt and the hang-ups the Americans seem to have about their sexuality. We didn’t produce ‘The Boys In The Band’ (1968), ‘The Normal Heart’ (1985) or ‘Torch Song Trilogy’ (1988). It produced ‘Queer As Folk’ and ‘Shameless’.
Some of us never had a problem with our sexuality. The angst driven, self-loathing of the US and home countries was not our experience. We had no fear. We didn’t feel guilty. We didn’t feel ashamed of who we were. We were a million miles away – culturally and emotionally – from our neurotic and self-deprecating cousins over the pond. As Charles Darwin said of the isolated Galapagos Islands: “The natural history of this archipelago is very remarkable: it seems to be a little world within itself” – and the more I travel, the more I know this to be true – Manchester has a unique sets of factors that produce a unique set of evolutionary divergences within its LGBTQ+ community.
Now we’re all equal and everyone’s the same. But equality isn’t about making people the same. Some of us don’t want to be the same. They say that the best way to silence diversity is to stop it being diverse. But some of us still want to feast with Oscar Wilde’s panthers?
Enter ‘boyography’ a new genre of homoeroticism that is beginning to transcend binary sexuality. The term is probably best explained as a Western form of Japanese Bishōnen [美少年] – a sub-category of Yaoi Manga – and if I haven’t lost you yet, here’s a quick crash course in Yaoi and Bishōnen.
Yaoi emerged in the 1970s as a branch of Manga [comic book] created by female authors and aimed at a predominantly female audience who mockingly called themselves Fujoshi, or “rotten girls”. These Manga stories where unique, in the respect that they featured romantic and sexual relationships between their male characters who didn’t choose to self-identify as gay or bisexual. A 2010 report estimated that the Yaoi market was worth approximately £1.7 billion annually.
While Yaoi has become the umbrella term in the West for non-heterosexual Manga – there are in fact many other genres and sub-genres within this category. One such sub-genre is Bishōnen [美少年] – meaning “beautiful youth [boy]” – and describes an aesthetic that can be found throughout East Asia to identify those young men “whose beauty and sexual appeal transcends the boundaries of gender and sexual orientation” – an aesthetic that can also be found in the West dating back to the classical era and documented in Germaine Greer’s book ‘The Beautiful Boy’, published in 2003.
Boyography is a genre that is by its very nature interstitial because it exists between the fleeting worlds of childhood and adulthood, between male and female, gay and straight, good and evil, moral and immoral. It inhabits a realm of Artaudian fantasy and Foucault discovery. Boyography is the symbolic fit between the values and the lifestyles of a whole swathe of people who would identify themselves as other.
Globalisation has created a transculturalism and pop cosmopolitanism in people who want to prove their modish and sophisticated tastes by differentiating themselves from mass-mediated culture. These are the people who are inflected and influenced by a constellation of contexts, and explore (or want to explore) alternative sexual realities and lifestyles. Where people have dreams, society has the arts – theatre in particular. This is the place where people should go to exercise their feelings, develop their values and strengthen their core emotions – in an emotional gymnasium that works out the parts a traditional gym misses – where an audience can suspend their morality and their sexuality, and play with them as though they were nothing more than concepts.
When a Tory MP, like Crispin Blunt, says: “It’s the state of the world. Now we conduct one’s life in shades of grey.” [BBCTV, Newsnight, September 2015] and a tome like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ can become the best-selling book in Britain since records began selling 100 million copies worldwide – then you realise that the world is changing. People want to experience “the other” and experiment with their sexuality and morality. And to that end, maybe we all want to feast with panthers…
Enter Joe Exotic.
1 This is when the Sex Pistols swore live on early evening TV, and Bill Grundy lost his career and The Sex Pistols made theirs.
2 This was a law change in the UK that made it illegal to ‘promote’ homosexuality.
Filed under: Theatre & Dance