It Was 25 Years Ago Today

Selections from the Village Voice's annual Queer Issue

We Invented Irony
Robert Chesley, Holly Hughes, and Lanford Wilson

Interviewed by Robert Massa

What types of gay plays are likely to be produced and which are not?


The 25th Annual Queer Issue

  • Beyond the Stepford Queers
    Welcome to the age of do-it-yourself identity
  • I Ruck, Therefore I Am
    Rugby and the gay male body
    Christopher Stahl
  • My Big Fat Funky Queer Marriage
    Forget the rice. (We're on Atkins.) No his-and-his towels. (Nothing matches in our house.) Just give us Viagra—and wish us well
    by Richard Goldstein
  • Transmale Nation
    Remaking manhood in the genderqueer generation
    by Elizabeth Cline
  • The Great Gay Way
    A brief history of Christopher Street
    by Wayne Hoffman
  • Elements Of Style: Chasing Rainbows
    Peace tees, platform shoes, and big pussies get ready for Pride day
    by Lynn Yaeger
  • Listings: There She Is, Miss L.E.S.
    She'll Take the Town by Storm
    by Keisha Franklin
  • Pride Events
  • Hughes: Plays that apologize or explain to straight society are more commercial.

    Wilson: That's true in movies or TV, but theatre gives gay writers a chance to be straightforward. The theatre is really the only public forum a gay writer has.

    What topics are not accepted, even by gay audiences?

    Chesley: Sex.

    Wilson: Yes.

    Chesley: There's a large range of sexual practices, impulses and ways of being that are highly stigmatized in this society and still radical in gay theatre.

    Wilson: If it gets the least bit kinky or promiscuous, you're in trouble.

    Hughes: Among lesbians, there's a big pressure to be politically correct, to affirm our positive self-images. To me that's not art. It's like the pledge of allegiance. It's like Thanksgiving. (1988)

    England, Bloody England
    Ian McKellan

    Interviewed by Vito Russo

    Why hadn't you come out sooner?

    I thought that to declare myself gay might be a limitation on the audience's response to me. It was always that, rather than the fear that if I were open, I wouldn't get work. I mean, an actor's job deals with sex to a great extent. The first thing an audience looks at when the actor enters is his face, then his crotch. The last thing you check before going on is that your flies are done up, or undone, depending on what you're playing. It's very unlikely that I would be offered a straight romantic part in a movie now.

    What parts have you been offered since coming out?

    One offer was to play Noel Coward, which I wouldn't do. The other was John Profumo, the cabinet minister who allegedly was sleeping with a prostitute who was also sleeping with a member of the KGB. I took the part thinking it would be a wonderful message for my next role to be that of a notorious heterosexual. (1988)

    New Faces:
    Poet Essex Hemphill

    Interviewed by Scott Poulson-Bryant

    Do you think there's a black gay sensibility?

    I've had that argument involved in continuing the tradition of black literature. They've challenged me to show them a gay sensibility. Now I don't know if I'm the one to define that, but there is a sensibility that heightens the flamboyance and drama of language, dance and music. There is the quality of understanding the night in another way, not as we black people have understood the night at different times in our history: as a place to make a journey to freedom, to strategize for freedom. Black gay men take the night and make out of it our romances, our heartbreaks, our strategies for survival. (1988)

    Time on Two Crosses:
    Bayard Rustin

    Interviewed by George Chauncey Jr. and Lisa Kennedy

    Did your being gay interfere with your relationship with Dr. King?

    Dr. King was always terrified of the press. His first question would be what is the press reaction going to be? He would normally have preferred never to discuss any of it. And he never did except when he was pressured in some way into doing so. And on two occasions, I went to him and said I can tell you're deeply agonized by this. So I think that I'm going to get out of the way now. If you need me later, call me back. And on two occasions, he called me back because he needed me.

    Did he ever compare your problems to the rumors about his extramarital affairs?

    I wouldn't think there was any possibility of his comparing them, because I don't think he saw them as having any relationship whatever. Oh, the crap that was going on in those motels as the movement moved from place to place was totally acceptable. The homosexual act was not. (1987)

    'Yan Daudu' and Proud
    By Martin Foreman

    While Westerners insist that all desire be defined as homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual, African cultures allow for a variety of emotional bonds, as long as the traditions of family life are maintained. Thus, many African men see no contradiction between marriage to a woman and sex or love with men—while many studies show that women in Africa, as elsewhere, are often dissatisfied with the roles they must play. "In the West you have a particular line you have to follow until you come out as a happy homosexual," says Graeme Hendricks of the Triangle Project in Cape Town, South Africa. "Are we saying that any community where same-sex behavior is happening is underdeveloped because it doesn't identify as homosexual?" (1999)

    Remixing the Closet
    By Jason King

    If there's a DL community today, it's the result of this sort of brazen marketing. In the late 1980s, a group called A1BlackElite launched Bla-tino, a hugely popular series of sex parties thrown in secluded locations across the East Coast. Bla-tino's street-promo strategy targeted men who wouldn't otherwise fraternize at gay-identified clubs: "ruffnecks, barriboyboyz, thugs, popichulos, shortys, manchismos, brolic mutherfuckers, 'n your neighbor." The door policy rejected fats, femmes, and anyone sporting an "AIDS look." Implicit in this rhetoric was the fear of effeminacy, a terror that bubbles under the surface of epithets like faggot. This intense ambivalence about the visible signs of gayness is part and parcel of DL culture. Undercover guys strive to be unclockable: undetectable. (2003)

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