Things I Learned in Theatre #8350

You know when a cocker spaniel hears a high pitch they tilt their head to the side until one ear droops all the way down?

That’s kinda how straight people look when you try to explain gaydar to them.  I’ve just stopped.

I mean, you have the “cute” straight people who think it’s all about limp wrists or a lisp or a man who sashays or a woman who plays too many sports and that’s just too offensive to even deal with.  They need to stop.  No straight person has gaydar.  They have bigot-dar, but not gaydar.

I was in a play recently and I don’t usually look at the audience because — that doesn’t work for me in a play.  A musical, or stand-up, that would be different.  But a traditional-type play — no.  But one night, something threw the cast a bit, the furniture was off, or something.  And I looked.  And, sure enough, in the rows I could see in our 99-seat house, about seven guys sort of lit up.  They were gay guys.  I didn’t know them, but I hadn’t acted in a while and I’d forgotten that gaydar absolutely works when you’re on stage and you look at an audience.

So I’m waiting offstage waiting to make my next entrance with a wonderful actress who is a lesbian, and she said “lots of friends in the house tonight.”  And I said about seven, and she said yep.

It’s a part of our lives, and nature put it there for a reason.  So you see from above how judgmental and mean-spirited I get when straight people make fun of it or reduce it in some fashion.  I really think, sex aside, it’s a sort of protection mechanism on a primal scale that lets us find our pack in the wild.  If there was some horrific emergency, I know would run to one of those seven people out of instinct.  It happens shopping or driving or eating out or watching a parade.  They’ve got a little spotlight on them, and everybody else is a little out of focus.

I have absolutely stepped in and helped a total stranger based solely on that.  I have absolutely learned that when it “flickers” you’re dealing with a bisexual, though that took time.  And it also took time to separate charm, hetty male ego preying on the gayboy, and gaydar.

I wonder if it has ever been wrong, the times I thought I erred turned into successes decades later.  Even ones married to dear friends that I’d hoped I was wrong about.

Maybe straight people have straight-dar, it’s just there are so many they don’t notice.  Everybody’s lit up.  Maybe that’s how they get gaydar — it’s not the people who light up, it’s the people who don’t.  Maybe that’s what faghags do, they think, bless their hearts, they’re protecting the little out of focus person.

But that it works on stage is a reminder that we are here, and we are part of nature, and there are some interesting gifts that come with being gay…including a built-in signal that we are sooooo not alone.  Shine on, friends.  I’m always glad to see you, even if it’s out of the corner of my eye.


Things I Learned in the Theatre #8349

So I finished the play I was in, it went well, reviews and audiences were kind. The play is called Vanya, Sonya, Masha and Spike, it was written by Christopher Durang originally for Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde-Pierce. I played DHP’s role, which is a fifty-ish somewhat closeted gay man. At the end of the show, this character has a ten minute monologue. It was a great challenge and one reason I wanted the role…to see if I could do it. I also really only play gay roles at this point in life, because — well, because.

Theatre isn’t like tv, where you get the same episode in reruns. Every performance is its own thing, and it’s supposed to be because there’s a live audience there. The script and direction is the same, but it’s the earliest form of interactive art and it changes and surprises you and the script keeps giving you more and more and more. Even when you think you keep it the same, it evolves on you and it’s frightening and wonderful.

So this great Durang monologue gets triggered by some inappropriate tweeting, and my character (Vanya) explodes and laments Facebook and Twitter and 785 channels and you can pick the channel that matches what you already think. So it robs people of life experience. As the monologue progresses, what really started to come through as time progressed was that, as a gay man, Vanya had lost his life experience because he couldn’t be himself. He had a crush on Ol’ Yeller’s Tommy Kirk, who was fired by Walt Disney for being gay. Meanwhile, Tab Hunter was gay but just went on pretend dates with starlets. So there’s lots there about Tommy Kirk not playing the straight game, and Tab Hunter being a step-n-fetchit and Vanya lost is the middle, and as a result, still lonely, and still living in his childhood home.

Here’s the disturbing part. American Theatre magazine convenes three critics to do a podcast, and one of the critics they pick is from my city. They discuss the play, and then the big monologue, and they roll their eyes about the Twitter and Facebook rant, but basically allow it to exist. Not once do they mention the gay content of the monologue. A gay playwright writes a monologue with gay content and gives it to the only gay character in the play to say to the straight people and — this never comes up in their discussion. Oddly, had it been a black playwright writing this for the only black character in the play to say to the white cast members, they might have figured out the monologue wasn’t about Twitter.

Decades ago, I wrote a gay play called Earl, Ollie, Austin, & Ralph and I noticed back then straight audiences laughed at one set of jokes, and gay audiences at another. Give the critic’s reaction to Vanya’s monologue, it seems sad that things haven’t actually changed.

But it is an interesting thing to note.

Inspirational Speech #0

I want to tell you a story about [insert person] who, as a child, [insert hardship].

Growing up, [an official authoritarian figure] said [something negative] about the outcome of this person’s life.  Optional:  But [insert name of person who has to love afore-mentioned person] said [don’t give up and/or dream].

But [perseverance example] and today [famous person]!

◊     ◊     ◊

So some years ago, I’m in the hospital at age 43 with a foot-long scar from heart surgery and a distant cousin sends word of an inspirational story.  Somebody (just my age!) had (just what I had!) and today he’s (rich with a huge penis!)

And I’m finding out I have to take nine pills a day for the rest of my life and can only go “one” on the treadmill right now and I think:

Eff you.

It was the first time I laughed after heart surgery.  So — thanks.

Work to Retirement is Clearly Going to be as Tricky as College to Work

Time for a one-trick pony to find a second trick.  Or a second pony.

Retirement is likely ten years off.  But it’s clear watching others that this is exactly the time to start “the transition” to something else.

There was the guy who couldn’t wait to retire.  He got his thirty years at age 51, retired — and realized everybody else his age was still working.  It was him and the eighty-year-olds at the church.  Since then he’s turned into a forest ranger.  Which is not a joke.  He turned into a fifty-two-year-old forest ranger.  Worse, a very hot fifty-two-year-old forest ranger, which is annoying.

There was the guy who spent his last work years obsessed with how the retirement system would screw him in retirement.  He retired.  It didn’t.  He had nothing to talk about or think about after that.

There was the guy who only talked about how much he hated working, and how he looked forward to doing nothing.  He retired.  He hated it.

The smart ones go from full-time to part-time, from five days down to four, down to three, down to two, down to special projects…al the while turning up the heat on other projects.  It turns out your family and the grandkids may not keep you as busy as you think they will, particularly when the grandkids hit the teen years and college.

So recognizing this, I went in search of the other ponies in my life I hadn’t fully pursued.  I tried out for a play at a professional theater.  I got cast.  In a part that finishes the play off with an eight minute monologue.

Holy crap.  I have a rocker.  I have a porch.  I know how to find Gaydio on the interweb.  The cat loves me.  Next year I want to go to ComicCon to meet my second husband Mark Ruffalo.

A play?  What is wrong with me?

Sigh.  Life does not necessarily get easier if you’re creeped out by boredom.

Or want to be a forest ranger.






Rant: On Wills and Making a Graceful Exit

I recognize that I am about to be petty.  This whole thing surprises me.

I have never understood the value of getting upset over a will.  It’s what it is, it’s what somebody wanted, move on.  I’ve never understood getting upset about it.

Until now.

Now I get it.  How to make a very long story short?  My partner met an elderly professor who was charming and funny and interesting to talk with.  He was gay, but had never managed to achieve coupledom.  He genuinely did not understand the mechanics of “couple.”

Fast forward.  I come into the picture, we meet and hit it off.  Perhaps he was a bit jealous of me, perhaps he’d harbored secret boyfriend ideas about my boyfriend.  But there was a good three decades-plus difference in our ages versus his age, and he was really more of the gay grandfather we never had.

Fast forward.  The professor and I both had heart trouble at the same time, despite the difference in our years.  We end up in cardiac rehab together, and bond a bit more.  As he gets older, I’m taking him to appointments and the like.  My partner and I find a stray dog and suggest an adoption.  The dog becomes the love of the professor’s life.

Fast forward.  There are some inappropriate gifts of sexy underwear the professor gives to each of us in front of others, suggesting we’re more than just his friends.  We’re not.  But my partner cools on the relationship with the professor.  It’s possible an inappropriate suggestion was made to my partner, who elected not to tell me because it would make me lose respect for the professor.  I get that.  But I also get that elderly gay men who’ve “missed out” on life sometimes get “ideas” late in life.  So do elderly straight people.  I consider it a cautionary tale, a human condition, and it’s a possibility for all of us.  It’s a forgivable offense.

Fast forward.  The professor is bedridden, there is assisted living and long-term dog sitting, and a full-time caregiver is needed.  At some point, my partner and I are added “in the will.”  It turns into an obsession with the professor, and almost weekly he adjusts his will depending on our behavior, like he’s still grading students.  The little voice in my head says “tell him to take you out of his will” because he’s basically suggesting I’m so creepy it’s the only reason I visit, which is insulting and demeaning.  But he’s sick, he gets depressed, I chicken out.  There’s not much money involved and the percentage is single digits, so it just doesn’t seem worth it.

Fast forward.  One day he has a long conversation with me.  He wants to know whether it would hurt my boyfriend’s feelings if he got less than me.  Would it cause a problem in our relationship, he wonders?   I say please don’t do it, give us the same.  He’s still carrying a torch for my boyfriend, but he’s genuinely concerned and says he understands.

Flash forward.  He dies.  We grieve.  Months later, two letters arrive from his attorney.  We’re in the will.  Two percentage points apart.  My partner gets three, I get five.  My reaction is — unexpected.

Why would he do that?  My partner and I have been together for two-plus decades, what was so hard about four and four?  But, instead — he has to make some kind of point.  At my partner’s expense.  For someone who missed out on life because he was too busy being “appropriate”, it’s a surprising sideswipe.

I was stunned by my reaction to — being disregarded, to being party to a slight, to a very, very small and very, very petty move by somebody I’d mourned.  Of course, my partner and I will put it toward our house, together, even if it just buys a switch plate.

There’s some kind of lesson here, something about making a graceful exit, about the pointlessness of making some points…and I can’t quite touch it yet, but it’s buried somewhere in this sentence:

It was an unfortunate last impression.

Things They Said: Drunk Driving in the 19th Century

My grandmother, who was born in 1890, told how her family would load up their wagon and go to house and barn raisings in the Carolinas.  It was the only way to build a house in the country back then, everyone showed up and did their bit.  So the men would build and teach the boys, and the women would cook and teach the girls.  Two big meals were served, one midday and one in the evening when the framing was done.  The point of the day was to get the frame up so the floors and the rest could be laid by smaller factions, though it often sounded like they got more than that done.

So at the end of the evening and the big meal and the cleaning up, there would be a celebration of sorts, a thank-you party where people, if they were not Baptist, might dance and drink a bit.  Some moonshine generally found its way to the premises and a good time was had by the men.  The children and women would fall asleep, and by about midnight the men would place them into the wagons on beds of hay and drive home.

As the know-it-all teenager, I chided my grandmother for her father driving home drunk.

“He didn’t drive drunk!” she said.

“Who did?” I asked.

And she looked at me like I was soft in the head.

“Well, the horse knew the way home.  Daddy was in the back with us.”


Postscript:  Apparently, the horse not only knew the way home, but would deliver them to the back door and shake his harness until the noise woke them up.  Her parents carried the children into the house, the horse would have his riggings removed, and he would put himself up in the barn.