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What even is queer theatre? I was in a play once that on the outset claimed that title, Queer Theatre. We lived and breathed in every vignette and story line the stories of ‘our’ people. Pronouns were varied and often paired same-same, as opposed to different, if they paired at all. We even had a token straight person. Apart from a big chunk of my lecturers seeing me in my underwear, it was fantastic! The play itself? Average. Outwardly and openly collaborating with queer folk on queer stories, on the other hand, was phenomenal. The weird thing is that it’s not like I hadn’t been in the company of a predominantly rainbow cast and crew for a show before. So what was the difference? Theatre has a reputation for being queer friendly—right?
We spend most of our time as thespians (heh, sounds like lesbians) in the company of other queer or questioning folk, volunteering our time, energy, a chunk of our sanity, and sometimes money for mostly small time plays that we have to coerce our friends and family into seeing. I could do an in depth analysis of the hegemonic heteronormative culture that arguably influences the socioeconomic status and success stories of the communities typically drawn to community theatre… but that would be a d-buzz and a whole other article! So what came first? The chicken or the egg? Did queers make theatre or did theatre make the queers?
Perhaps there is something about having to actively get inside someone else’s skin; to put thought, energy, and time into living someone else’s reality and seeing the world through their eyes that forces us theatre folk to reflect on how we see the world in contrast to the characters we play that brings us ‘out’. Maybe our consciousnesses are so susceptible to suggestion that constant reprogramming like having to play across gender lines and other social constructs makes it easier to deviate from the most common social and sexual scripts. Our craft carrying us further from the heteronormative. So maybe the chicken makes the egg?
On the other side of the fence, maybe we sexual orienteers are drawn to the theatre of pretending because (unfortunately) we spend a large part of our lives doing just that—‘pretending’. To like the boy all the other girls like, or the same kind of porn that your dude-bro mates like, or even pretending to adhere to gender in binary at all. So putting on the costume, character, and cadence of someone outside of oneself could be familiar territory for us, drawing us to the fickle flame that is the stage. Hell, dealing with a character’s emotions and bullshit might even be a reprieve from the mental chaos, magnified by a conscious or not yet conscious ‘outsider’ status (not everyone knows there’s a closet, and not everyone wants to step out once they’ve figured out they are in there), that is our very human—queer—condition. Maybe theatre’s appropriately dense population of queer-does is really just a bunch of people straight up playing into one big camp-gay stereotype! But I doubt it. Way too much effort to sustain.
Theatre could well be an indoctrination tank for the ‘agenda’, a breeding ground for the ever increasing hybridity of spectrum life, a hallowed haven for those who do not fit the sexual, romantic, gendered, and relational hegemonies found almost everywhere else or a homely hodgepodge of the lot. We queers might be the chicken, we might be the egg. It makes my heart heavy to count my experiences of being officially involved in ‘queer’ theatre against the countless of not. I do not have the answers. I do know that those who argue that being ‘queer’ (or whichever letter or language in our delicious bowl of alphabet soup you identify) is a ‘choice’, have to have more screws loose than Lear. We all know the statistics. This would be a choice made against our most base instinct of self-preservation and none of us are that dumb. But I also know that it felt wonderfully nice to be explicitly in queer company whilst sharing our stories, and that it would not have been possible had I not left that dark forest to the likes of Mr Tumnus and struck it out on my own. If any of you reading this are still in there… come out. It gets better, we gotchu. And maybe one day we can be in a play together? Where the stories are our own and we don’t need the prefix.