Photo of Nick Jonas by Doug Inglish. Photo of Lady Gaga by Ellen Von Unwerth.
In between orations by politicos and other notables, singer Nick Jonasspoke at a rally in NYC's West Village last Monday, addressing the impact of the Orlando tragedy. He seemed heartfelt, if a bit teen-idoly, as he talked about the sadness of what happened and how, "My father, a minister from New Jersey, shaped my view that love is love and that we are all equal." As Jonas spoke, there were a few catcalls amidst the appreciation, and almost immediately angry comments surfaced on Facebook ("What's a straight, white, cis ally doing at a gay rally?"), along with defenders saying that anyone who complains about a friend of the community coming to our support is a self-defeating gay who needs to be instantly unfriended. I felt this whole thing was complicated by the fact that Nick once made tantalizing remarks that he can't say whether he has or hasn't had sex with a guy, though he later admitted that he did--in a scene for DirecTV's Kingdom. (Oy.) But assuming he's a hetero with a healthy sense of adventure, at least he's always catered to the gays, made us a primo audience, and never stinted on doing his thing in the gay marketplace.
Adding more complication, that's all actually helped his career, but I always felt that if it somehow boosts you to play to the gays while celebrating us, then feel free. Of course, with Nick in town to promote a new album, I hope this wasn't just a step on his promo tour, the same way a well-meaning politician might snuggle up to a hurt community to a curry favor and get re-elected. (Update: Jonas later said he told his team he wanted to lend his voice to this situation, while in town. He said he was then personally asked to speak by Governor Cuomo.) I must report that the previous day, there had been a rally/vigil at the same place, where a succession of very credible LGBT leaders got up and spoke, and it was considerably more powerful than Monday's event (though even then, the representation wasn't ideal). Still, in the devastated state we're in, I feel we have to try to abandon cynicism and trust people, so I'm not going to waste much time being mad at Nick Jonas for making a nice speech, as long as inclusion gets a fairer shake in the future.
I do get queasy when various LGBT organizations put such a high premium on straight or closeted celebrities, gushily giving them spotlights and even honors. But when it comes to another maligned celebrity--Lady Gaga--I have to just say "Welcome, dear, and thank you." Gaga--who a self-announced bisexual and part of the community--was extraordinarily vocal about same-sex marriage and made a huge difference on the subject, back when not all celebrities were doing so. When she courted an audience of Little Monsters, her concerts were always like incredibly inspiring revival meetings for young gays, who she helped come out with pride, honor, and accessories. But when she made a sincerely felt speech about Orlando in front of L.A.'s City Hall on the same night as Jonas's NYC appearance, a few idiots made bitchy remarks complaining about her motives or her right to be in that position. Those types of gays do way less for the community than someone like Gaga does, so they should truly plug it up and go back to the gym. And in the future, let's take our straight allies on a case by case basis. Some might be using us, but more likely, they're useful to us. And if you want to get furious that Adele cried when she dedicated a concert to the Orlando victims the other night, you're totally entitled, though someone might want to haul you in for evaluation.
A GAY KILLER CREATED A NON-GAY TRAGEDY?
When the hideous hate crime/act of terror happened, some of the media strangely shied away from using the words "gay" or "LGBT," preferring to paint this as a crime against all humanity. Gay reporter Owen Jones even walked off a Sky News interview when the hosts wanted to downplay the homophobic roots of the crime, one of them perversely asking why Jones wanted "ownership" of this tragedy. LGBT is always diminished--and we were literally diminished by these shootings--so this is nothing new, seeing as a lot of the media want to erase everything about us, even our grief. It's the flip side of actors who do movies about gay characters and tell the press, "This film is not really about gays. It's about everyone." In shamelessly trying to sell their product to a mass audience, they manage to negate our very existence. Well, when it came out that the shooter had been on Grindr and was a regular at the gay club Pulse, I predicted that the media would suddenly LOVE indulging in the G-word, since they could attach it to psychoses, not pain and oppression. Sure enough, the New York Post headline the next day? "HE WAS GAY!" Charming.
Let me lighten up for a second and talk about some of the celebratory LGBT stuff that makes being gay extra worthwhile. One recent week (before the tragedy, actually), Susanne Bartsch's carnival-like weekly rooftop party called On Top was particularly carnivalesque. Joey Arias MC'd, Amanda Lepore sang about wanting to do her nails, and the young drag queen Aquaria did acrobatic twirls and splits to a Sylvester song. At the end of the show, Bartsch promised, "We'll be back next week with new outfits, new lashes, and new titties!" Afterwards, Joey told me he's playing a singer (naturally) in the Alan Cumming-starring intergenerational gay film After Louie. At Barracuda the same night, Knockout Tuesdays had the trash-bag-wearing Miz Cracker and lithe Judy Darling doing funny, satirical lipsynchs in between patter that was way above the usual drag fare. They even started referencing the loaded gun in Chekhov plays and talking about Cherry Orchard as a great drag name and Uncle Vanya for a drag king. So much more elevated than "Come on, queens, make some noise!"
SHE'S COME TO WIVE IT WEALTHILY IN PADUA
Photo courtesy of the Public Theater
And finally, some drag kings in the flesh. Let me explain. Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew is one of those vigorous but awkward comedies that producers tend to shy away from, terrified to go near its theme of a male chauvinist sandblasting over his betrothed's fiery edges. Well, at Central Park's Delacorte Theater, the Shakespeare in the Park production directed by Phyllida Lloyd has tried to subvert the theme by drumming up an all-female cast to perform it. The suited ladies are put in a carnival setting (designed by Mark Thompson), complete with fourth-wall breaking, satirical touches, Gone With The Wind references, and a Pat Benatar song. On paper, this sounds like a "Why even bother doing the show if you have to gussy it up with so many gimmicks and quote marks?" But amazingly, it pretty much works, starting with the hilarious opening sequence--a Miss Lombardy pageant of strutting beauties showing off their talent as a Donald Trump soundalike narrates with bloviating remarks about their assets. In a black leather jacket, with a trailer and a can of beer, Tony winner Janet McTeer--who previously donned male drag in Albert Nobbs--is a swaggeringly amusing Petruchio, whether trading barbs with Katherina or sidling up to an audience member and singing "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" As "Kate," Cush Jumbo (The Good Wife) is funnily rambunctious, and as persuasive in her final submissive speech (when she's a good wife indeed) as she is in her spitfire mode. The women convince in their male roles, generally not going for camp, yet it's enough of a masquerade to underline the reverse trick they're pulling off in emasculating the males. (Besides it's a play about disguise and illusion, so the gender switching makes sense.) The visuals don't all mesh, and when the production gets heavy handed about spoofing male pigs, it's too shrewish, but the Teer/Jumbo kiss at the climax is a lovely kissoff.