Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gang Way World Get Off Of My Runway

The work was calling me.

There were piles of work, stacks of paper, lists of tasks that needed to be accomplished. As is my custom, I set up the card table in the living room and lined everything up to be, systematically, attacked. I would, though, require some company. It didn't take long to decide what would be playing on the television while I worked. It was as though it jumped out at me, off the shelf, and demanded to be watched. I popped in my vhs - yes, vhs, which I still have and watch because many of these items are (unfathomably) not available on dvd - of the Liza Minnelli Stepping Out concert that was shot at Radio City Music Hall in the early 90s. I worked and I watched and, occasionally, I stopped working to just watch; and when the concert was ending, I put my chin in my hands and began to cry. I love her so much. I am, and always have been, moved by her efforts, her artistry, her work. I remember (on the odd, random occasions that I tuned in to her show) how Rosie O'Donnell would go on and on about her love for Barbra Streisand and how Streisand got her through the dark periods of her childhood - and once or twice I think I even saw Rosie cry once or twice while discussing her idol. I remember going to see MINNELLI ON MINNELLI at The Palace Theater and sitting there, listening to the overture; I remember a large mirrored pillar (square, not round) upstage center and how, at the end of the overture, it parted and there she stood - Liza Minnelli. And I burst into tears. I realized, at that moment, that Liza Minnelli is my Barbra Streisand.

Much has been said about gay men and their divas. Similarly, about gay men and musical theater. I recently began reading a thread on TalkinBroadway, in which someone asked about the association between gay men and the musical GYPSY. I only read three or four entries because it became, quickly, tiresome. I recognized, though, that GYPSY is a musical that (almost) all gay men love - but that's a bit absurd to say because (almost) all gay men love musicals and the chances that a gay man who loves musical would also love the musical GYPSY are pretty dangnab strong, especially when you consider that (many feel that) GYPSY is the greatest musical ever written.

It is true, though. We gay men love our larger than life fascinations. Opera, musical theater, soap opera, divas. The only thing is - it's not larger than life. These loves that we pursue are not larger than OUR lives. Perhaps they are larger than life to John Q Public and Jane Doe, living in the suburbs with their picket fence, their American Beauty rose bushes and two point five children (not to mention the dog, the cat and the guinea pigs) but to those of us living an alternate lifestyle, opera, soap opera, musical theater and divas are EXACTLY the size of life. And that is why we love them, so. You see, we have lived lives during which (because of the person we walk down the street, handholding) we might be attacked (physically or verbally), even killed; when you live a life with a threat like that (or any of the other threats we face because of our sexuality), you must live life at a fever pitch - a little harder, a little faster, a little more excitedly, because the threat of losing it all is always a possibility.

I know that (as homosexuals) we do tend to be more artistic and more sensitive. That is of great assistance to us in our studies and appreciation of the art of being larger than life. It does seem to be part of the program; gays and the arts do seem to go hand in hand. It is a stereotype and it is cliche. It is these things because it is true and stereotypes and cliches become so BY being the truth.

There have been advancements in the field of gay rights. Not great advancements but advancements, nevertheless. Far be it for me to complain because nobody has it all that great. A woman may run for president but the same woman, working in the business world, will get paid less money than a man. A black man may run for president but in New York City he may not get a cab. I doubt any discussion of Easterners, Jews, gays and many other considered "minorities" is even worth the trouble it might take to open up that discussion. Suffice it to say that prejudice continues to rule the world and let's all just take a moment to pout about the personal prejudices heaped on our own people and our own persons. There. Now that that is out of the way, let's move on to my subject of expertise: gays and their divas.

We're looking at a collected mass of people who (historically) have been oppressed. While hiding in their rooms, their closets, their imaginations, they nurture (generally) an affinity for the arts. Unable to (fully) express their (forbidden!) love throughout the ages, they channel their feelings, their passions, their imaginations and their love of the arts into creating more art. All those feelings have to have some way out. All of that artistic longing has to have a place to go. Here, the gays of the last century and centuries before, are a bunch of men who have been ostracized and looked down upon and discriminated against and NOT been given a chance to show how they truly feel. Self loathing and fear has been this groups constant companion. They needed love and they needed to express themselves.

With regards to needing love: Everyone loves the person who is fabulous. The entire world loves the person who is beautiful, dressed fashionably and commands admiration and respect for their gifts of intelligence and talent. So why shouldn't the gays of the world think that, by being fabulous, they (too) will be loved? So they concentrate on being beautiful and on wearing the most stunning clothing and having the most admirable talent.

With regards to expressing oneself: If you were told it was forbidden to show your feelings, where would they go? Back inside the lockbox called your heart. After years, decades, centuries of being told you cannot show your emotions, what would be more exciting than letting them out? And what could POSSIBLY be more fabulous than letting them out in a completely unrealistic, over the top, larger than life way like bursting into song? If you are feeling neglected and unloved and embittered about the way life has treated you, would you rather throw a temper tantrum or sing ROSE'S TURN? What would YOU opt for?: begging and pleading for your man not to leave you or your own version of AND I AM TELLING YOU I'M NOT GOING?!

We gay men recognize that these divas who get to be looked at and admired and loved and respected, who get to wear fabulous clothing and emote in the most evolved and exciting way possible HAVE what we WANT. So we throw ourselves into passionately devoted relationships with our idols (usually from a distance) as fans. Sometimes we become our own version of the divas (observe the vocal stylings of Sam Harris, Billy Porter and Marty Thomas). Sometimes we become the divas (observe the great impersonators like Charles Pierce, Jim Bailey and Jimmy James or the great drag queens like Hedda Lettuce, Miss Coco Peru and Flotilla DeBarge). Sometimes we become the male version of the diva - the divO - by turning ourselves into the most stunningly beautiful male specimen possible and preening for all to see. Each gay male's personal journey is unique and beautiful (ok, maybe not beautiful because those of us who have encountered the gay male with attitude have seen the real picture of Dorian Gray and it is, indeed, an ugly countenance). The fact remains, though, that without our divas, we have no one to champion us to the world. God knows the politicians aren't doing it. Those little suckers use us for the votes and drop us like last night's trick. The religous right wants us exterminated. The milatry doesn't even want us to fight for them because they are too afraid we will be reluctant to shoot the enemy if he is too good lookin. Oh, we have friends and family and associates who either love us, accept us or don't give a rat's ass, as long as we show up to work and do a good job. But even though there have been advancements in gay rights, even though the era of self loathing that came with THE BOYS IN THE BAND has pretty much disappeared, even though there are 13 year olds who come out (but still - in most places - a teenager cannot bring their same sex date to prom), even though there are gays all over television and, often, become the favourite character on the show, we do need someone to light the way.

That's why we need Senta throwing herself into the sea. That's why we need Daisy and Violet demanding to know Who Will Love Me As I am. That's why we need Krystle and Alexis fighting in a lily pond. We need these delicious beauties to serve as our vessels for all the emotions we (still) cannot fully express and to show us how (we might one day get) to be fabulous. This way, the next time a middle aged gay man is pissed off because his parents didn't show him enough love and his lover of many years hasn't appreciated him and his adopted child treats him badly (and, no, these examples are not a vague representation of my own life-my parents loved me plenty, my spouse has always appreciated me) he can lock the doors to his home and turn on Ethel, Angela, Bette, Tyne, Bernadette or any other diva who has recorded it and scream at the imaginary people around him:

"someone tell me when is it my turn, don't I get a dream for myself??!!"
and when a person is feeling downtrodden and rejected and put upon by the world, what better way is there to demand something better than to turn on a cd or dvd and imagine yourself as that fierce diva, Effie White, DEMANDING that "you're gonna love me"?

The artists who create the emotions and the other artists who represent them for us may have more eloquence than most of us but without us to feel the feelings that they are describing, their artistry is benign. They need the gays as much as the gays need them. Stephen Sondheim needs an audience who will get "every day a little the parlour in the bed.. in the curtains, in the silver, in the buttons, in the bread" and Patti LuPone needs an audience who will feel "so the sun god flew away and when the king came down that day he found his meadowlark had died...every time I heard that part I cried".

We live in a society that has made us numb. The news blasts out at us, from all angles, about something bad, someone hurt, somewhere dangerous. We battle disease, disorder and dysfunction. It can be difficult to allow our feelings to flow from us, freely. But who could blame us for weeping along with a diva in dispair or for cheering a defiant diva? Who could watch Cher accept an Academy Award in a bikini sheathed by chiffon and not wish that they had the gumption (and figure) to carry it off? Who could listen to Judy Garland sing Cottage For Sale and not wish that they could make others feel that sad, then listen to her sing Get Happy and wish that they could make others feel that glad?

I love and adore my divas and I am, deeply, sorry for the gay men who allow fear of stereotype and judgement to keep them from admitting that they love their diva, too. And it is, certainly, permissable to have a stable of divas. I am always interested to know who each gay guy's divas are. It says a lot about them and gives them (for me) an added dimension. My friend, Paul J Williams is devoted to Bette Midler and Karen Carpenter. Tom follows Deborah Cox and Kristine W. Peter is a Streisand boy, all the way. I once sat between David and Michael at a Shirley Bassey concert and you'da thought we were going to pee in our pants. Pat has a new found diva in the form of Beyonce and AJ has it for a jazz singer called Madeleine Peyroux. I am re-experiencing a Chaka Khan phase that I am enjoying a LOT.

I have a lot of divas. My Ipod has a playlist called DIVA and it features everyone from Donna Murphy to Mariah Carey. It doesn't matter what area of show business she comes from or if she is fierce or sweet; as long as a girl can make you feel and light your way to being who you are, who you want to be, she is your diva. And though you may add new divas, though you may go for awhile without paying serious attention to one or two of your divas - you'll come back round to them, though you may change divas entirely, every gay guy needs them and we will always be there, front and center, to support them. So stereotypes be damned and cliches converge -

God bless those fabulous women and keep them going. Because there are little gay boys being born all over the world and they are going to need their divas, too. Neither of us are going anywhere, not the gays, not the divas. That's why it is (arguably) the greatest diva theme song of all time...

And I am telling you I'm NOT going.
Please note: I shot the photos of Deborah Cox, Karen Mason and Kristine W. The Hirschfeld sketch of Judy Garland was pulled from the internet, as was the photo of Liza Minnelli. Much to my heartbreak, I have never photographed the great Miss Minnelli.


Anonymous annalisa said...

this entry was every bit as fabulous as promised!

10:13 AM  
Blogger Timothy Hogan said...

Divas? What's NOT to love?

I'm having a celebratory week of "Best of the epistle" with music added! July2-6


7:18 AM  
Blogger Timothy Hogan said...

We are the beautifully adorned, tasteful Muses who elevate the lives of Singers, Actors, Dancers aho open themselves to our energetic assistance!

10:17 PM  

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