Identity. I am. You are.
We search for likeness, we examine for difference. We make assumptions. The outward markers of identity, specifically gender (although there are others), lead us to expect certain things. On the playground, in the classroom, at home, in the workplace. These expectations both subtle and obvious, are everywhere. How girls are supposed to act. How boys are supposed to act. This past weekend, in collaboration with our partners WeHo Arts/One City One Pride, Los Angeles LGBT Center, and ONE Archives, we celebrated Drag Angeles at the West Hollywood Library. It was a joyful cornucopia of identity in motion. Big Hair. Big Heels. Big Hearts.
Earlier this year, the Center had a conversation with the writer, Ursula K. Le Guin, who many years ago wrote a groundbreaking novel about the fluidity of gender. She imagined a society where gender was not fixed but malleable—organically fluid. The book was considered science fiction, and in the early 1960’s when it was written, it was inconceivable that it could have been anything else.
Taylor Mac, who brings his ambitious new production to the Center this weekend, explores the fluidity of gender in ways that are pointedly intentional, impish, and outrageous. In Taylor’s world, the message is delivered by a man/woman bedecked and bejeweled, feathered and fantastic. Taylor’s identity is in constant motion, and it is a wild ride. He demands that we look at him. And we do—we cannot look anywhere else. He is both a reflection of us and a vision of what we might be. He unsettles our basic assumptions. He affirms our hidden inclinations. Drawing from traditions of musical theater, vaudeville, music hall and drag, he becomes our partner in delicious subversion. Disruption is de rigeur.
For many in my generation, an encounter with delicious gender disruption arrived in the form of a cheaply made, campy movie about a sweet transvestite from Transylvania. It’s not a coincidence that this was also pegged as science fiction. I remember my first encounter with this experience, I was very young and it unsettled all of my assumptions—so much so that I saw it once a week, every week, for eight weeks, during one hot, hot, humid summer. The movie and the play it is based on, has its roots in the same traditions that Taylor explores. The messenger is in heels and glitter, the hero is also the heroine, two sides of the same coin, one and both, joyfully disrupting our assumptions. They each dare to ask, why not.
To quote the one from Transylvania: Don’t just dream it. Be it.