Monday, 6 August 2007

"Heaven forbid we should look like fags"

I went to see Stonewall last night. It was very glittery, and described itself in its blurb as "The revolution is here - and it looks fabulous" so I was worried it might be a little fluffy. And the Stonewall riots were anything but fluffy. But it wasn't at all. Amongst the glitter this was an unflinching portrayal of the reality of what happened - drag queens and sex workers finally fight back against the cops who have been regularly harassing them, while the integrationist, acceptable face of homosexuality group is miles away.

But what was really striking about this show was that over the course of the hour and a half, three groups of people walked out. The first time we thought, "Ok, that's a little weird. Maybe they thought this was some completely different show that's actually across the hall." The second time we were pissed off and after the the third we started to feel under seige. And there's no way these people were walking out because they thought the show was bad. I've been to some truly terrible Fringe theatre; nobody walks out. Nobody gets up and flounces out of a show unless they're trying to make some kind of statement. The third group of people to leave were seated in the row in front of us, and made their exit following the line, "I'm a chick with a dick" during an argument between a drag queen and her boyfriend. Three of them filed out abruptly, leaving the last of their group - a girl around our age - who looked appalled at their behaviour and sheepishly followed after them a minute later.

I have to wonder what these people were expecting. Probably more mincing, hilarious men in fabulous outfits like Limmy's campy performance yesterday, and no mention of what they do when they get their man home and close the doors. And let's not overlook the irony here. This was a show about riots in New York City fifty years ago, when a group of people got mad enough to fight for their right to exist, for their right to drink in a gay bar - not even out among the other, appropriately dressed people - without fear of harassment. And when the lights went up and only the queers were left in the audience I realised that all this time has passed and the majority can't even force themselves to sit through an hour and a half of our history because it turns out that real revolutions aren't fabulous: they're messy, and sordid. Despite everything that we have achieved, it is still daring and bold even to tell this story in 2007.

It's easy to forget how far we have left to go. Because we can drink in gay bars now, and if we spend enough time in them we forget the reason we never venture to the other bars, where we are afraid to embrace our partners and where our clothes and haircuts mark us as other. Last night was a stark reminder of all those who cannot even bring themselves to contemplate what goes on behind the walls of the safe spaces we have carved for ourselves. They have convinced themselves that they believe the world is better, now that gay people have some of the rights they should never have been denied. But they don't want to know the details, they don't want to know who these people are or what lurks in their hearts.

We are years away from that.

(Buy tickets for Stonewall here)