June 5, 2022

The Merry Widow – Act II Finale

The Merry Widow has been put to bed. Scratch that. That has the wrong connotations. The Merry Widow has been struck. That’s not a lot better. Suffice it to say, the show is over and the Birmingham Music Club operetta has been put away for another year. I was asked what I would like to see programmed next year in the operetta genre. I had two ideas. The first was The Mikado, but do a conceptual production that gets rid of the problematic orientalism. As Gilbert and Sullivan were satirizing their own society, why not do a production that satirized our own and set it in Japan County, Alabama in the county seat of Titipu. My second thought was The Threepenny Opera, a work I dearly love but which needs to have a scabrous production for our current political climate and I don’t think Birmingham Music Club is willing to get quite that political. As long as it’s not Rose Marie…

The show was a good experience. Cast, orchestra, and staff all got along well without much in the way of backstage drama and, to my knowledge, no one has gotten Covid from participating. Alabama numbers are inching up again. We’re up about 75% over the last two weeks and hospitalizations are running slightly higher than they were, but nothing like previous surge numbers. Is that due to the new omicron variants? Behavioral change? The start of the summer heat pushing people indoors into air conditioning? The waning of vaccine immunity and natural immunity from the omicron surge of this past winter? No one really knows. I’m keeping an eye on the statistics and on what’s happening in both the UAB and the VA hospital systems so I can make good decisions and offer tempered advice. A lot of people I know have had a case in the last month, but none of them has been off their feet for more than two or three days with bad cold symptoms, but then they are all vaccinated and boostered.

Garth Brooks had an outdoor concert at the new football stadium in downtown Birmingham last night. 52,000 attendees. It will be interesting to see if that has any effect on local numbers. At least it was an outdoor venue which should help keep spread down. The only major thing on my social calendar this next week is the annual Pride Parade which is also out of doors so I’m not worried about that. In two weeks, I am the emcee for a fund raising pride concert, which will be indoors. If I don’t like what the numbers are doing, I’ll put a mask on. I’ll just draw a ridiculous face on it first with colored sharpies. It’ll save on stage makeup.

I, like many gay men of my generation, have a somewhat ambivalent relationship with Pride Parades. I’ve been around them a long time and have attended a number of them on several continents over the decades. They were incredibly important back in the day as they were one of the few ways in which the community had any visibility in the eyes of the larger straight world. Of course the straight world were always given a distorted view of the proceedings as the TV cameras would always focus on the more visual outre elements such as the leather guys, and the go go boys. A group of gay accountants in business suits just doesn’t make for great television. By the 90s, when corporate America realized that the gay community had disposable income, the proceedings became bigger and more monetized. Now they are increasingly falling prey to the fractious politics of the left where groups that don’t meet the ideological purity test de jour are pushed out and then push back leading to the usual circular firing squad that liberals are so good at enacting.

The politics of the gay world has changed so much since I started making my first timid steps out of the closet forty years ago. Back then, the gay community was invisible unless you knew where and how to look for it. The one place it was visible was in the HIV epidemic which brought its own set of cultural issues into play. Over time, as more and more people came out, and social attitudes began to change, it became more visible to more people, leading to quiet acceptance in some quarters of society and backlash in others. This is still going on. On the one hand, my church was full of rainbow streamers this morning. On the other hand, a gay bar in Dallas was attacked today by a group of conservative activists yelling that the patrons were ‘groomers’ and a threat to children. I don’t know how many times I have to say this but no gay people of my acquaintance has ever been a pedophile. We don’t go looking for children. Certain young people, when they reach an age of understanding of themselves, come looking for us.

June, as Pride month, leads to a flurry of LGBTQ focused advertising and rainbows in store displays as if it were just the next in our cycle of secular holidays, slotting in between Easter and The Fourth of July. I suppose ultimately, we’re going to have Pride mattress sales. I had to make a run to Target his evening and there were Pride T-shirts and greeting cards near the registers, next to the special on Pop-Tarts and Marvel movies. This would have been completely unthinkable a generation ago. So, on the one hand, I’m grateful that at least in my urban oasis here in Alabama that it’s treated in such a blase manner and that the young folk today coming up won’t have to fight the battles I had to. On the other, it’s sort of sad to see something that was emblematic of a long and painful struggle reduced in such a way.

There’s always been a battle in the gay community between the assimilationists – those who believe that LGBTQ people are like everyone else and should just be different colored tiles in the mosaic of American society – and the separationists – those who believe that LGBTQ people are fundamentally different and should therefore not subscribe to usual societal norms but instead create their own society and rules in which they can feel safe and protected. Outside of the big cities with a heavy LGBTQ population such as New York or San Francisco, a separationist life isn’t really possible so those looking for it tend to gravitate to one of those meccas and ghettoize themselves on arrival. I can understand the impulse, but it doesn’t speak to me. I am an assimilationist and always will be as the LGBTQ part of my identity is only a small fraction of who I am as a total person and I need to be part of a full society in order to feed all of my different parts.

I’ve lived long enough to become an eldergay, one of those older guys who is past his prime and is therefore no longer seen as any sort of sexual threat by straight society. These men are allowed to be out, as flamboyant as they want to be, and are, to a certain extent indulged in their eccentricities. Me, Ian McKellen, George Takei, Leslie Jordan… I don’t mind being an eldergay. It allows me to fulfill my natural role as mentor and storyteller. When I meet college kids now, just beginning to establish their identities as gay men, I have my stories from the 80s and beyond, and I can still share Steve’s stories of the 60s and 70s and provide them with a link as to who they are and where they fit in the rich cultural history of American society. They will have choices regarding marriage and children that weren’t open to me. I don’t begrudge them things I was denied. I’m just happy I was able to do some of the work necessary so that those doors are now open. And I have a feeling there is a lot of work still to be done to keep those doors open as there are some heavy hitting cultural forces who feel like they are on a roll who would like to see those doors slammed shut and some more extreme elements who would not just like us back in the shadows, but eliminated entirely. I don’t think it’s going to come to anything like that but the events of the last decade have taught me that anything is possible in our current times.

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