Human Puppy Play

Puppy play, or dog play, is a form of animal roleplay that first appeared in the United States in the leather community around the 1960s. Today there is a growing community of human pups and handlers who gather to socialize and play at events all over the United States and Europe. While the majority of the puppy play community is gay men,  people of any gender and sexual orientation can be involved in the subculture. Puppy play is a variation of dominant/submissive relationship that emphasizes the fun dynamic between an owner and their pet. Papa Woof, a long-time member of the puppy play community, described his interest in the roleplay in an interview with Vice.

” ‘Have you ever owned a pet?’ Papa Woof asks. ‘How many times have you come home from a stressed day and thought, what a wonderful life they have? Someone to pet, feed, play with them. They are happy, mostly carefree… That’s what the headspace of puppy play is all about.’ “

Pups have the opportunity to be free of their human personality and embrace a new, carefree headspace. Puppies take on the persona of a biological canine and embrace animal instinct. Most of all, puppies love getting pet and getting love and praise from their handler. Puppies may like to play with chew toys, play fetch, bark, walk on all fours, explore and get in to trouble. Many pups wear gear to enhance the play. Most commonly collars and masks are worn,but all sorts of rubber, leather, and neoprene gear is used in puppy play.

The relationship between a puppy and its handler is a spin off of the master/servant dynamic present in BDSM culture. There is a lot of variety in the relationships between handlers and pups. Some handlers may be more strict and controlling, focused on having a well-trained, obedient pup. Others can be more playful and nurturing, caring for pups in a less strict way. While the dominance of the handler is maintained in all puppy play relationships, there is a lot of flexibility in the way that the handler plays their role.

For many people, puppy play is not necessarily sexual. Many events, such as the popular Pup
Social
 are purely fun, social events that do not allow any kind of sexual play. At such gatherings, puppies play with each other in a puppy mosh pit while handlers observe and socialize. Some events may have vendors, dances, contests, gear demos, classes and more. These events allow people involved in puppy play to meet up in a safe social environment

In this course we have discussed a lot about sex and sexuality and self-identification. Puppy play is definitely to be erotic and sexual, usually restricted to private households and clubs, though it does not necessarily involve sexual acts. The genders of a pup and its handler can conflict with their individual sexual orientations. For example, a gay male pup may have a lesbian handler. Each participant can get pleasure and satisfaction from their role in the role-play, though they may not be sexually attracted to one another. The dominant/submissive relationship and emphasis on gear in puppy play is definitely erotic, but it may not make sense to identify yourself in the puppy play community exclusively by your sexual orientation. For some people interested in non-sexual puppy play, it may make more sense to identify only as a handler or pup than as a gay man or lesbian woman.

 

Vampire Eroticism of “American Vampire”

Reproducing by blood and bite, the eroticism of vampires is already rather strange. Yet, mainstream culture of the past few decades has accepted it with open arms from one vampire horror flick to the next, novels, movies, and TV series, coming to a halt with the unfortunate release of Twilight (which is a rant all its own…I digress). The dark fiend first popularized with ancients such as Dracula and Nosferatu has since become fetishized for its powers: immortality, supernatural enhancements, mesmerizing stares, and more all for a change in diet. While fascination with the dark and mythic is perhaps unsurprising, Trevor Little’s choreography displays an incredible display of progress in the popularization of homoeroticism with its intersectionality of the vampire genre. Not only does his choreography exhibits the erotic in the scene, but does so through partnering in the highly traditional form of ballet (ignoring contemporary opinions of guys in tights, that is).

American Vampire: Please Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
Choreography by Trevor Little, Nov. 6, 2006, Wicked Boy Ballet Company

In intimate space, it’s uncertain if there is a magical whisper of sweet nothings that leads the man to turn his head so gingerly towards the vampire, or if there is another attraction in play (:00-:12). Regardless, from that moment on an exchange of dominant display and body fluids ensues between two male dancers. Utterly drained of life, it is through blood that the man is able to regain “life” from the vampire and does so through aggressive means, grabbing, biting, and climbing the vampire for a taste(:45 onward). The vampire, instigator of this encounter, is aware of this with constant teasing and taunting holding the man-turned-vampire’s needs just in reach (1:12). The vampire holds, supports, and swings the newly turned in a manner typically reserved for female roles in the traditional form (1:20, 1:25, 1:40, 2:34), which even reserved for a moment (1:47) suggesting a fluidity to the roles of these men in their exchange of fluid and power. The sensation of blood flowing through the vampire’s arms is met with a longing stare and intimate brushing of the hand over the vampire’s bicep (2:09), and exposure of his torso as the former man goes down for another bite (2:14). Not to last long, the vampire reestablishes himself as the new turned vampire seems to calm and agree with the transformation; the vampire continues in his assists, his hands grasping at those parts we might consider vulnerable or intimate (2:34), grabbing at the ankle, upper thigh, and lower abdomen. We get pauses as well (2:43) where the intimacy of an attempted bite resembles more of whispers, nibbles, or kisses between lovers, ending with the newly turned jumping into the vampire’s arms (2:47) which at least reminds me of the archetypical scenes of a groom carrying his bride.

While the homoerotic in its actual form (two human men) might elicit disgust, the mechanisms of the vampire (regardless of abject origins) have become something of fascination. Although signs of this projects completion are absent, this clip has spread across the web with multiple uploads to Youtube and other blogs or websites. The appreciation for the homoerotic vampire has a presence on the web, as if EdwardxJacob was not enough… Although short, it is an artist’s movement towards what Shelley envisions in a dissolving of labels and full integration of the homo and hetero; recognizing they are of the same kind. Even if Little’s work were just a study, it’s presence may still serve as inspiration. Ideally, arguments like this will no longer need to be made, but rather we will be able to appreciate this work and others by the merit of their craft, as Little’s choreography beautifully blends drama and form in his tale of vampires.

God Is Gay

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“God is gay” was a spoken slam poem by 20-year-old University of North Carolina drama student Elliot Darrow. It was performed during the 2013 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational finals. Elliot Darrow identifies as a straight, male Christian despite the fact that he does not currently attend church due to the time constraints of college life.

Most of Darrow’s poetry portfolio is made up of social issues, but “God is gay” was one of his first pieces that directly addressed his faith. Darrow started wondering if God were gay about a year and a half before writing “God is gay”. Though he doesn’t believe that God is a sexual being, his goal was to show that even God could have human traits such as sexuality.

When starting the piece, Darrow studied the bible to see how the church should view homosexuality. He wanted to break out of the idea that God hates gays and instead show that God loves all. Darrow challenges conventional views using bible passages in his poetry.

I chose to include this piece in our archive because it gives a fresh and interesting view on homosexuality. Many Christians view homosexuality as being wrong, so it is refreshing to see someone challenge that. Darrow directly opposes the view of most Christians, specifically when he suggests that Mary is a lesbian and Jesus’s two fathers could have been gay.

One thing that we discussed in class and read about was the straight mind. I feel that this poem essentially “calls out” how the church lives in a straight mindset and believes that anybody who is not that way is doing life wrong.

“What if I told you God is gay? Do you think belligerent bible-belters would still holler hate speech to the hilltops in His name?” When Darrow says this, he’s implying that the church is so straight-minded that even if God was gay, they might still condemn homosexuality.

“And although it has been accepted in recent years that there is no such thing as nature, that everything is culture, there remains within that culture a core of nature which resists examination, a relationship excluded from the social in the analysis — a relationship whose characteristic is ineluctability in culture, as well as in nature, and which is the heterosexual relationship.” This is a quote from The Straight Mind and blatantly displays the idea and logic behind the straight mind. Those that possess the straight mind believe that heterosexuality is the “natural” way to go, but Darrow is challenging that.

In “God is gay”, Darrow poses interesting points such as the fact that the Garden of Eden seems to have been designed by a queer and that God created the rainbow, the symbol of the queer community.

Darrow quotes two important bible verses in his poem: “Judge too and you shall be judged” (Matthew 7:1) and “Condemn not and you shall not be condemned” (Luke 6:37). These both show what Darrow believes to be God’s true message. He then contrasts these verses with a quote by the head of the Westboro Bapstist church, “You’re going to Hell. God hates fags.”

Sharon Needles

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Sharon Needles is by far my favorite drag performer. She embodies a drag persona that consistently challenges it’s own culture – the high-femme of drag queens – with her love of shock value. Her persona is strongly androgyne, and at other times “dusty-femme,” (defined below) but is presented within an art that most often deliberately acts in strict opposition to traditional gender display. Traditional here meaning consistent with one’s biological sex and accordingly masculine or feminine. Drag performers typically embody the opposite side of the gender binary to an exaggerated degree, which often produces a parody and theatrical performance of culturally constructed traditional gender – this can be seen in Ru Paul, Adore Delano, Alaska Thunderfuck, Courtney Act, etc. Sharon Needles does not seem to follow this “rule” of drag queen culture.

I consider dusty-femme to be a persona that is not traditionally feminine, but still is feminine: it is hard to see (it is “dusty”); it is rough around the edges, blunt, and/or crude, yet ultimately femininely styled. The mode of dress, including makeup and hair, is not always finely groomed, or elegantly presented, but the bodily movements are. This aesthetic is exemplified in the video “Kai Kai” with Sharon’s frizzy yellow hair, dark lipstick, and marijuana-leaf dress paired with femininely stylized movements. It is exemplified also in the glam-goth aesthetic of “Dressed to Kill” and “Call me on the Ouija Board.”

 

Call me on the Ouija Board

In both of these videos, Sharon Needles embodies a glam-goth aesthetic, which I consider to fall under the category of dusty-femme. In my observations and understandings, goth-aesthetic embodying females are generally viewed as unfeminine in relation to traditional female identity as a “pretty woman” (the woman we see in mass media) and thus mostly undesirable to our heterosexist and misogynistic culture at large – it is not the “proper” way to be feminine and female. It’s heavy and dark, blunt and overt, as opposed to light and passive.  Sharon Needles is the goth woman with traditional power, creating glamorous femininity with elegant movement on the fashion runway in “Dressed to Kill.”

Note: Not that upholding traditional values of the necessity of femininity in females and/or women is a great thing, but drag is an intentional performance of gender, and Sharon Needles performs well.

However, in “Call me on the Ouija Board” for a portion of the video she creates a sort of meta-drag with goth aesthetic – a male, impersonating a female, dressed in partial men’s attire. She pulls it off well, maintaining an air of femininity with elegant movements, but in partial male dress – producing a very powerful androgynous glam-goth woman complete with dark eye makeup, short black hair, long black nails, red eyes, red tie, white button-up, black dress, an aesthetically pleasing black hat, and words of ouija boards.
Sharon Needles
The androgynous figure she embodies in “Call me on the Ouija Board” calls to mind Judith Halberstam’s An Introduction to Female Masculinity as well as Judith Butler’s explanations of performance and performativity.

 

Kai Kai – Sharon Needles and Alaska Thunderfuck

I’d like to consider the approach of this video to be a parody of Pure Camp. According to Susan Sontag in “Notes on Camp,” Pure Camp is essentially naive and serious, in that the seriousness fails to be serious. This means that Pure Camp cannot be obtained with the intention to produce Camp because then it is not naive. The very statement of “going camping” is an act of deliberate Camp; deliberate camp is produced with the intention to be Campy. Alaska and Sharon fantastically, with exaggerated inflection, refer to going camping declaring, “It will be Pure Camp!” I analyze this to be a statement with deliberate intention to be paradoxical. It is not Pure Camp, and is thus a parody of Pure Camp. It is Camp that knows itself to be Camp while claiming the opposite. Camp itself has an element of parody, and self-parody, seeming to make this production a parody of parody, and under this analysis, is unquestionably humorous.
It’s certain that “Kai Kai” is Camp – it is very stylized, very exaggerated, and essentially contentless – much like John Waters film “Pink Flamingos.” In “Pink Flamingos” it is impossible to draw symbolic meaning. Every image is exaggerated and stylized to a point of unreal-ness. It is a great example of Camp (maybe even parody Camp) and is a fantastic representation of, to quote Susan Sontag, “things-being-what-they-are not.”

 

“Notes on Camp” – Susan Sontag: http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Sontag-NotesOnCamp-1964.html

Rent

Rent, a rock musical by Jonathan Larson, was first performed in 1994 off-broadway at New York Theatre Workshop and grew to demanding success by 1996. Still, 20 years later, Rent is a powerful and impactful story that touches hearts and lives despite the changes in time and culture. The show follows a group of New York City friends living in the shadow of the AIDS/HIV epidemic, and while this was a frightening moment for many in history, the musical presents a lasting message of hope, friendship, love and living life to the fullest.

Rentpostera

In 1995, AIDS became the leading cause of death in the United States, taking an all-time high number of lives. This musical provided a message that was so cathartic at the time being and still continues to do so, even if the viewer has no personal connection to the disease. In Rent, we are exposed to a large, diverse cast of different genders, sexualities, races and interests, with people who are both diagnosed and not diagnosed with AIDS/HIV. Although the disease is a central concept throughout the show, it is not the most prevalent. We witness characters attempt to make their lives meaningful, whether it be through pursuing a career or finding love. An event that was so specifically focused on a certain group of people was given an important message with this musical: we are all still people and we all have the same desires.

This epidemic tore people apart due to multiple reasons: death, misunderstanding, etc. Rent was able to show the other side of the disease — the side that brought people together. Roger and Mimi, a couple who had multiple ups and downs in their relationship, found true meaning and understanding in their relationship the night they discovered that they were both HIV positive. Angel and Collins, two strangers who met on the street, developed a friendship and love by revealing they both had AIDS and attending support meetings together. Characters like Mark and Maureen, who did not have AIDS/HIV, remained a strong support system and were allies to the infected community. The network that this disease created built lasting friendships. The best example of the strength in these relationships is shown when Angel loses her fight against the disease and every character begins to deteriorate a little. A scene so beautifully tragic reminds us that every life was connected. Even after her death, she continued to act as a link that brought their family back together as Mark dedicates his film to her.

RentGroup

A time period filled with grief provided so much hope because of this musical. While we have learned of the power of AIDS/HIV, we should not neglect the strength inside those associated with the disease that allowed victims to persevere and continue to live life to the best of their ability. Rent sheds light on these people through beautiful songs, both sad and optimistic, and character development that reminds the viewers that a disease does not define who we are. We all come from different socio-economic experiences that have made an impact on our lives. The conflict in Rent is interchangeable. Because of that, we see Rent as more than just a production about AIDS. It is a production about who we are, how we cope and why that makes us such powerful human beings.

The Rockland Palace

rockland

Nowadays, we tend to think that gays were hidden until the 1960’s when the sexual revolution happened. People were protesting for women’s rights and gay rights. In 1973 psychology even removed homosexuality from the DSM’s list of mental disorders. This may lead people to conclude that before the 1960’s, non-heterosexually oriented people were secretive and hiding, right? Wrong! In the 1920’s until the early 1930’s, there were huge balls and parties that were very open about different types of sexuality. A very well-known place is the Rockland Palace in Harlem created by a black fraternal organization.

Historically, blacks migrated up north into urban area such as Harlem because they were transitioning from the slavery era to working up North at factories. Most of the African Americans moved to Harlem. Nowhere else in the country could you find an area so large and concentrated by African Americans. Harlem became known as the “new negro capital.” There was a variety of African American people ranging from black schoolteachers to black millionaires, giving life to Harlem with their youth, music, and openness. Harlem became very huge in their art and music styles, in particular, jazz and blues. Blues music was used by African Americans to express their sexual feelings and their hardships they had previously faced starting from the civil war when slavery was still present. African Americans accepted homosexuality and thus created a culture in the 1920’s-1930’s in which people could have fun and sexually express themselves.

The Rockland Palace was famous for throwing balls in which men would dress up as women. It was known as the “faggot’s ball” or costume balls. The palace attracted many people such as high class white men and women, it was a very diverse crowd. Not everyone there was homosexual, though it was very evident that there were gays, lesbians, and transsexuals, it was accepted. Some people just came there to observe the balls.

The Rockland Palace is related to queer culture because it represents how queer culture isn’t this new phenomenon that didn’t exist or was hidden until the 1960’s. Most people believe that homosexually orientated people didn’t exist or came into the public eye during the sexual revolution. The Rockland Palace proves that it is not true and that there were places where people overtly gay or transsexual would go and be themselves. Another way the Rockland Palace is related to queer culture is because it was created by a black fraternal organization. This is important because nowadays, people tend to think that African American culture is more homophobic than white culture but in reality, when Africans were first brought to America they were very sexually open. They believed that homosexuality is just a natural part of life.

In class we discussed Chauncey’s work. He pointed out how there was a “whole gay world” before World War II but multiple people don’t know that and believe in these myths. The three myths were: myth of isolation, myth of invisibility, and myth of internalization. Harlem and the Rockland Palace is an example that debunked all of the myths that Chauncey believed people had. The myth of isolation is not true because at the Rockland Palace, people were openly gay there and everyone knew that it was a place to go if you wanted to immerse yourself in queer culture. This also disproves that queer culture was invisible because people went there knowing that it was a spot where other gays, lesbians, and transsexuals hung out at. Lastly, Harlem clearly did not internalize the dominant culture. They used the Rockland Palace to express their differences in art and sexuality through jazz and blue music and the costume balls.

dark play or stories for boys

Written by Carlos Murillo, dark play or stories for boys was conceived at a summer playwriting workshop at the University of California Santa Barbara in 2005. In 2006, it was presented at the Latino Theatre Festival in Chicago and in 2007, it gained national acclaim at the Humana Festival of New American Plays.

10631190_10152416392481319_2028894599510406227_oSeveral months of the past relived in the course of a few minutes in the present day, dark play is a mind-fuck-of-world crafted by Nick, the narrator and protagonist. An undergraduate student, Nick finds himself thrown back to his teenage years when the woman he’s sleeping with, Molly, stumbles upon the multitudinous scars that litter his torso. Confronted with the question of how he received them, Nick vacillates throughout the entirety of the show between remembrance and reality, trying to reconcile whether he should tell Molly the truth. The truth, of course, is anything but simple. Originating in a time of virtual chat rooms and seemingly unfounded duplicity, Nick explains how when he was fourteen, he crafted an Internet persona named Rachel and won the heart of a naive sixteen-year-old named Adam. Drawn into the pretense, Nick becomes addicted to the relationship. Crafting numerous other online personas to sustain the world he has created and to permit him to spend what little time in person he can with Adam, he spirals into a pit of lies. Finding it necessary to kill off Rachel, Nick then intricately lays out for Adam a strategic plan that ultimately culminates in Adam stabbing him to death. Nick, however, does not die. The show ends with him sharing this story with Molly, who refuses to believe him, and a nonchalant return to reality.

While Nick never explicitly states it, one can imply that he is gay and devastated by the fact that Adam will never love him because he is not female. Hints are recurrently dropped throughout the show regarding Nick’s sexuality. When slipping back into the memory of the past – specifically what we can infer to be his time with Adam – Nick expresses the sensation as such:

“And that’s when time stops

And I feel the familiar sensation –

Sweat glands juicing up,

A hardening between my legs

That low grade migraine

When I’m like an atom in a particle accelerator

And the world around me slows like it’s moving through peanut butter.”

Each time the audience returns to the present with Nick, he recounts this physiological response. He does this eight times throughout the show.

When offering a hypothetical situation to a teacher, Nick describes the actor in the scenario in a manner that sounds remarkably like himself and adds the clarifier “gay”. A little while later, when delineating the virtues of the Internet, Nick expresses that the worldwide web is the one place “where a kid [his] age and… of [his] demeanor” can escape, emphasis stressed on the word “demeanor” in the script. Indeed, Nick’s activities online seem rather akin to cruising, for not only is he canvassing an extremely public space but also he later appears to be doing so in the interest of sex. For instance, Nick outlines some precursory stunts he pulled online before meeting Adam, one of which included posing as a “pair of nubile, underage, sex-hungry Asian chicks” looking for a “mature American man to show [them] the ‘American way of life’”. This incident is also significant for another reason. Upon opening one of the several hundred email replies he received in response to the ad he posted, Nick finds himself confronted with the photograph of a naked man. While reticent in his reaction, Nick does describe it as “trigger[ing] a feeling in [him]”.

CT  CTH 0127 fringe-ott.jpgThe show is also peppered with the word queer, and interestingly enough, Adam always interjects it when he’s describing his feelings for Rachel. Indeed, it seems like an authorial dig at the homosexual overtones, almost as if Murillo is having Adam subconsciously recognize that his online relationship is actually with a man. What more, there is the fact that Nick engages in oral sex with Adam twice. When reflecting on it after the first time, he admits that he “wanted it to happen” but found himself simultaneously unsatisfied because Adam cried out Rachel’s name, not his. Adam’s participation in sex, once while inebriated and the second time while completely sober does suggest a trade-like-quality to him. While he does present himself as heterosexual and primarily interested in falling “in love” with women, he does not appear to rebuff Nick’s advances.

When it finally comes to the point where Adam is to kill Nick, Nick employs the online persona of Olivia, an ostensible homicide detective, to communicate strict instructions on how to go about the matter. Olivia (really Nick) stresses to Adam that when he stabs Nick, he is to tell him that he loves him. She makes him promise that he’ll do so, in fact. Olivia appears seven times through the show before making the purpose of her character known and recites those very words each time, foreshadowing what is to come.

When one reads the show from front to back, Nick’s resolution to die seems so rational that it feels like an appropriate solution to a horrendous situation. Because of this impression, though, I don’t think we interrogate what is really being implied by not just the act of murder but also Nick’s entreaty of it. Not unlike Paul in Willa Cather’s short story, Nick seeks out particular corners of the Internet because he feels a certain listless emptiness in everyday life. And like Paul, once it registers with him what he is, Nick seeks out a means of self-destruction. He describes it as a “darkness and danger lurking in [his] soul” and when embodying Olivia he communicates to Adam that

“Nick is beyond depraved.

He’s become an inhuman monster.

He must be put down.

We need you to eliminate him”.

It is clear that Nick comprehends himself as abnormal and perhaps within the context of psychosocial development, Freud would point to him losing his father at the age of eleven as the precipitator. Without a father figure to complete the cycle of male-identification with and the added caveat that the man he knew as father lied to him about their lineage for more than a decade, perhaps this is why Nick “became” queer.10383846_10152416404981319_4841902767104532302_o

In any case, while on the verge of death, Nick experiences a resurrection and white light moment, an upwelling of love pervading his body. He lives and when we meet him again some time later, he has only just finished in engaging in heterosexual sex. This leaves us to wonder the implications of his heavily machinated murder. If intended to “kill the gay” within, was he reborn straight? Is he bisexual? Or, does the possibility exist that his feelings for men have simply reposed as dormant for so long? He notes his physiological response to the past to us, but does he really permit himself to realize what those feelings insinuate?

Cool and collected at the end the show, there is a slightly flippant and ascendant color to his tone. And, as he states in the beginning of the play, he has a chronic proclivity to “make shit up”. So, where does that leave us?

Does anybody really know?

Spring Awakening: A Rock Musical

      Spring Awakening, adapted by Duncan Sheik, is a rock musical that follows the lives of young teenage students growing up in 19th-century Germany. We are taken on the journeys of these students as they discover themselves, things about each other, and most importantly, what sex and sexuality means to them and how it plays a part in their individual lives. Wendla Bergmann, Melchior Gabor, and Moritz Stiefel are the main characters that frame and guide us through these stories; they give the other characters incentive to step forward and bring us along their “coming-of-age” journey.

      In any form of performance art, whether it be film, television, theater, etc, it is important to have contrasts. Contrasts give the story and theme substance and elasticity as well as sharp, strong dynamics that grant the show the opportunities to be very impactful instead of just simple and blended. The contrast of setting and theme is something to be noted here. A time like 19th-century Germany being the place to carry the theme of sex and sexuality is extremely interesting to look at. The exposition of the show informs us of this strict, traditional, “no room for mistakes” culture in Germany where self expression and any mention of sex is taboo. In the very first scene of dialogue in the show, Wendla asks her mother the truth about conception and tells her she can no longer be fooled by the story of the stork. Her mother is so shocked by this and wonders where she even began to think of it. She can’t even look Wendla in the eye and goes as far as hiding her underneath her skirt to even before speaking. This discomfort in talk about sex reflects this contrast between this hard, stiff setting, and something apparently as wild and out of place as sex. The nature of this setting makes the overarching theme of sex and sexuality even more enticing to look at and follow.

“I Believe” Spring Awakening

   The songs are especially very cohesive with the theme of sexuality in the show: “The Word of Your Body” and “I Believe” are two major ones. “The Word of Your Body” is a ballad devoted to hinting at this overwhelming sense of wanting and desire of the other’s body and how these two bodies are going to have such an impact on each other, they’ll actually be each other’s “bruise” and “wound”.  “…haven’t you heard the word, how I want you?” This type of discourse reflects a lot of what we’ve talked about with “desire”. We discussed desire as this powerful force driving us towards someone. It is something that Whitman would even consider part of human nature. He sees human beings as one and desire as something that just comes with that exchange when the attraction is there. The essence of Whitman’s perspective of such inseparability between people really plays a part in this show; mostly in the case of Melchior and Wendla. Although they are taught that sex is sinful and almost deviant, they are still drawn together and engage in the act as “I Believe” plays in the background. “All will be forgiven…there is love in heaven”. This lyric in the song is reflective of the idea that sex is something that is too perverse for the world around them. It goes so far as to say it is something that needs to be “forgiven” in order to be okay.

      Freudian psychology and sexology can also be applied here because homosexuality is a part of this show as well. “The Word of Your Body (Reprise)” stars two male students sharing a love scene on top of a mountain while they both reveal their love for one another. Passionate kissing is involved as well as lustful dialogue and delivery of the lyrics. Freud would say this is a deviation of sexuality because it does not involve a penis and vagina. Homosexuality is considered way outside the standard of sex for Freud. This idea of sexual deviance and perversion pushes even further the contrast between the stiffness of 19th-century Germany and sexuality.

      

"The Word of Your Body (reprise)" Spring Awakening

“The Word of Your Body (reprise)” Spring Awakening

"Totally Fucked" Spring Awakening

“Totally Fucked” Spring Awakening

      I think this musical does an excellent job in approaching sex and sexuality in a very intriguing way. The restriction the characters feel by the adults and setting alone forces them to find other ways to discover themselves; thus creating this sort of “break out” attitude within the show. This can be reflected by the songs “Totally Fucked” and “The Bitch of Living”. The entirety of this show is incredibly powerful and really does an amazing job addressing the multiple themes of rebellion, sexuality, abortion, suicide, etc, that all play a huge part in the storytelling of these students.

Slam Poetry, Walt Whitman, and the LGBTQ+ Community

Slam poetry first arose in the 1980’s in small cafes in big cities such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Its creator is believed to be Chicago construction worker and poet Marc Smith (known as Slam papi) who started a poetry reading series in a Chicago jazz club looking for a way to refresh the open mic poetry scene and let off steam. The purpose of slam poetry was originally to discuss social and political issues that aggravated the performer; it was a way to release aggression and address those who exasperated the performer. Today slam poetry has become a means of self-expression and emotional ventilation for the majority of the population especially the LGBTQ+ community worldwide.

As slam poetry has been historically tied to proclamation of social and political wrong doings, it has become one of the leading forms of emotional outlet for the LGBTQ+ community.  The current slam poetry scene has seen many breakout LGBTQ+ poets such as Elliot Darrow, Karen Grace, Denice Frohman, and Steven Boyle. The content of their poetry becomes very impactful as it is obvious that the words they are saying have come from personal experience and from a place of fear, or anger, or sadness that lies somewhere within them. The topics they discuss in their poetry covers a very wide spectrum. In Elliot Darrow’s God is Gay and Karen Grace’s Push: A Holy Thursday religion becomes a starting point of emotional turmoil in their rage filled free verse. Others such as Denice Frohman’s Dear Straight People angrily calls for justice and acceptance for the gay community from straight people; while Steven Boyle’s Modern Meltdown (I Hit Send) discusses the stresses that come with finding love in the gay community. All of these are  examples of how the LGBTQ+ community has found solace in slam poetry.

Walt_Whitman_by_Mathew_Brady

 

Slam poetry as a whole can be related to the works of Walt Whitman. As one of the pioneers of free verse poetry, Walt Whitman did the same thing that Marc Smith did. Tired of the classical structure of poetry (rhyming, classical rhyme scheme, etc.) he created poetry that did not require rhyme but still carried a rhythm. In his collection of works Leaves of Grass many of his pieces are seen as homoerotic, specifically his most popular piece In Paths Untrodden. With lines such as “From all the standards hitherto publish’d, from the pleasures, profits, conformities; Which too long I was offering to feed my soul; Clear to me now standards not yet publish’d, clear to me that my soul; That the soul of the man I speak for rejoices in comrades…” Here Whitman is saying that he has been pushing away from the life he knows he wants and finds solace in the presence of homosexuality within himself and his comrades. This poem was viewed as his coming out poem by the majority of the population and also broke boundaries with its lack of rhyme and rhyme scheme just like the origins of slam poetry.

We All Need A Normal Heart

The Normal Heart Front Cover

The 2014 film The Normal Heart, written by Larry Kramer, is a recreation of Kramer’s 1985 play The Normal Heart. With a star filled cast, The Normal Heart is a beautiful drama that shows the unfortunate troubles of gay men at the start of and through the rise of the AIDS epidemic. Although this film existed in play form first, it was recreated as a way to reach a larger audience and show how seriously terrifying and mysterious the AIDS epidemic was for those living through it.

The Normal Heart starts off by showing the sexual liberty gays have recently acquired along with the happiness from their freedom. But the film quickly changes tone once gays realize they are being diagnosed with a rare and nebulous homosexual cancer. Once the main character, Ned—an openly gay writer, has a friend who becomes infected with this gay cancer, they start to seek out help. At this point, they go to Dr. Emma Brookner who is the one of the only doctors willing to work with patients infected with this mysterious disease. Dr. Brookner is looking for someone to be a leader and share her information with gay men; she finds Ned to be that man. At a meeting with Dr. Brookner, Ned, and many other gay men, Dr. Brookner shares her research and information with these men about how she thinks the cancer is sexually transmitted, and that the men should “cool it” because there is a high chance they will infect each other and die. The sexually liberated men scoff at her, but Ned knows how serious this disease is and decides to start an organization to get help and raise awareness for the disease. The rest of the film focuses on the development the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) organization intermixed with the personal struggles the gay men are facing at this time. The GMHC becomes one of the leading fighters to get support politically, publicly, and medically to combat the gay disease.

The film does not strictly focus on the disease, but also how this disease affects the personal lives of the gay men at the time. As if gay men weren’t already misunderstood enough, the gay cancer (which we now know is AIDS) adds another level of the struggles gay men face. The film depicts how gays during this time receive little to no help from anyone apart from other gays, how they become more feared than ever due to the rise of this mysterious cancer, how being gay is still full of doubt, fear, and confusion in addition to this crisis, and how it still is not safe nor secure to be openly gay to the public.

Although this film is largely about the AIDS epidemic, it still showcases many things presented in our sexuality unit. One specific aspect from our unit that The Normal Heart focuses on is Ned’s sexuality, his understanding of it, and his relationship with his family because of it. Until the latter half of Ned’s life, he always believed his sexuality was wrong; he had been told a plethora of times that he could change his ways, become straight, and finally be normal. This is very similarly to our reading of Merle Miller’s “What It Means To Be a Homosexual,” where he says,

I have spent several thousand dollars and several thousand hours with various practitioners, and while they have often been helpful in leading me to an understanding of how I got to be the way I am, none of them has ever had any feasible, to me feasible, suggestion as to how I could be any different.

In both cases, we see that these gay men realized that no amount of therapy can change who they are; although it may be a more stressful life, they know who they are, what they are, and nothing is going to change that. In fact, we even see that after this epiphany, both individuals become happier and more at peace with themselves.

We also get to see how gayness crosses over to family life with Ned and his brother, Ben. Ben is a lawyer at a very successful law firm and Ned is seeking his assistance for the GMHC. Ned believes that the support of not just his straight brother, but Ben’s straight company will drastically help their movement. On the other hand, Ben thinks that the “straightness” of him and his company will not make a difference. It is at this point that Ned realizes his brother still doesn’t see him as a healthy equal, that Ben still thinks he is “sick,” and that his brother still doesn’t understand him, even though he accepts him; this is exactly the struggle Martha Shelley describes in “Gay is Good.” Here, Shelley explains that she is sick of liberals saying that it doesn’t matter who sleeps with whom, but what one does outside of bed; to her, this isn’t good enough anymore. She states,

[w]e want something more now, something more than the tolerance you never gave us. But to understand that, you must understand who we are. . . I will tell you what we want, we radical homosexuals: not for you to tolerate us, or to accept us, but to understand us.

In the heat of Ned and Ben’s argument, we hear a very similar frustration expressed by Ned towards Ben’s understanding and acceptance of Ned. Ben tolerates and accepts Ned, but he doesn’t truly understand Ned which, as Shelley agrees, is not good enough for Ned.

In yet another example from the film that connects to our unit, we see that to many in the straight world, one’s sexuality is extremely important and can influence someone’s opinions or actions towards a homosexual. During this time, Ned is one of the few open, politically active gay men; many of the other GMHC are closeted out of fear of having their lives ruined from the rest of the world not accepting them. Even the mayor and his assistant are gay, but they neglect the epidemic due to the potential of them being outed even though they are struggling through the epidemic themselves. As we saw from Joseph Epstein, he stated in “Homo/Hetero: The Struggle for Sexual Identity” that,

[f]or this reason, and from an absolutely personal point of view, I consider it important [to] know whether a man I am dealing with is a homosexual or [not].

In a scene in the hospital at which Dr. Brookner works, we see this exemplified when a maintenance worker won’t go into the gay-related immune deficiency (GRID) section of the hospital to fix a TV because his union says he “doesn’t have to risk his life over some contagious fairy.” Another situation like this occurs when two gay men, one of them severely sick with the disease, are asked to leave a plane they are on because the pilot will not fly while they are still on the plane. These scenarios truly demonstrate the struggles gay men faced during this time period.

The Normal Heart is quite an outstanding film that explains a difficult period for gay men. The story encapsulates many of the struggles gay men have faced to get to the point they are today in a powerful story that can open the eyes to many who do not know about or who who do not understand the struggles gay men have gone through. Because of its excellent depiction, I highly recommend this film and believe it rightly deserves its place in this archive.

To get a glimpse of the film, here is the trailer: