Re-minding queerness / by Nathan Stoneham

Image by Sarah Walker, in  The Sydney Morning Herald

Image by Sarah Walker, in The Sydney Morning Herald

Taylor Mac’s 24 Decade History of Popular Music was the radical social work intervention I didn’t know I needed. For this white queer, it was transformational, and the first time that I’ve experienced art that left me feeling healed.

Over twenty-four hours, as Taylor Mac performed songs popular in America during the last 240 years, I saw queerness represented in ways that filled me with pride, hope and courage. I entered a little lost, a little insecure, carrying my own white guilt, internalised homophobia and shame. I left knowing that who I am and the way that I think is valid, and necessary, in order for us keep making changes in this world. In this “art show” and “radical fairy realness ritual” – Taylor Mac was there to remind us of things “forgotten, dismissed or buried” – and for me, it was my own queerness and potential agency that I needed to reconnect with.   

From the beginning, when Taylor Mac and Wurundjuri elder, Aunty Diane Kerr made heartfelt offerings to each other, I knew this production was going to abandon the status quo and honour humanity. Aunty Diane presented a handmade gift, and welcomed Taylor to country. Taylor Mac offered an apology, both for the cruelty that judy’s* ancestors inflicted, and for the ways that this cruelty still may manifest in judy’s interactions today.

Colonialism and the global capitalist economy were reoccurring themes throughout the performance as we witnessed Mac’s subjective history, spanning early women’s lib movements, American Civil War, immigration, WW1, the depression, queer riots and so much more. We needed twenty four hours to deal with this content, and the result was an intersectional acknowledgement of the past, honouring the communities of activists and queer thinkers who have brought about social change despite white supremacy, minstrel songs, temperance choirs and perfectionist assholes having a bourgeois crisis.

Right now we’re posting our marriage equality surveys and being flooded with mainstream gay narratives – narratives that present anti-intersectional versions of equality, promote normative coupling, and ignore the oppressive forces of capitalism. You’d be forgiven for thinking that;

 ...marriage is not only the natural but the only desired outcome of decades, really, centuries of queer existence. Source 

Of course I voted yes, but I personally reject the notion of assimilation in to the heteronormative institution of marriage – just as I reject participation in the military and reject the prison industrial complex, or any approach that values control over care, or property over people.

To be honest, I’d buried my queerness a little recently… I’ve been homo AF but not so queer. Perhaps the queerness was a little forgotten, buried or dismissed by the marriage equality campaign, my fear of offending others, my disconnection from queer networks due to moving interstate, entering a monogamous relationship, and/or my overexposure to conservative views at a new workplace.  And then, Taylor says: “I want to be able to get married so I can say fuck you marriage” and my heart explodes. “We’re not all Ellen!” judy says, and we cheer together – for longer than you’d expect – savouring the moment amongst community who'd been brought together. Taylor says something along the lines of “Maybe once you have gay marriage you can deal with your refugee crisis” and I remember that:

When we craft a political agenda based only on one form of oppression (sexual orientation) while minimizing other forms of oppression and privilege, we bolster our own privilege, and reinforce the structural disadvantage others suffer. Source

Taylor segregates the entire audience, rearranges us so that the people of colour have front row seats. We share intimate experiences with strangers of the same gender. Straight white men are emasculated. Dikes are honoured. Promiscuity and anonymous sex is normalised. I feel represented as Taylor shares stories of sex in back rooms, open relationships, interracial sex accompanied by critical self-reflection and an existential crisis, and other experiences that deviate from the heteronormative narrative and the gay mainstream narrative. In one moment there’s Christian bashing, and in the next, we pray as a didgeridoo is played. We pray that those seeking freedom don’t continue to lock others up in their fight for freedom.

This intervention – this performance art show – this 24 hour radical process drama - this therapy - reminded me of my own queerness in a time when neoliberalism leaves little space for ambiguity, imperfection, dialogue or collectivism. Taylor facilitated my healing, introduced me to my shame, and in the process - honoured the past, honoured the present, and encouraged us to “dream the culture forward”. I met myself again, and I was full of love, and I’d missed me.  

*Taylor Mac’s gender is performer and preferred pronoun is judy