Monday, July 1, 2013

8 (play)

I was raised a bigot. Pretty much everyone I knew was. It was the 1970s, I lived in suburbia, and hatred and ridicule of homosexuality was the social norm.

There were a few moments of education, like Billy Crystal’s Jodie in Soap -- which we watched religiously (I was nine years-old) and Good Lord, I saw the pilot episode of the TV sitcom Hot L Baltimore. But these were outliers -- as I have described in the past, I experienced A Chorus Line at the age of eight and saw a bunch of freaks.

As an insecure and weak adolescent, I was often tagged with homosexual insults. They were common. I remember when I was a sophomore, and I decided, for a change, to actually take care of my appearance, get a haircut, buy some stylish clothes. The specific reason was two-fold, I had a crush on a cute freshman, and I had just seen Footloose.

There was this complete douchebag who sat behind me in Spanish. That day he appraised my sartorial choices by calling me a “flamer” in front of his friends. You will notice I still remember that.

But that just means I didn’t want to be called that. I have called others worse, and much worse. When it comes to gay epithets, we are all Paula Deen.

Marriage means “one man-one woman” to you if you have only known that since birth. Homosexuality was not necessarily something you were against, but something of which you were ignorant. As with most of my kind, acceptance and understanding has come through familiarity, of association. It helps when you have an earnest desire to learn.

This is why I bristle when folks suggest the President is pandering to special interests or flip-flopped when he says his opinions have “evolved” regarding gay marriage. Any straight, young male born as late as the 1960s and raised in a Judeo-Christian household would have found the idea of two guys marrying incomprehensible, and if any of them grew up to be tolerant, loving, and welcoming to homosexuality, it would have required a significant “evolution”.

This is not a defense. This is an explanation, and it is an apology. People are raised this way, what is important is that people can, in fact, change. However, I will not ape those who espouse, for example, that back in the day people didn’t know any better -- for example, that slavery was a necessary evil. Ask yourself if you want to be enslaved, any human being can figure that one out. It was wrong. Hate is wrong. It is not be excused, but we can move forward.

Rehearsal on the stage of the Allen
(Photo: Kory)

On Sunday, I was privileged to be in the ensemble for a performance of Dustin Lance Black’s docudrama 8, a dramatization of the un-broadcast court proceeds of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the case which struck down Proposition 8, California’s anti-marriage equality amendment. The Perry v. Schwarzenegger case was upheld by the Supreme Court last Wednesday, paving the way for a continuation of gay marriage in that state, and so this staged reading of 8 was considerably auspicious.

I played the role of David Blankenhorn, founder and president of the Institute for American Values, and a sadly deluded man. He had the great misfortune to evolve his positions on marriage equality while on the stand in a court of law while presumably the star witness … well, the only witness, really, defending Proposition 8.

In brief, he has spent his life arguing single parenting as one of the great ills of modern society, and championing two-parent marriage. When asked, under oath, if two gay parents were better for children than one parent, he had to say yes. He knew it to be true that adoptive parents can often -- due to the fact that while anyone can fuck, not everyone qualifies to adopt -- be not merely as good as, but better than biological parents. (He didn't use those exact words.)

Following the performance I was praised for being a right clown in last night’s show, a complete airhead. One man called me a dumb blonde. My walk of shame from the witness stand was called by one a “Charlie Brown” walk. Such compliments were the capstone to a tremendous, if brief experience working with a large number of Cleveland artists I truly admire.

Someone else who made the evening powerful was Dan Moulthrop, CEO of the City Club. God, he does his job well, namely to facilitate civil, open discussion. He is not afraid to ask the challenging questions, but he’s just so good at keeping everyone on track, and respectful.

I do not like post-show discussions, as a rule. Following the public reading of a new work, they can be entirely counter-productive. Following an issue-oriented play, they generally sound like a roomful of people saying “I agree” and patting each other on the back for over twenty-minutes.

So I was intrigued to hear that The Reverend Jimmy Hicks would be a member of the panel. In 2003, as a member of Cleveland Heights City Council, he sat in opposition to our creating a domestic partner registry (and doesn’t that term sound arcane.) Four days after the Supreme Court ruled on DOMA and Prop 8 and we were going to have an actual voice of opposition in the house!

To everyone’s credit, especially the Reverend’s, opinions were aired without rancor. There was one point where Rev. Hicks suggested recent school massacres were the direct result of prayer no longer being permitted in schools, a moment of great tension which was diffused with ease and humor by Mr. Moulthrop who, as I said, is really good at his job.

The night ended with Rev. Hicks standing his ground -- he cannot interpret the Bible his way and sanction gay marriage. That evening’s production included video of actual Vote Yes on 8 television advertisements from 2008. That term, “Religious Liberty” was used, one which became more familiar during the 2012 as it pertained to birth control of all things during the Presidential race.

Religious Freedom, as I see it, is the codification of religious doctrine into secular law. Love of God can be a powerfully positive thing, I see it in the people closest to me who believe. But the laws of God bind us to ancient hierarchies, which put certain classes of people in their place, including women and homosexuals. For years the Bible was used to justify and in fact enshrine slavery.

As the American experiment continues, the people work to undo the binds of ancient hierarchy, that is what freedom truly means. If establishing new, expanded freedoms threatens religious teachings, perhaps it is because the Bible isn’t about freedom.

I mean, really ... who ever said the Bible was about freedom?

The comparisons between Loving v. Virgina and Perry v. Schwarzenegger were on full display last night, though there are those who are unhappy with the comparison. I remember a Doonesbury cartoon from the mid-1970s where it is discovered that Andy is gay. Clyde says, “I hear you’re gay,” and Andy responds, “That's right, and I hear you’re black.”

Clyde explodes, “Yeah, but that’s normal!”

Andy says, “Didn’t used to be.”

Click on to enlarge.

The gay rights revolution has not been without horrible violence -- nothing filmed or put on video like schoolgirls denied access by National Guardsmen or crowds being hit with water cannons, but more often secret murders and lonely suicides and assaults too numerous to be known. But sitting onstage, the Allen Theater nearly full, knowing the audience had gathered to see and support a play not just about gay rights but about gay marriage, I truly felt we were reaching the climax of -- though by no means the conclusion to -- America’s Lavender Civil War.

The day after Election Day 2004, I overheard a colleague on the phone to a friend. He was truly unhappy -- not just because Bush defeated Kerry, this was much more personal. An anti-gay marriage amendment (Ohio Issue 1) had passed in the state of Ohio, one which stands today. It passed by 62% of the vote.

“It’s like they hate us,” he said. He sounded like he was about to cry. That’s what it feels like to be in the minority. I am trying to imagine what it might have been like back in 2004, if last night’s roles were reversed and it was Dustin Lance Black in a theater full of Ohio Issue 1 supporters, as the lone voice of marriage equality among a few hundred proponents of “religious freedom”. You will excuse me for finding it difficult to believe he would have been treated with the deference and respect Rev. Hicks received in the Allen last night.


  1. Did anyone point out to Rev. Hicks that prayer IS permitted in schools? Cause... he's just wrong.

  2. There were other things he said that night on the subject of how Christians are generally oppressed in our society which also strained credulity.

  3. God's bread it makes me mad.