FAGGY Dissertation celebration

It’s come to my attention that (I love toeaaast) I never shared my dissertation with anyone. MAINLY, because the idea of doing so scares me hugely. It’s an odd work. Yes it represents several months of study but it also has huge flaws, entire sections that need to be greatly re-edited. Spelling mistakes abound (I really can’t spell)  blah blah blah. But I am ALSO rather proud of it as a singular work. Its the longest continuous thing I have ever written and for the most part I believe that it represents part of my own intellectual heritage. Most of my dissertation was an attempt to some how transmute my fear of being someone forever outside of community, into staking a claim to community. SO i’ve decided to share it in segments. Mainly for me, so I know that my dissertation like a strange lost child is wandering around somewhere, dancing.

PLUS I HAD A BLAST WRITING IT. Giving myself the time to interrogate my own homosexuality, or rather my glittery absurd gay-ness, and to write about it within the context of something that is special and unique and deserves to be explored has empowered me. everyone should write a dissertation about something they hold dear, its cathartic and  revelatory. So here is the preamble, and if I can in the days following I plan to share the rest of it. PLUS it seems like a good way to kick start my writing in 2014.

Like a Prayer: Intimations of the Religious in Gay Culture

For me, you see, one of the defining aspects of church ritual is that you know your fellow celebrants and they know you. So, yes, bar culture and drag culture can be very like going to church. Absolutely. Going to see Regina Fong at the Black Cap, or going to see Lily Savage at the Vauxhall tavern back in the early ‘80s, that was like going to church – we were the congregation and she was the celebrant. Absolutely. Yes, absolutely, I would say. Especially in Regina’s case; there was an order of service, certain specified hymns (show tunes), of which the congregation knew all the words, and a kind of final celebratory, transfigurative ritual, involving a final punch line. Yes, definitely, when Regina Fong and the congregation at the Black Cap all screamed, “jungle red!” In unison at the end of the night, she might as well have been saying, “Go in peace and serve The Lord.” You had to be there. Believe me, it was that good. ~ Neil Bartlett[1] 

Forward

Her Imperial Highness, The Grand Duchess, last of the Romanoff’s, rumored member of The Disappointer Sisters, Regina Fong died just over ten years ago. Yet still, she lives on: thanks to YouTube users like sjmlondon, who recorded her performance at the Black Cap pub in Camden in December 1992, you can still find Regina Fong online, commanding the stage. Through a shaky hand-held camera I watch her stride onto the stage, resplendent in her trade mark red wig, everything jumping in and out of focus, and I find that – rather than sitting on my sofa in east London – I am there, a few drinks in, being jostled about by throngs of gay men. During the video clip, as Regina performs one of her classic numbers, “The Typewriter Song” I start to understand what Bartlett was saying; this is not just a performance but a ritual. As the song begins the screen is filled with outstretched hands, desperate to touch Regina Fong, caress her, feel the hem of her skirt and be blessed by her. In truth they were simply performing alongside her, mimicking her every movement. Like her they were miming typing in the air, then slamming back their ethereal typewriter’s arm when the music queued them to. I am not familiar with this particular service; I do not know the hymns she sings, I am not a regular in her congregation. But watching her stride up and down that stage, the guide, the priestess, in this camp tranfigurative ritual, I recognize the faith. It is the homosecular; that imbircation between the religious and the secular as manifest within homosexual space.

regina_fong[2]

I first experienced a moment like this several years ago. It must have been near midnight on a Saturday and Dickie Beau had taken to the stage of South London’s infamous Royal Vauxhall Tavern (RVT). Dressed in blood-red lace with scarlet pigtails and haunting makeup, he stood before us. When the music began, a haunting mixture of Britney Spears’ “Circus” and “Some Where Over the Rainbow”, I understood that this performance was going to be more than just an average Judy Garland impersonation. Dickie Beau that night was not impersonating Judy, he was performing Judy as an icon. Using audio recording from the Judy Garland speech tapes[3], mixed with a personally designed soundscape, the entire performance was transfixing and brought the dancing, chatting, flirting, patrons of the RVT to a halt. Beau’s performance was so immense, so hauntingly personal that any notion of a world beyond this stage was eclipsed. Time, space, communication, language, expectation, gender, sex, sexuality, intimacy were all unwound; this was not just a performance it was an invocation, it was liminality made physical.

Dickie_Beau[4]

As the piece rose towards its dramatic close, Judy/Beau turned to drink, knocking back shots, which in true camp style were filled with glitter.  Then, with a bang, she dramatically overdosed on stage. A strange hush filled the air before the patrons erupted into riotous applause. It was a sacred moment a religious moment. I found myself crying. Crying because that night, in that bar, I was connected to my gay brothers. I was connected back through a history of culture and love to the bar—The Stonewall, where riots broke out and gay liberation was born so many moons ago[5]— and beyond, to far distant pasts, to unnamed bars and forgotten lovers. There was such a history in his performance, such language in his gesture that I saw incalculable grief and pain, fear and love, always love, unfolding before me. Dickie Beau had become a conduit through which a gay and ephemeral past was born in front of me. I knew the congregation there that night, I knew those hymns, and I knew that church. When the lights came up, and the applause died down, I not only felt blessed, I felt excited. Having been spiritually transported by Beau’s show, none of us there in the RVT ever truly returned to the normal world. We sailed outward into the unknown, a collective of bodies floating in sacred space.


[1]Neil Bartlett “Plunge Into Your Shame” Gay Shame ed. David Halperin 348

[2] Regina Fong leading “The Type Writer Song” at the Black Cap in 1992. Smjlondon, “Advanced Typewriter –Wizard of Oz” (Aug 9th 2008) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StrpxT2sGy4 (Aug 9th)

[3] Where Mrs. Garland sat in a room and spoke a mixture of truly haunting personal anecdotes,

[4] Dickie Beau, as Judy, beginning to indulge in drink: Reavis Eitel ‘“I’ve been the one whose had to live with me” Judy Garland’ (Oct 24th, 2008) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ifd64CCdfuQ (Aug 9th)

[5] On the day after Judy Garland’s death no less. Don’t underestimate the power of the diva and their drag counterparts.

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