Kiddies: 1, Gay Lead in Opera: Zippo

By Tracey Barnett ©July 2011

Prepare yourself for the truly shocking bit. These are the lines of an opera by Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall that caused so much contention it was cancelled.

In one scene a painter is the victim of taunting. He sings, “Of course I’m queer/That’s why I left here/So if you infer/That I prefer/A lad to a lass/And I’m working class/I’d have to concur.”

That’s it. Those are the words from which 300 sets of delicate childhood ears had to be protected, during a scene in which the children aren’t even onstage.

Apparently, having children be part of a production that has a fictional character even acknowledge being gay is “inappropriate”. No, this isn’t Tom Ford’s A Single Man circa 1962. It was England last week.

After extensive negotiations, Hall couldn’t bring himself to do the one thing authorities demanded. Indeed, what most of us still demand in our offices, of our teachers, of our sports stars, of our clergy—that we keep a person’s sexual identity publicly silent. That is, only if it’s not like our own.

In the same week that New York state became the sixth in the US to pass gay marriage—literally to dancing in the streets—Lee Hall’s opera ground to a halt because it still isn’t safe even for a fictional character to say he is gay with children nearby in 2011.

Not that anyone involved believes they’re being homophobic here, of course. Opera officials were just being sensitive to school officials, who were being sensitive to parents, who were being sensitive to the undoubtedly scandalized kiddies.

Hall wrote in a Guardian piece entitled, ‘I will fight this’, “The argument is that everyone is just worried about other people’s sensitivities.”

Hall made clear what a dog biting its tail looks like, “Effectively, I feel I am not being allowed to represent a gay person. The idea that being gay is something inappropriate for a child to witness is unsupportable—as if gay people weren’t fathers or mothers or sisters or brothers.”

One of the saddest personal battles I can imagine is having to defend your right to say out loud that simply being who you are will not be hurtful to children.

Are we supposed to be grateful nobody’s getting beat up in dark alleys these days, when we erase people into “sensitive” silence instead?

The failed US gays in the military policy, “Don’t ask, don’t tell’ may be a better marker of an entire gay generation today than we want to admit.

This is the same week that India’s health minister declared homosexuality a disease. That the New Zealand Anglican Church is still arguing whether being gay is an act of “willful human sinfulness” or an “expression of God-given diversity” after one of its billboards was defaced, according to Bishop Philip Richardson. Still, a gay couple in New Zealand cannot jointly adopt a child or get married like anyone else who want to spend the rest of their lives together, with little political will to change it anytime soon.

Recently, Tennessee batted down a possible law known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would ban teachers even saying the word ‘gay’ in classrooms. How fabulous. They must have figured if we stop talking about being gay, it will just go away, like carbon paper or Pet Rocks. Think of the possibilities. If we outlaw the words “Insane Clown Posse” or “gum disease”, the world can be a better place.

I don’t care what we say socially, what our organizations, workplaces, churches, rugby teams, actually say instead is: Be invisible, because it’s easier for us both.

I can ask if you’re Italian or left-handed or put mayo on corned beef [which is just plain wrong], but socially, I’m not allowed to ask if you’re gay. There is this weird wall that neither of us will leap over to ask if you’ve had a good weekend with somebody un-named. In that silence, you erase them, you erase yourself and moreover, any chance I will ever have to know you wholly

What absolute drivel that we pretend, if you’re gay, it is none of our business. It is as much my business as hearing that your dog has an IQ of 12, or your kid got a school prize for whingeing.

Amazingly, a whopping 48 percent of gay, university-educated Americans pretend to be heterosexual at work still today. Roughly a third lead “double lives”, closeted while at the office, but openly gay in their personal lives, according to the Center for Work-Life Policy.

Let’s just agree, if you teach my kids, if you coach my team, if you work beside me, and you don’t feel safe coming out there, just tell me you’re Italian. I’ll understand—or begin to. Because I honestly will never know what it is like to live in a world that still asks you to be half invisible—until you teach me.

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