Homo Promos Theatre Co. Music by Peter Murphy Book and lyrics by Peter Scott-Presland Based on “States of Desire” by Edmund White
The Albany, Deptford, June 30-July 2
Review by Richard Canning
All credit to Homo Promos, a gay theatre company of 22 years standing, for not taking the easy route. Desire, composed by Peter Murphy, with libretto by Peter Scott-Presland, who also directed, has been ten years in the writing, and features a company of ten singers, four dancers plus full band. Together, those involved in staging this new musical version of American author Edmund White’s pioneering 1980 book States of Desire: travels in gay America all but outnumbered its enthusiastic audience, at one of just three stagings in a very ungay redoubt of South London, on the eve of London Gay Pride.
Scott-Presland had written to White, asking for permission to turn his journalism into a song cycle as early as 1985. He then slowly travelled around the country whose gay subculture White had studied a decade or so earlier – the difference, of course, being the onset of the AIDS epidemic. AIDS – first reported in 1981 - could not even have constituted a footnote in White’s account, though in a 1986 reprint, White added an extensive ‘Afterword’ which reflects on the early, darkest years of ‘plague’ thinking and suffering. Desire draws on this in its final minutes, thus offering a signpost towards the present day; White’s characters inevitably display seventies values, fashions and political positions. This also, rather emphatically casts the hopes, fears, aspirations and plans of its many protagonists into shade. You wonder, and are indeed encouraged to wonder, which, if any, will survive.
Murphy and Scott-Presland have structured their musical largely according to White’s book, which is essentially a collection of unlinked pieces of travel journalism, ordered geographically from West to East. Thus Desire opens on Los Angeles, perhaps a less obvious introduction to the American gay dream than the second city it, and White, tackled: San Francisco. (One curiosity, incidentally, about the recording history of the Village People, was that they racked up songs with pretty much every American city or town of gay repute in the title… It must have been hard, here, to resist the urge to do something with the People, I thought … though, curiously, many of the cast of Desire had VP-style names; there was even a Randy).
The numbers are delivered with assurance and brio throughout. Personally, I enjoyed the comical ones more than the moments of Les Miserables-style earnestness; I’d take ‘Let’s Play Cop’ or ‘Why Can’t I Get Laid?’ (brilliantly delivered by Joe Shefer) over ‘We Can Change Our Lives’ any day. But then I’m a homosexual without the ‘musicals’ gene. Sometimes, too, the ambitious attempt to distill White’s accounts of rather nuanced political questions is not fully realized. A song about the Seattle community’s fights against ‘Initiative 13’, for instance, ended up simply proving confusing – chiefly since police officers were shown wearing gay leather caps.
The middle sections of States of Desire generated the second part of Desire’s first act, and a succession of less likely gay homes is introduced: Kansas, Santa Fe, Salt Lake City, Houston. This is where the sophistication of White’s approach strikes home. Decades ahead of others, he sought to transcend the clichéd-but-true abbreviations and shorthand of early gay subculture (the ways in which – still today – we can often feel that the bar we are in might be anywhere on the planet) by insisting on gay men’s individuality, singularity and (dare we admit it?) even maturity. In striking respects, contemporary gay culture often felt shallower and lesser than what was being represented on stage, for all the political, social and legal liberalization of the intervening decades (though this is very much an uneven picture in the States, today. Having given birth to gay liberation, America now finds itself trumped by European countries’ legislatures, and those of many other nations too). Of course, you can argue that this largely involved replacing one set of stereotypes with a few more, but, when the cast sweetly partner and sing ‘The Cowboys are Waltzing in Houston Tonight’, who is complaining?
Act Two moves through the South – New Orleans, Fort Lauderdale, Memphis. One of the best vignettes in White’s book relates to a Tennessee-born and –bound couple, Carter and A.J. The best of the night’s songs is generated by their bickering and self-imposed misery in refusing to agree where to move to, though both concede that anywhere would be more rewarding than redneck Memphis: hence, ‘Lord, will we ever get out of here?’
When we hit the East Coast, Desire bucks White’s book’s organisation, starting with the city he closes on, Washington D.C. The tune is decent – ‘Senator, a Word in your Ear’ – but I felt the reorganization a pity. By closing on the seat of government, White was predicting, quite correctly, that the decades to come would find American government perpetually preoccupied, for good and bad, by the question of gay rights, in a way that had never been witnessed or foreseen. Murphy and Scott-Presland instead progress by way of Boston to Fire Island (which features an accomplished number about a gay houseboy, ‘The Best Job in the World’) and New York City. White’s own love of Manhattan was, perhaps, so acute that he deliberately buried the very long chapter on it before tackling Boston or Washington, to avoid accusations of Big Apple-centrism. However, Desire’s reordering means that New York City – in truth, for the past century, the cradle of American gay dreams, cultures, lifestyles, books, plays, fashions and lives – is musically represented only by Desire’s reflection on the onset of AIDS, ‘Erase the Tapes.’ There’s nothing wrong or inaccurate here. It’s just a pity that the metropolis to which huge numbers of provincial American gay men have moved since time immemorial becomes identified only with the panic, misery, fear and loss of the early 1980s.
Still, ‘Erase the Tapes’ – sung by all the cast – was a moving and bold closing song, very much the equal of material in the small number of AIDS musicals generated to date (William Finn’s March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland; Bill Russell’s Elegies for Angels, Punks, and Raging Queens - soon itself to be revived at London’s Shaw Theatre) – poignant and welcomingly unforced.
The staging of Desire was… budget-friendly, perhaps, but intelligent in its use of a slideshow backdrop. Excerpts of White’s commentary were interpolated throughout by a narrator-figure. This gave us the virtue of White’s insights, but at the same time distracted from the efficacy with which his journalism allowed each character to speak for himself, in his own idiom and very much on his own terms. Choreography was as broad-ranging and substantial as the show itself – even including a Native American piece.
In a sense, States of Desire, for all its merits, is inevitably a historical tome, and to a degree I share White’s own incomprehension at why anyone would conceive a musical around it today. But Desire did much to justify the premise, odd as it might be. It – and especially its cast, among whom I might single out Michael Woodhams’s superlative delivery - deserve a wider, bigger production – and audience. Do keep your eyes peeled.
Richard Canning’s most recent book is E M Forster: Brief Lives (Hesperus Press. His 50 Gay and Lesbian Books Everybody Must Read and Between Men 2 (both 2009), featuring McConnell, are published by Alyson Books.
The work of Montreal-based writer Peter Dubé has consistently tapped into the fruitful vines that intertwine the political and aesthetic project of French Surrealism with a contemporary, radical artistic practice. His earlier fictions, such as ‘Hovering World’, his 2002 novel, and ‘At the Bottom of the Sky’, a collection of interlinked short stories that came out in 2007, have at their core a commitment to and investigation of the transformative power of desire and subjectivity, an exploration of psychological states and their relation to truth and reality, which ultimately and sometimes in subtle ways tip over into marvel, fantasy and the realms beyond ordinary perception. In 2008, Dubé edited the anthology ‘Madder Love: Queer Men and the precincts of Surrealism’, which featured the work of a range of contemporary queer writers, including many younger writers. In a substantial and personal introductory essay, Dubé recounts his interest in and fascination with Surrealism, confronting head-on the problem of André Breton’s evident homophobia and flashing his torchlight towards reclaiming ‘what is beautiful, complex and untamed in surrealism for queers’.
‘Subtle Bodies’, Dubé’s second novel, due out from Lethe in August this year, is a further stone in the path towards this reclamation, a fiction based on the suicide of the French Surrealist René Crevel. Dubé transforms extensive research on Crevel’s life and career into a headily poetic meditation on surrealism, homosexuality and politics. Crevel is both one of the most interestingly complex figures associated with the Surrealist movement, and, from where I’m sitting, one of the most attractive. His novels are also perhaps the central point where experimental queer fiction and Surrealism meet. As the poet Edouard Roditi has written, Crevel was a ‘marginal or different kind of Surrealist’:
‘Whereas Aragon made his career as a novelist only after abandoning Surrealism, and also became overtly homosexual, much to the surprise of many of his communist friends, only after the death of his wife, the Russian-born novelist Elsa Triolet, Crevel continued for several years to be the only novelist, avowed homosexual, and Paris society playboy of the Whole Surrealist group.’
In tender, taut and lyrical prose, Dubé’s novel re-establishes homosexuality as an important tenet of Crevel’s writing, inseparably in-bed with his commitments to Communism and Surrealism. In one particularly strong passage, Crevel delivers a speech in front of the Worker’s League, with the Surrealists also present. Crevel’s passionate speech points towards a kind of utopia at the heart of which are desire and sensitivity. For all its poetry and visionary beauty, for all its ambition, Crevel’s speech bombs and is received with silence and a lack of understanding. By fictionalizing Crevel’s life, though, Dubé points towards an imaginative reality where the utopia described might just be in reach, where Crevel’s dream of a desire-based socialist society could exist:
Imagine, I said, a world built for your desires, for your enjoyment, for the actualization of your dreams and pleasures, and their proliferation. A time and place in which the sensual and intellectual functions of work were given as much value as the instrumental requirements. Imagine a land where public spaces are decorated and work places gilded. A city designed as much for leisure as for labor because there was no difference detectable between them.
The anxiety caused by Breton’s silent but strong disapproval of Crevel’s homosexuality is a central theme of Dubé’s novel, which imaginatively reconstructs the thoughts, memories and voices that flood Crevel’s mind as the gas from his oven floods his flat, on the 18th of June 1935. Three chapters make up the novel, entitled ‘Bodies of Speech’, ‘Bodies of Desire’ and ‘Bodies of Power’, but the thematic division that those designations suggest is much less clear-cut, much more overlapping within the text itself. Dubé’s first chapter begins at the end of his narrative, with Crevel pouring a glass of pastis and turning on the gas, triggering a memory of his first encounter with Breton. Desperate to impress the by all accounts very impressive Breton, Crevel ingratiates himself to him, and the group that is to become the Surrealists, by performing séances (insincere, in the first instance). To the delight of Breton and others, Crevel meditates and delivers spectacular, darkly bizarre, irresistible and sometimes violent spoken-word performances. Rather than communicating with any force beyond the grave however, Crevel’s narratives come from the recesses of his desire and his soul. Crevel is tortured by his fraudulence in these séances, but eventually consoles himself that by speaking automatically and spontaneously from his desire and his soul, he is in fact doing what he pretends to do. By confronting his darkest desires and investigating his sexual imagination, Dubé’s Crevel almost feels like a forebear of a contemporary writer like Dennis Cooper.
‘Subtle Bodies’ is therefore an important creative-critical text that should prompt a reassessment of Crevel’s writing. This is especially important for a writer like Crevel whose work has consistently been mis-understood and mis-represented, most notoriously by Ezra Pound. But that agenda doesn’t take away from its own qualities as a novel. Dubé captures the foreboding atmosphere of Paris in the 30s, and particularly impressive is the way Dubé renders the ‘voices’ that plague Crevel almost as characters in their own right, distinct from Crevel’s own voice, both frightening and plausible. ‘Subtle Bodies’ succeeds on all fronts.
Colin Herd is a poet based in Edinburgh whose work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in 3:AM, Dogmatika, Gutter, Shampoo, Velvet Mafia and Mirage #4/Period(ical).
In conjunction with the new Utopia issue of Chroma, here is a special feature about the queerness of Star Trek by May Lui.
There has always been a sprinkling of queer presence in the Star Trek franchise, even though most of the representations have been fleeting and most often fail the ubiquitous “queer agenda”. Smile.
In this essay I will describe a brief overview of each of the five Star Trek series in relation to queerness, and then do a more micro level critical review and analysis, with a queer and anti-racist lens, of five specific episodes from the Star Trek genre, and two character analyses.
There is a certain irony in how we search for representation of ourselves within a mainstream network television context. How queer/ radical can it possibly be? We one thinks about the machinery that is selling advertising, and the effort to appear to as wide an audience as possible, and of course the inevitable “community standards”, leads network television to be somewhat of a dubious place to find good representation.
And while Star Trek has had a reputation for pushing against that, somewhat, what with the interracial kiss between Kirk and Uhura, and other moments I’ll be mentioning in this essay, ultimately, there is a culture of conservatism, of being connected to the status quo.
But what is it about the Star Trek series? The tight outfits? Which lend one to more overt thoughts than show like “Law and Order”? The fact that it’s set in the future, so there’s a safety in distance, especially around more “controversial” social issues? The metaphor of the different races of aliens standing in for various cultures and cultural values of planet Earth’s inhabitants still matters, providing the emotional distance and symbolism that’s sometimes necessary for people to truly “get” social issues that may seem abstract. I’m not sure.
And yet, we search, and sometimes we find. None of the episodes or representations we find are earth-shattering, but sometimes, it’s enough to just see a glimmer, and to know that shows such as Star Trek reach so many people, and can carry impact.
TOS= The Original Series TNG= The Next Generation DS9= Deep Space Nine V= Voyager ENT= Enterprise
In TOS the homoerotic analysis of the connection between Kirk and Spock has been done to death, far more prolifically than I could cover in this space, and I need to confess that TOS was never my favourite of the series, simply because I was born too late to find the buttons and flashing lights “cool” in any way. This series was the birth of slash fiction though, for which we are all forever grateful – and which YouTube has made ever more visible and possible.
Then there’s TNG, the most mainstream and well-loved series. And it’s time for true confessions. When I was in graduate school many years ago I took a popular culture course in sociology and wrote a basic “script” for TNG as my final paper. The theme was on same-gender/queer attraction and what happens on The Enterprise when the crew no longer carries the restraints of heteronormativity. I will be discussing the only three remotely queerish episodes I could think of from the TNG archives, “Angel One, “The Outcast” and “The Host”.
The structure of the DS9 series was the most “unlike” the classic Trek framework. It was set on a space station, not on a ship, and the cast was divided, half Starfleet and half a motley assortment of folks who neither respected nor valued the presence on the space station. The presence of Starfleet at DS9 can be critically read as an occupying army, even as they were presented as benevolent. This is being told from their perspective of course. Politically, I fell this series took the most political risks, with the parallels between the Cardassian occupation of Bajor and the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the occupied territories. Obviously looking into this in more depth is beyond the scope of this paper. This series also lacked the presence of a “hot babe” character, inserted to appeal to the “geeky straight boy” demographic, even though both Kira Nures and Jadzia Dax were extremely cute. The DS9 series is famous by now for one of the few amazing woman/woman kisses on network television, between Dax and her former wife Lenara, in “Rejoined”. Then we come to Voyager, which, for the presence of four characters of colour (Tuvok, Chakotay, Harry Kim and B’elana Torres) is my favourite of the Treks. The character of the Doctor has always seemed queer to me, and the episode “Body and Soul” shows us the Doctor residing inside the body of Seven of Nine.
When Enterprise first aired, I called it a “white boy fest” It didn’t appeal to me, the characters we all fairly flat in terms of personality, and the lack of a strong presence of people of colour left me feeling unenthused. While I watched very little of it, my sources tell me there were no episodes with any queer content, either straight up (ha ha) or sub rosa.
Episode Reviews: Summary
There are two episodes featuring straight women which attempt to challenge both gender roles and sexuality (sometimes). TNG’s “Angel One” and Voyager’s “Body and Soul”.
As for an overt attempt to address both gender identity and desire, The TNG episode “The Outcast” was widely viewed at the time as an attempt to portray the “reversal” of what homophobia would look like on a genderless planet, in which some folks exhibited gender, considered unnatural.
I will look at the character of Neelix, the Talaxian cook, ambassador and child care worker from Voyager.
And while not technically queer, Dr. Phlox who is a Denobulan from the series “Enterprise” is from a race of people with a markedly queer take on relationships, monogamy and family structure. I figure he’s worth a mention.
And finally, two episodes featuring the Trill have always stood out for me as distinctive moments where sexuality, gender identity and sexual orientation combine: TNG’s “The Host” and DS9’s “Rejoined”. A fascinating species, they were the most radical species to challenge the mainstream audience around who gets to be what gender, and the attraction to partners that Trills may have throughout their many lifetimes.
ANGEL ONE This episode aired during the first season of TNG. There’s a planet in which women are dominant and men are submissive. The women are tall, statuesque, Amazon-like, and are the leaders of the small colony. Men are portrayed in more sexualized ways, are interestingly “feminized” since they are shorter and slighter than the women, have higher voices and have less body hair. Their attire is very much about revealing skin and being less intelligent and having less value than women. Yet the women are not similarly “masculinized” (more body and facial hair, deeper voices). This is of course to maintain commercial value to the viewers who are very restrictedly grounded in traditional notions of femininity.
Riker, who beams down with Yar and Troi, the two female bridge officers, dresses in the manner that men dress, and is giggled at by Troi and Yar.
But a pause for a moment to consider markers of gender and queerness, and how even in the ways the characters played out in this episode, including a make-out session between Riker and the leader, named Beata, heterosexuality was continually marked and reinforced. It seemed like a desperately challenging writing job, to switch the gender roles (somewhat) and yet to doggedly maintain heteronormativity.
One example of this inability to be removed from the here and now in which the episode is talking place, happens during the make-out session. Riker and Beata are about to kiss and he pulls back (perhaps a belated attempt to remain a professional and detached Starfleet officer) and she says, coyly, head turned to one side “Don’t you find me attractive?” This threw me out of the story. If we recall that the character is the leader of a community, and she is a member of a species in which women are dominant, that struck me as something that this character would never say. That is the line of someone who is has less structural power in a society.
And if we think about attraction and how it’s mostly sexually constructed, if the norm is large tall woman with short slender man, then wouldn’t Riker in fact, not be attractive to most women on Angel One? Wouldn’t he be a bit of a freak? Wouldn’t it be even queer to like a man such as Riker?
DS9 BODY AND SOUL Before I get into analyzing this episode I would like to look at the characters of the Doctor, and Seven of Nine.
The Doctor was portrayed in very queer ways throughout the series. He had a queer aesthetic about him, and presented without the hyper masculinity that is so often portrayed as straight (Tom Paris, Chakotay, even Tuvok and Harry Kim are most assuredly straight). The Doctor is soft spoken and intellectual and a bit arrogant. He speaks in a sincere and often sing-song voice. He’s also portrayed as “soft” and emotional, in his struggle to become more than his programming as an Emergency Medical Hologram.
The character of Seven of Nine was introduced in Season Four. She was the first “babe” regular of the series, given that the other blond character, Kes, was more of a child-imp-elf than a babe. As a former Borg struggling to regain her humanity, she was the classic “fem-bot” of science fiction. A gorgeous woman by society’s standards, with robotic feelings and mannerisms, seemingly devoid of emotion who soeaks in the technical-geek way that the majority demographic of Trek loves.
I really enjoyed this episode, mostly because we got to see the character of Seen of Nine transformed. With the emotional and demonstrative Doctor “inside of her” and controlling her, the audience saw the character in ways we had never seen before.
So we have on mainstream television, the character of a straight woman, playing a character who is a straight man who is played gay. Victor Victoria, 24th century style.
The synopsis is that Kim, Seven and the Doctor are captured by a race of people who see photonic lifeforms, such as the Doctor, as illegal. The photonics on their world seem to have been used in subservient ways and have staged a revolt. To survive, the Doctor hides inside Seven, and takes over her body and functioning.
Seven is shown experiencing senses such as smell and taste, eating and enjoying food, getting thoroughly drunk, and being flirted with and responding to flirting. She’s bubbly and perky, exactly how the Doctor would be. Sort of. The male captain develops a crush on Seven, and the heterosexual and homophobic Doctor inside Seven, rebuffs him repeatedly. At the same time, the Doctor inside Seven develops romantic and sexual feelings for a female tactical officer serving in the medical bay on the ship that’s holding them captive.
In one scene, the captain prepares a romantic date with Seven, and when he kisses her, is quickly rejected by the Doctor.
Captain: I’ve never met a woman like you before. Seven/Doctor: There are no women like me.
And in the goodbye scene between the Doctor and the captain the Doctor says “There are many women who would enjoy the company of a man like you, I’m just not one of them.” Love it!
THE OUTCAST The brief synopsis of this episode is there is a race of people, the J’naii, who are androgynous and do not live in a world with gender, which is considered freakish and unnatural. This premise is fascinating, since any first year student in women’s studies or gender studies should be able to tell you, gender IS freakish and unnatural. The levels of societal restrictions of behaviour based on gender are huge and immense. Anyone who has bumped up against the boundaries of how gender is performed can tell you what that’s like.
Riker, the epitome of masculinity, embodies the sexuality that had been imbued in Kirk. The Star Trek people didn’t want to duplicate these features in yet another captain of the Enterprise so all the “hot sex with aliens” storylines go to Riker. It’s Riker who falls in love with Soren, a J’naii who was born, as once in a while J’naii are born, with gender. She lives a life of secrecy and shame.
I can see how social issues needs to be couched within the content of “alien” cultures, since many mainstream folks would reject them outright if this show was straightforwardly about gender and sexual orientation, but of course it still irks me that it has to be couched, since it can then be misread.
Riker falls in love with Soren, their affair is discovered, and she is to undergo “psychotectic therapy” to restore her to her natural state, that of being genderless. Riker and Worf attempt an illegal rescue but it’s too late, she has already begun the treatment and no longer is in love with Riker.
I’d like to talk about the J’naii as a race. All the actors who play J’naii are women with stern faces and low-pitched voices. Like how most alient races are portrayed, they all have the same hairstyle. While this collapsing of difference is always annoying (even while one may see a Black or Asian J’naii or in other episodes Latino or South Asian Romulans) when dealing with gender, and genderlessness, the issue of looks and presentation become heightened. We are always looking for markers of gender, as it’s something that we’ve been taught to find real, and to make real.
NEELIX The character of Neelix, the sexless boyfriend of Kes, the elf-woman-child is extremely stereotypically gay. He is a heterosexual man, yet he is in touch with his feelings, dresses in bright clothing, has a hairdo that defies description and all the jobs he does can be seen as stereotypically femininen. He’s the cook who’s cooking is made fun of, he gets people to talk about their feelings, he rarely expresses anger, he does child care for his god-daughter Naomi Wildman, he’s not in Starfleet (which has a way of de-masculinizing most men in Trek) he’s short and he’s a bit of a buffoon, therefore not a physical threat to anyone.
When I see Neelix with Kes I just get a lesbian-fag vibe from the both of them. She’s “cute” and “adorable” and has a femmy baby butch way about her, if that makes any sense. Neelix is simply gay, and fabulous.
DR PHLOX There are a number of parallels to be drawn between Dr. Phlox and Neelix. Both are odd-looking aliens, the only of their kind on their ship, both present a softer, kinder masculinity, something almost always read as queer in Western culture, but the most queer aspect about Dr. Phlox is the way relationships are structured in his society.
So Dr. Phlox’s society states that everyone can have up to three spouses, and each of his three wives have two other husbands.
Yes it’s still heterosexual, since I suppose they figured they could only rock so many boats, but when I heard that first reveal I was quite impressed. Especially because the character was presented as a down-to-earth person, practical, and not particularly sexually alluring. Since all the yammerings about “sin” and “fornication” come about from the usual suspects when any talk of consensual polyamory, non-monogamy and alternative ways of demonstrating romantic love, relationships and child-rearing goes on in the mainstream. As we well know, showing in a positive light anything other than strictly heterosexual, nuclear family, and strict gender roles was a huge risk for prime-time network television, even if buried in a character that was marked with “otherness”.
And I like to think that in a society that open, that fluidity of gender as well as queer attractions and orientations, would go right along with their open practice of multiple marriages.
THE HOST Beverly Crusher falls in love with Odan, a Trill and embarks on a rocking love affair. We learn the Trill are a “joined” species, with the essence of the person being not in the physical body they inhabit, but in the host, a squishy gooey stomach-looking thing that lives inside the outer shell, technically like a parasite inside a host body. The host of the Trill Odan becomes ill and dies. While waiting for the new body, Crusher realizes that the Trill needs a temporary body, and Riker (again, Riker!) volunteers.
The first fail is that Odan, inside the body of Riker, succumbs to his feelings for Beverly and they have sex. If Beverly, like the rest of us, is trained to look only at the physical body of a person, and if she’s never been attracted to Riker before, why would she be attracted enough to him to have sex with him? It seems implausible, and even a bit insulting to straight people, that they can just have sex with whoever, as long as it’s the correct gender.
So we all know how it turns out. Riker’s body starts to die, Odan is removed from Riker just in time, and the new host body arrives. Crusher says “Send him in” and in walks a woman (5 mins in video below). She stares at the woman, and rejects her as her lover Odan. After the surgery, Odan comes to see Beverly one more time, and again she rejects him. His signature move (smooth move by the way) is to take her hand and kiss the inside of her wrist. The female Odan does this, and leaves. The queer audience is left with the knowledge that Crusher has given up on a great love, simply because of her own homophobia. But we also know that of course this love affair had to end.
As the first introduction to this groovy species, we are set up for much more interesting combinations of Trill relationships with the character Jadzia Dax in DS9.
REJOINED As a permanent member of the crew, all the Trill moments that DS9 explores, are from Jazdia’s perspective, unlike “The Host” in which it’s all from Beverly’s perspective.
Dax talks about having been a man, and having been married to various women, as well as the husbands she’s had when she’s been in other female bodies. Heteronormativity prevails, as well as serial monogamy, and of course essentialist notions of gender.
The idea that the host, Dax, has had multiple relationships, with women and men, lovers, spouses, partners, speaks to a queerness not seen before on Trek. Bisexuality is too pale a term to describe it, but the richness of this kind of sexuality held within people of a species is fascinating to me, and perhaps speaks to the best of any science fiction/ speculative fiction genre, in that it nudges our imagination to see and feel a world beyond what’s in front of us.
In “Rejoined” Dax is reunited with the host that was her wife from when she was Torias Dax. The rules of Trill are that once a host body dies, as Torias did, contact and interaction with past family members, including past spouses, is forbidden. Dax’s former wife, Lenara Kahn, comes aboard DS9 as part of a Trill science team.
The plot point of this “forbidden” stuff is interesting, as it allows other members of the science team, including Lenara’s brother, to police the behaviour of Lenara and Dax not because of homophobia, but because of the Trill rules. They would be acting this was if Dax the symbiont was inside a male host too, dontcha know?
And the kiss. Ahh the kiss. Super wow.
During some experiments, there is an explosion, Lenara is almost killed, and Dax risks her own life to save Lenara and realizes her feelings. She will risk being expelled from Trill, and dying when the host Jadzia dies. But of course, Lenara is not able to take that risk, and leaves, breaking both their hearts, and most of ours while watching this episode.
And while I love that this was done with Dax being in the body of a woman, what if the character of her former wife had been in the body of a man? Or if Dax was still Kurzon? That’s the thing with Trills, so many queer possibilities!
May Lui is based in Toronto, Canada and loves writing about pop culture and politics. Her blog is http://maysie.ca
Poetry Review: Tiresias’s Confession by András Gerevich
Tiresias’s Confession András Gerevich
Published by Corvina Books
Reviewed by Colin Herd
'Tiresias's Confession', published by Corvina, provides the first full-length opportunity for an Anglophone readership to enjoy the poetry of András Gerevich, though Chroma readers may remember the title poem from its appearance in issue 5. As the title might suggest, many of Gerevich's poems are characterized by intimacy. Invariably lyrics written in the first person singular, they describe and disclose intimate scenarios, often to do with longing and desire. In 'The New Garbage Boy', the speaking subject watches the ‘muscular, suntanned arms’ of the ‘garbage boy’, until the boy meets his eyes with a ‘blur of shame mixed with pride’. In ‘Cage’, a teenager enters a church secretly in love with his best friend and finds himself unable to articulate a prayer in the ‘grating’, ‘noiseless’ suddenly John Cagean soundscape. Some of the most effective poems in the volume are when this film of intimacy clings tightest around the body, when disclosure is pushed inventively towards the erotic; for example, ‘Marmaris’ is a series of haiku, the first of which reads:
‘In a racing car the buzz of a wasp: your body beneath clothes’.
Part of the attraction of these erotic lines and poems is that it is here that Gerevich cuts through and interrogates what at other times feels like an uncomfortably high investment in a stable subject position and lyric voice. In ‘Marmaris’, the focus is squarely on the lover-figure and the Turkish Port City. It becomes difficult to tell which way the metaphors are working. Is Marmaris like a lover or his lover like Marmaris in these images?
‘Date clusters dangling, bustle on the shore: your hairy chest.’
In ‘Mediterranean’, which feels like a companion piece, sexual union undoes individuality and cannibalizes self-hood: ‘Our bed is rocking like the sea beneath a ship’; ‘The cells of my body are shoals of excited fish’; ‘The gulls are ripping the kraken to shreds: it chews and digests its own body’. I love the indulgently erotic language play here: the cells/shoals/gulls half-rhyme and the sibilance of ‘sh’.
One of the quirks of this book is that there are five different translators, credited below each poem. I half-wondered whether this might result in five different András Gerevichs but in fact that isn’t, that I’ve been able to tell, the case. Of all five, perhaps George Szirtes’s translations are the most linguistically rich and playful, less stark, though this could be reflected in the original Hungarian. One of Szirtes’s translations is the title poem. Last in the volume, together with three others that also take Greek mythological figures as their rudder: 'Odysseus', 'Patroclus' and 'Tiresias's Prophecy', they form a kind of suite and take a side-step away from the unguardedly autobiographical content of much of the book. The two Tiresias poems bring that referential touchstone into focus. Tiresias is re-imagined in a contemporary half-reality, half-dreamscape, caught in-between, on a bench in one poem and on a bus in the other. Tiresias is caught in what might clumsily be termed a crisis of gender identity. Gerevich’s intimate and confessional style are perfectly suited to evoke his character’s real-life gender uncertainty and then even more touchingly his dream-life gender identification: ‘I have no idea what I am,/ old or young, boy or girl’; ‘in my dreams I am always a woman,/ wild and desirable, and wholly out of reach,/ adored and admired by men.’ It’s a testament to Geverich’s skill that he’s able to re-cast and humanize well-trodden Tiresias in a way that feels like a good fit, but unexpected at the same time, like putting on a sweater that should be way too large but it feels just snug.
Poems from New England, Provincetown, the Med, Hungary and London suggest that Gerevich is enviably well traveled and on the evidence of this book, I’ll be willing to follow him wherever his poems go next.
Colin Herd is a poet based in Edinburgh whose work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in 3:AM, Dogmatika, Gutter, Shampoo, Velvet Mafia and Mirage #4/Period(ical).
Boys on Film 2: In Too Deep is the second instalment of a three-volume series released by Pecadillo that showcases international short filmmakers’ work.The nine films in this collection are by turns erotic, funny, imaginative, artistic and tender. The directors have either won awards at short film festivals or have been shortlisted for such.
Many of the films explore how the boundaries of relationships are tested between men. The opening film, the superb Cowboy, directed by Till Kleinert, explores bi-sexuality. An estate agent, scouting out a remote farm as a possible investment, meets a taciturn, limber boy. The boy tells him he has slept with all the girls in the village and is kept a prisoner by the farm’s owners. They have sex, in a scene that is powerfully erotic as the estate agent realizes he desires the boy more than his girlfriend. However, the following morning, a nasty surprise lies in wait in the form of a rabbit trap, and the combine harvester the boy has been repairing. Kleinert does an excellent job of establishing a foreboding atmosphere of menace, through images of the derelict farm at sunset and a soundtrack of deep-toned synth chords.
Both Working it Out and Love Bite also show how relationships are tested, but making us laugh in the process. While working out at the gym, Marcus and Peter encounter a hunk called Jeremy. In a very funny scene, Marcus takes out his jealous frustration by pounding the cross-trainer when Peter, friendly and open to a threesome, chats to Jeremy. Meanwhile, Love Bite plays ironically with the conventional coming-out moment between two teenagers. Instead of Noah admitting that he would like to suck his school chum Gus in the way Gus suspects, Noah sucks him in quite a different way.
Similarly, Kali Ma, Weekend in the Countryside and Lucky Blue all explore teenage sexuality and love, but in very different moods. Kali Ma made me laugh out loud in its story of a protective, food-loving Indian mother who goes on the warpath to take revenge on her son’s homophobic tormentor. With a literal tour-de-force performance by Khamini Khanna involving a pepper spray, a felt tip pen and her sari, the boys ultimately become friends under the terrifying command to ‘eat!’ by Mum. Weekend in the Countryside explores how friendship between boys can be mistaken and turn nasty. Pierre and Marc go on a weekend holiday to Marc’s father’s home in the countryside. When Marc tries it on with Pierre (a beautiful girlish-looking boy) and is turned down, Pierre is traumatized by his three Alsatian dogs in the grounds. Pierre leaves with the parting shot by Marc that he is a ‘faggot’. Håkon Liu’s Lucky Blue offers us a promising, tender vision of teenage self-discovery between two boys, one of whom, Olle, expresses his longing through karaoke. Set on a campsite in Sweden, there is a touching gentle feel to this film, epitomized by the fluttering, caged canary, Lucky Blue, that escapes into freedom.
Isolated and remote spaces where desire and sexuality can be explored are a theme of this collection. Bramadero, by Julian Hernández, is set inside a skyscraper under construction in Mexico City. The silence of the film (there is little music and no dialogue) contrasts strikingly with the sense of a perpetual buzz of the city in the background. As the camera lovingly circulates around the sculpture-like bodies of Hassen and Jonás, they engage in a pas-de-deux of narcissistic desire and sex. Erotic, artistic, and at moments, disquieting, we experience the pleasure of sex in a public space that is imagined as an intimate, private world.
The potential to create interior, imagined spaces to achieve happiness and sexual fulfilment define the remaining two films in this collection: The Island and Futures and Derivatives. The Canadian filmmaker, Trevor Anderson, takes a homophobic email that says ‘all gays should be put on an island to give each other AIDS’, as inspiration to narrate in an ironic tone his musings about what such an island could be like. A homotopia where sex is readily available, there are endless cocktails, parties and moonflowers, and HIV positive people are elevated to the status of gods, Anderson observes that the fantasy of the island ‘has a long history’. A clever use of animation creates a colourful, optimistic paradise that turns around such bigotry. Opening up the mind to new experiences and perceptions also characterizes Futures and Derivatives. Three lawyers at a law-firm hire a temp overnight to produce a presentation to an important client in the morning. The presentation is invaded by butterflies and strange colourful, psychedelic creations that sends each partner into a dizzying new world of personal possibilities, allowing them to see themselves in a new light.
An accomplished collection that is amusing and inventive, Boys on Film 2 shows us the ability of shorts to capture powerfully mysterious, erotic and wonderful moments.
Max Fincher wrote his PhD at King’s College London, a queer reading of late eighteenth-century Gothic fiction that was published as Queering Gothic Writing in the Romantic Age by Palgrave Macmillan (2007). He has taught part-time on eighteenth-century fiction and women’s writing, at both King’s College London and Royal Holloway, and is an occasional book reviewer for the TLS. He is currently writing his first novel, tentatively titled The Pretty Gentleman, a queer historical thriller set in the Regency art world.
Chroma is a literary and arts journal. We come out twice a year, and publish the work of lesbian, gay, bi and trans writers and artists. The team includes: Shaun Levin (founding editor), Ben Fergusson (editor), Saradha Soobrayen (poetry editor), Deepna Sethi (publicity and marketing), Raffaele Teo (designer), Alexandra Lazar (art editor), Eric Karl Anderson (book reviews editor). We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of Arts Council England.