A few weeks ago, I took part in what’s become something of a tradition for some friends and I – a sneak preview during Pay What You Can Night at Neptune Theatre, where, for $5 dollars, a small donation to the Food Bank, and a 2 hour plus wait outside in all kinds of weather, you can see some very talented people put on some energetic, thought provoking and wildly entertaining performances for basically a steal. This particular night was for their take on La Cage Aux Folles. Being a fan of the movie “The Birdcage, and the hilarious performances of Nathan Lane, Robin Williams, and Hank Azaria, I was eager to see the original stage production on which that movie was based. As we settled into our seats, I couldn’t help but notice, with a bit of disappointment, that the crowd seemed smaller than usual. I could also see, aside from a few exceptions, the audience appeared mostly straight and decidedly senior-ish in age. In the row behind us, however, I spotted two young gay men, one with his arm wrapped fiercely around the other, as he laughed a bit too loud, while his friend looked warily about as he sat stiff and ram rod straight in his seat. As I caught his gaze, his eyes suddenly grew alarmingly wide and he appeared frozen as he stared back. We’re actually about to watch a love story about drag queens, I thought, and this poor guy is afraid to look gay! Giving him a slight smile and a nod, I could see him exhale and relax slightly as the lights slowly faded and the music came up.
As the “girls” first took the stage, I could hear a smattering of uncomfortable laughter amongst the audience, and worried, for a moment, the play would somehow “cater” to this predominantly straight crowd. That they would simply titillate the audience and give a wink and a nudge their way with the very idea of a man – who is clearly, by all appearances, still a man -in a dress and high heels. And as a huge fan of that classic diva RuPaul, and in an age when RuPaul’s Drag Race is perhaps by far the most compelling hour on televisions week after week, I felt an urge to stand and shout to the rooftops for the rights of these queens to sashay and shante their way across this or any other stage – when, suddenly, the nervous whispers and giggles soon erupted into joyous, heartfelt laughter. Clearly the love and affection the two leads displayed for one another was soon almost palpable, and the romantic storyline that culminated in a passionate embrace and deep kiss at the end of the play resulted in the biggest standing ovation I’ve yet seen at this fine theatre. Turning around to give my fellow ‘mos a mental high-five in the row behind, I found they were far too busy macking down on one another (to which, if I’m not mistaken, they were receiving an ovation for as well!. And as corny as it might sound, I remember this warm feeling settling over me as I revelled in the warmth and acceptance felt all around. Thinking back, this was one of the best nights I’d had in the GAYborhood in a while.
On the contrary, one of the worst experiences in the gayborhood happened about a year or so ago. My boyfriend and I were at Pogue Fado, a local Irish club I’d spent many hours of drunken debauchery and a good portion of my pay cheque in years past (the night my friend Elaine and I drank vodka and red bull til closing while I helped her maneuver about on crutches with a broken ankle while singing and celtic dancing is STILL legendary!) This particular night, we’d stopped by to catch the last act of some cover band I was a fan of, and stayed to have a few ciders and draught and to dance away admist a fun, friendly, and very crowded dance floor. And so indeed, through the course of the night, we laughed loudly, drank (to be fair) a rather large quantity of alcohol, and danced our way to a sweat soaked frenzy, all the while making friends out of our fellow dancers along the way (so much so that one girl was so completed enamored with Shawn that once he excused himself for the washroom she said “um, you sooooo don’t deserve that guy!” When I asked why she said “because you’re not enthusiastic enough….LOOK at how much fun he is!” So when he came back I tried to be my enthusiastic best, to which she whispered “nope, still not good enough!)
Now, I love dancing with Shawn – he’s a great dancer, with a very fast, energetic, and carefree style, and being 6 feet tall with a football player’s build, seeing his moves in action can be quite a sight to behold. And beholding this sight that particular night were a couple of tall, burly bouncers on the far side of bar. I whispered to Shawn that perhaps we should take a break, but he glanced in the direction I was looking, laughed, and gave me a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek said “don’t be silly, it’s cool, we’re just having fun!” But literally seconds later, one of the watchful bouncer was at his side, tapping him on the shoulder and motioning us towards the door. Shawn asked f there was a problem, but the stern-faced bouncer kept repeating “you just need to follow me sir”. Once at the door, he told us we had to leave for the night. When pressed for an explanation as to why, he wouldn’t give one, and just insisted, more heatedly, that if we wanted to be able to come back another night then we needed to leave RIGHT NOW. When Shawn posed the question “Answer me thiis….are you asking me to leave because you think I’ve had too much to drink, or as you asking me to leave because I’m gay? ” He received only a silent, stone faced reply. But that stone face? It spoke volumes.